Two Class System – Where Do You Live In Phototown?

For the last 40 years, the majority of stock photographers were in the middle: middle income/middling talent.  Most stock photos could be categorized as predictable but very salable in rights managed and royalty free markets. Enter microstock and a new class was created from the millions of camera owners across the world. Demand for average photos of predictable subjects licensed from traditional rights managed and royalty free distributors tanked.

Stock photographers began wringing their hands and demanding that users PAY MORE! They were rightfully ignored and began to disappear as their incomes declined. How can you navigate around the large black hole into which hundreds of stock photographers are falling, never to be seen again? You can take the high road or the low. Depending on your work, I suggest traveling both. Stellar work will always find a home. It will fulfill the following requirements. It will be:

  • Unique to you
  • Expensive to license
  • Fresh and unusual
  • The best of its kind
  • Limited sources for the work either in style or subject

These images won’t license often. There are currently two major places to distribute in the monetized world of stock photography: Getty/Corbis. You may find that if the subject is very unique and/or you have an unusual point of view or access, you will find more buyers by licensing the work directly from your own site. Tools to help: license stream or photoshelter and Agency Access.  Cautionary note: look to the world of Hollywood to get an idea of moving into this neighborhood: only a tiny percent of actors living in NYC or LA make more than $12,000   year at their craft

The low road is more like the highway to the stars. It paves the pocketbook to pay for the stellar stuff. To carry the metaphor to it’s death: think of the revenue from this class of images as pennies from heaven. This work:

  • Is generic in subject
  • Inexpensive to license
  • Fresh
  • Best of its kind…the best damn handshake photo out there or close
  • Widely distributed by as many microstock companies you can tolerate…see lookstat and isyndica for help
  • Not exclusive unless you are one of the top top earners at istock.

More on my ideas on microstock from a November presentation at UGCX:

View more documents from Ellen Boughn.

The Business of MicrostockThe presentation concludes with some terrific photos from creative commons. Old timer and Comstock (sold to Jupiter/Getty) founder with Tom Grill, Henry Scanlon once quoted his grandfather’s advice for a successful business career: “Serve the masses; dine with the classes. Serve the classes; dine with the masses.” (Also attributed to Ray Kroc the founder of McDonalds. Joan Rivers and someone in Imperial Russia.)

Ellen Boughn uses her decades of experience to guide photographer clients through the maze of opportunities and pitfalls in today’s marketplace for existing images, from rights managed to microstock. Her consulting approach is personalized, strategic and considers all current options in the rapidly changing stock photography industry. 

Boughn has directed the production of over 200 stock shoots over the last few years, from concepting to directing on set. A frequent speaker at PhotoExpo, UGCX and a respected industry analyst, she has qualified as an expert witness and appraiser of stock photo collections. Ellen is the author of “Microstock Money Shots—Turning Downloads into Dollars” and is a member of ASMP, ASPP, PACA and a candidate for the Appraiser’s Association of America. Twitter: @ellenboughn | Facebook ellenboughn.

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