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Selling stock photos yourself


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Hi, I am aware this may not be a place to ask this, but on the other hand it is probably the perfect place for it :)

Have you ever tried to set up your own library and sell stock photos yourself , without a third party agency?

I am thinking about doing this, as a very long term plan. My port is small, but I intend to gain benefits from it in 10-20 years by when I hope to have a sizeable portfolio.

What are your thoughts?

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Hi Pietrach,

Just my own personal thoughts here, and to caveat, I don't have a lot of experience in this field at all! The problem would be trying to get traffic to your own website. Unless you manage to get repeat clients, why would any potential stock client waste time visiting the website of a single photographer and likely not finding what they need, when they can visit a website with 165 million pictures and are highly likely to find what they need?

 

Maybe you could make it work if you photographed particularly niche subjects and did a lot of running around marketing yourself and trying to find clients.

 

 

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Well, yes you certainly can and it's not against Alamy rules as long as you have opted for non-exclusive. That's most of us.

 

I marketed my own collection for over 30 years and just a few fellow photographers joined me to make the small agency more viable. I did pretty well, but I had managed to build direct contact with a range of publishers and picture researchers. There were quite a few operations in a similar position. But hardly any of us do meaningful sales these days. In reality, that ship sailed over ten years ago. You can try by all means, but your only chance will probably be to go for a niche market and glancing at your Alamy portfolio, I don't see that kind of concentration.

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Added to the comments above, you'll also find it tough to compete with all the bulk price structures and annual deals that are being done between buyers and the agencies. Just look at your own Alamy sales descriptions and gauge how many full-price licences there are (whatever they are, these days). Like Geogphotos, I use Photoshelter to curate everything I have online - and no matter how much I discount within the pricing profiles, I get fewer and fewer sales year-on-year. Buyers go for discounts.

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I, too, had thought about this, but decided not to bother on my website, even though the platform I use could do this, So the website is just a portfolio. The best way I have found to get traffic to the website is by judicious use of Twitter, which is a powerful tool. I do get people contacting me through the website from time to time asking about purchasing photos, as a result of this, but as soon as a market price is quoted, I tend not hear from them again (they probably expect them to be free). I’m not about to make photos cheap just in order to get sales through my website.

 

www.sallyanderson.co.uk

Edited by Sally
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I must admit I run a website but it's for a totally different market - I do a lot of football, some gigs, the occasional private party, and people order and pay for the photos from those through my site.  I do also have some general work there but I know from the tools it gets relatively little attention.  I am seriously considering linking my Alamy Portfolio on my website - so any visitors I get who are interested beyond the immediate event they are checking out can see my other stuff.  Yes, in theory, it means losing control of pricing etc - but I am not selling on my own site anyway.  I would rather take 50% of a personal use sale on Alamy than 100% of nothing from not selling at all.

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3 minutes ago, Starsphinx said:

I would rather take 50% of a personal use sale on Alamy than 100% of nothing from not selling at all.

 

I think this equation makes most sense, in 2018, for photographers who want to spend more time taking pix than running a website, chasing sales, sending out invoices, etc...

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What can you do which existing agencies can't?

Better service (how can you make and keyword images while maintaining good customer relations? would you need to hire someone/s to do it 24x7?)

Better range of images (probably impossible without others)

Something you have access to which no-one else has AND which is in enough demand to make it worth your while to go to all that work, effort and time? And which will be in enough demand way down the line. For example, if you had model released images of Megan Markle, with PRs for her clothes, accessories etc (make up artist? hairdresser?) you'd be quids in for now, but twenty years on, it'll be the squeezes of George, Charlotte and Louis who are in high demand. I have a few subjects which are Alamywhacks, but have no buyer interest whatsoever.

Better prices (would that be worth the work/effort/time?)

If you don't have anything unique and in high demand, how are you even going to be found and seen, in opposition to the Big Boys who already have great placement in the search engines and advertising budgets?

Edited by Cryptoprocta
typo
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4 hours ago, Starsphinx said:

I must admit I run a website but it's for a totally different market - I do a lot of football, some gigs, the occasional private party, and people order and pay for the photos from those through my site.  I do also have some general work there but I know from the tools it gets relatively little attention.  I am seriously considering linking my Alamy Portfolio on my website - so any visitors I get who are interested beyond the immediate event they are checking out can see my other stuff.  Yes, in theory, it means losing control of pricing etc - but I am not selling on my own site anyway.  I would rather take 50% of a personal use sale on Alamy than 100% of nothing from not selling at all.

