Interview with Alan Capel, Alamy’s head of content

Alamy has the largest online collection of stock photos with a collection numbering over twenty million images…creating both opportunity and challenges.


I know that Alamy offers Rights Managed and Royalty Free imagery and is unique in that it gives photographers the opportunity and, I guess, responsibility, of editing their own work. What else should I know about Alamy?

We still give the majority share (60%) of the sale back to the creator or owner of the work, this has remained a core driver from the very outset. We recognize that customers want variety and depth, but that’s worthless without a fast and cunning search interface so we combine the largest hi-res stock collection on the web with a super fast site all built using our own in-house technical expertise. We’ve grown our collection organically without acquisition and as a result we have no debt. Also, we have a philanthropic approach, with 89% of our profit funding a medical research laboratory that operates at Alamy HQ in England.

How about filling us in on your path to where you are today?

1999, James West our CEO and his Uncle Mike Fischer wanted to build a company that leveraged the rapidly emerging power of the web. Initially Alamy was going to be an ‘Ebay for images’ but we had to swiftly make some concessions to the reality of how stock photography operated. We wanted to banish some long held beliefs (agencies do the editing and keywording, agencies take the majority share of the sale) whilst still offering the customer a familiar proposition. We made our first sale in 2001, broke even in 2004, became profitable in 2005 and have sustained that profitability through the recession.  We set up an Alamy office in India where a large amount of our technical work takes place and we opened our New York sales office in 2009. We now have a Creative Collection and a News offering for photojournalists alongside our core collection.  We have doubled the size of the collection in the last 3 years hitting 20 million images this month.

One aspect of Alamy that I find very interesting is the ranking system. It seems like an increasingly necessary, but tricky proposition, to insure that prospective clients get to see the best work quickly and not be bogged down by the less appropriate, and ever increasing amount of imagery. At the same time it is important to keep the new “gems” from being buried. Can you give us some insight as to how the ranking system works?

Not the technical side, sorry I can’t!  But I can tell you the stuff we share with our photographers which can help them help themselves. You need to think of the ranking system as a series of plus and minus points which added together give you your overall score. You’ll get plus points if your images are clicked on and zoomed and you’ll get plus points if your images sell, if you sell for a lot you’ll get more plus points. You’ll get minus points if your images are on a page of results viewed by a customer but ignored.

What should photographers keep in mind about the ranking system when providing photos to Alamy?

Given how it works simply loading up image after image is not going to work, you need high quality, well edited work. Keywording is also a very important part of the equation. If your keywording is inaccurate and/or irrelevant there is a greater likelihood that your images will be ignored so relevancy is key.  

A note here: One photographer I am aware of has indicated that too many keywords actually hurts his Alamy results…go for accuracy and quality…not quantity.

I often get e-mails from people who come to me after finding my work on an agency site, but wanting a better deal. It is frustrating because I want the agencies to charge an appropriate fee, but I feel panicky at the potential loss of a sale. Check any stock photo forum and you will see lots of complaints about the low fees charged by agencies…and yet with so many images to choose from it is a buyer’s market.  How does Alamy determine prices for it’s various products? 

Doesn’t the fact that they come to you indicate that customers may feel the agency is charging too much? I think a lot of the criticism about low fees is born out of a lack of control. Faced with a similar negotiation with all of the facts laid out in front of them I’d challenge anyone to get a significantly better deal. Surely, as we are an agent only taking 40% of the sale it’s very much in our interests to get a fair price. When you are getting 100% maybe you’ll blink first?

I believe we strike a fair balance. The approach we take has many facets to it, we have a price calculator which we see as being pretty industry standard, however we are involved in many deals which operate outside of the calculator This is either because the size or parameters of the deal don’t easily ‘fit’ or it’s a key client with agreed rates.

Please visit John’s great blog for the other half of his interview.

About the author

John Lund  has been shooting professionally for over 30 years.  John was an early adopter of Photoshop, first using version 1.0 in 1990.  He began using digital capture in 1994.  John has been active in the stock photography world as a founding member of BLEND IMAGES, and long time contributor to Getty Images, Corbis, and, more recently SuperStock.

John has lectured on digital imaging and stock photography, has been a columnist for PICTURE and DIGITAL IMAGING magazines, and written ADOBE MASTER CLASS, PHOTOSHOP COMPOSITING WITH JOHN LUND.  John has been a frequent speaker at Photo Plus and other venues and has taught workshops at Palm Beach Workshops and Santa Fe Workshops.  His work can be seen at

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

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