The NEW State Of Stock Photography; Times Have Changed, And So Has The Business

What's new in the stock photography business? As most photographers already know, the business of stock photography has changed dramatically in the last five years. It no longer can be supplied with photos left over from an assignment or old photos sitting in a file drawer. Stock photo sales can be a potential profit center, but only for those willing to put in the time and effort to understand the changes and work with the new "state of stock."

First, you will need to expand the scope of what you are doing by creating specialty "collections" and not just one or two of them. Multiple collections create more stock sales opportunities. You will need to look at every assignment for its stock potential. You will need to create self-assignments for stock that will require an investment of equipment and expertise. Finally, you will need to decide how to best market your stock in today's crowded marketplace.

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To get an insider's view on these changes we recently talked with a veteran in the stock photo business, Ellen Boughn. I first met her when she owned the After-Image stock photography agency in Los Angeles. Boughn has over 25 years experience in the stock image business, including being the founder of After-Image; president, Tony Stone/L.A.; executive editor and content director, Corbis; vice president of photography, ImageBank/Artville (Getty); director of development, Workbookstock; and senior editor/ consultant to CEO, Punchstock. She is versed in all aspects of the stock photography business and works to assist both photographers and stock agencies in solving business and image strategy issues. Boughn was on the PLUS Advisory Council and has qualified as an expert witness in matters relating to image and estate valuation and other issues relative to stock photography. Today, she is vice president of content strategy at SuperStock, Inc. (

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Shutterbug: First, please spell out the new business choices clients have for buying stock usage of photography today.
Ellen Boughn: There are at least five different ways to purchase stock usage that both clients and photographers should be familiar with today.

· Rights-Protected License--Rights granted are for a specific time period, for a specific industry and/or territory. The licensee is guaranteed exclusive use of the image within the terms of the license.
· Rights-Managed License--The licensee is granted the right to use the image for a specific time period, in a specific industry and/or territory with no promise of exclusivity, although in many companies the licensing history of the image is available. Although the current trend of photographers to offer non-image exclusive rights to distributors is distressing to me, as it basically puts some rights-managed images into the same level of non-protection as royalty-free.
· Royalty-Free--The licensee is granted a broad license to use an image for an unlimited time with few if any restrictions on usage.
· Subscription--The subscriber is granted an unlimited right to use an unlimited (or specific number) of images for a predetermined time period.
· Micro-Payment Model--The licensee is granted unlimited royalty-free rights for a very small amount.

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SB: What are the differences between the different types of businesses now selling stock usage to these end-clients?

EB: The difference between the major stock agencies and independent stock agencies is really just one of size and reach. The major agencies have funds for production and most independent ones don't, or the amounts are limited. The major agencies tend to be generalists while the independent ones are generally more niche collections that appeal to specialized buyers. Roger Ressmeyer's new collection, Science Faction, is an example.

Then there are the stock portals that provide the same marketing services but require that the photographer do a lot more work in captioning and entering of metadata than most of the stock agencies. Some of them also do very little editing of the work and do not require that the contributors be professional photographers, but they do restrict some of the types of images, for example, not allowing images that are pornographic.

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SB: How about the photographers who want to sell stock on their own?

EB: The limitation that the photographer has in licensing stock from a personal website is one of reach. With hundreds of photographers' websites out there and the major agencies dominating the market and the independent ones marketing heavily, it is difficult for a single photographer to drive traffic (and gain sales) from an independent URL.

However, many well-known photographers whose reputations are big enough among buyers do very well with licensing from their own website. This is generally because they have a widely known specialty collection.