 

Starsphinx's  plan is right for today.

 

When I first started, many years ago, I sold my own stock photos direct to the Canadian market with some success. I reached the point that the selling part took up most of my time, with no time for more stock photography.

 

I had to make a choice to being a stock photographer, or a seller of stock photographs. So I turned my entire stock sales function over to an up and coming stock agency who took 50%. In their first year they doubled my sales, and they continued to do so for many years.

 

Bill Brooks

 

Check it out !!! https://www.alamy.com/portfolio/billbrooks/favourites.html

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As Starsphinx suggested if you want to make real money from photographer you need to get away from general stock. I think the library model now only works for the library as aggregator who can handle volume (the Pound/Dollar store model) for photographers it will be increasingly marginal income, for most at least. To make serious money you need to have a real USP, to offer something different; ideally you want a low-volume, premium priced product - think Salgado, Leibovitz rather than general stock.

 

I have not shot for stock for nearly two years, it was simply not worth the effort. I am still struggling to come up with my premium product though :( or even any direction for my photography. I make much more money managing a web site for a  friend's very niche, online magazine.

 

Instead I am two months into doing  a full time PhD on the impact of digital technology on documentary photography, especially the photo story.

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12 hours ago, Pietrach said:

" but I intend to gain benefits from it in 10-20 years by when I hope to have a sizeable portfolio.

What are your thoughts?"

Hi there,

 

To me the main concern with your long term project, is that I don't really believe that this industry will still be around in 20 years...

Between 3D images and videos, who will want to use 2D still photographs?

Fine art and luxury coffee table books maybe?

 

I might be totally wrong, and that would not be the first time.

But as much as I enjoy our industry, I do believe that realistically, it is on the way out, at medium to long term.

Having started to make a living in photography in 1986, trust me, it kind of pain me, a lot.

 

 

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11 hours ago, Regis said:

Hi there,

 

To me the main concern with your long term project, is that I don't really believe that this industry will still be around in 20 years...

Between 3D images and videos, who will want to use 2D still photographs?

Fine art and luxury coffee table books maybe?

 

I might be totally wrong, and that would not be the first time.

But as much as I enjoy our industry, I do believe that realistically, it is on the way out, at medium to long term.

Having started to make a living in photography in 1986, trust me, it kind of pain me, a lot.

 

 

I would not be that pessimistic.

If 3D does take off in a big way then the means to produce 3D will have to become far more widely available - probably costly to start with yes but freely available, the way cameras did when 2D was first becoming popular.  So stock producers will start getting the equipment and producing the images - stock libraries will still be important.

If 3D does not take off then I cannot see 2D dying out because of video - video has been around a long time (relative to the web and mass availability) and stills photography is still very much in demand.  My personal opinion is a well taken still can have more impact than a video - because it totally focuses the moment - and allows for imagination in a way video does not.  How many brides choose to have just video?  Why are sports events with multiple film cameras still covered by photographers - and the images the photographers produce still demanded - and no not stills from the video.

No doubt the trade will change, probably massively, in the next 2 decades - after all it has in the last 2.  However, we are still here in a stock library - gears changed, techniques have changed,  but need for the library has not.  Unless anyone is actively planning to stick religiously to the same technical equipment as is used now and not keep developing their skills with new developments then time alone wont kill us. 

Not to mention if 3D or some other massive development does comes in in 20 years time what we are doing now will be classed as ancient history and the photos will be being used to illustrate "olde tyme methods" and how things had to be done before the wonders of modern technology.

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I've found that sales through my PS website have dried up completely during the past two years. I'm now debating whether or not I should continue paying for it. I used to get regular enquiries from legitimate publishers and made some very good sales, but not any longer. Now it's mostly scammers and people with odd questions who contact me. My PS galleries continue to do well in Google searches, so I'm assuming that photo-buyers have flocked to stock agencies en masse.  I'm not doing as well as I used to on POD sites either. Perhaps if I became a relentless tweeter, things would improve. However, that won't be happening, so I'll continue to be putting most of my efforts into Alamy and let them do most of the driving. B)

 

 

Edited by John Mitchell
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On 11/29/2018 at 03:40, geogphotos said:

By all means do it but don't expect to make many sales. You may have other good reasons to have a website. I use Photoshelter. The pics are all priced but i don't get sales. I had a few when I joined BAPLA but not enough to cover the cost of membership. But having  website is a good shop-window. And I make extensive uses of all the back-end tools on Photoshelter - archive storage, keywording, ftp to Alamy and others at one press of a button.

 

www.geographyphotos.com

 

Your site is nicely done, much better organized than mine, which is a bit of a hodgepodge at this point (story of my life :D). I'm surprised that you aren't getting any sales.  Given the excellent SEO tools supplied by PS, I'm thinking of revamping my PS site and making it a window to my Alamy collection rather than keeping it as an e-commerce site that doesn't really work any longer. Not quite sure how to accomplish this, though. The new Alamy portfolio feature provides a similar opportunity for free (sort of), but it seems to be geared mainly to social media fans, which I'm not.

 

 

 

Edited by John Mitchell
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41 minutes ago, geogphotos said:

 Thanks John, but actually I have been lazy and haven't done much to it for ages. No new galleries for yonks. Haven't even checked Analytics for visitor stats. i think these days people tend to visit a fairly small number of websites and don't bother 'surfing' around much. Unless a photographer is already well-known for offering something unique I can't really see that buyers are going to be attracted. I'm never going to be in that category. It is just so  much easier and cheaper for them to use the mega sites with so much content to choose from and where they have accounts. But nonetheless I do value having a website.

 

 

 

I had a gaggle of regular clients, mainly book publishers and museums, that used to license images from me directly thru my PS site. However, they appear to have abandoned ship. No doubt you're correct, photo-buyers now go to the mega-sites for the mega-deals. I like having a website too. I just don't like having to pay for it when it used to pay for itself. There are links to my Alamy collection from my PS website. Perhaps they are resulting in some sales. Impossible to know.

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23 hours ago, Regis said:

Hi there,

 

Fine art and luxury coffee table books maybe?

 

Regis, the fine art and coffee table book businesses (which are somewhat related) are both doing really well at this moment. However, it's worth noting that they have little - if anything - to do with stock photography. Entering those niches requires a completely different sort of vision and very different methods to go with it. 

 

If you had told me forty years ago that stock photography would be dead and fine art thriving forty years from now, I would have laughed at you. I chose a career in stock photography for its stability. I was really wrong. 

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4 hours ago, Brian Yarvin said:

the fine art and coffee table book businesses (which are somewhat related) are both doing really well at this moment.

 

Brian,

 

That was my point, 2D still photographs might still be used in niche markets as these.

 

But I do believe that the stock industry might not have much need for 2D photographs once 3D and video will become more popular.

And they are step by step becoming more and more popular.

 

The OP was talking about a project that would take him 10 to 20 years to implement, by then I am not sure that the demands for images as the ones used today will be very big.

 

Sorry if I sometimes don't make much sense, English is not my first language.

 

Have a good day.

:-)

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8 hours ago, Brian Yarvin said:

 

Regis, the fine art and coffee table book businesses (which are somewhat related) are both doing really well at this moment. However, it's worth noting that they have little - if anything - to do with stock photography. Entering those niches requires a completely different sort of vision and very different methods to go with it. 

 

If you had told me forty years ago that stock photography would be dead and fine art thriving forty years from now, I would have laughed at you. I chose a career in stock photography for its stability. I was really wrong. 

 

Interesting, but don't a lot of coffee table books being published today use images from stock photo agencies? I've seen some really nice ones put together with microstock images (unfortunately) for the most part.

Edited by John Mitchell
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I've licensed images via my Photoshelter account to various buyers ranging from small businesses to magazines such as Smithsonian and Coastal Living, but Photoshelter brings in most of the clients and it's not a huge number of sales each year. 

I also license stock photos directly to a few large publishing clients, but it is a lot of work and if a client has questions or wants to negotiate, it can take up a lot of time. 

My website is primarily an online portfolio but I really like that Photoshelter attracts clients who can search their entire photographers' archive. It's gotten me some great tear sheets. But I don't think I would set up a website just to sell stock. So many smaller and some larger stock agencies have failed, I can't imagine an individual can make a go of it. Better to upload to Alamy and let them worry about marketing. 

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6 hours ago, DDoug said:

Sad times but I had seen the same moment coming, hence I have moved on to do a photojournalism related PhD not photography, at least not stock. My returns have finally fallen off  the cliff this year, yet last year was the best numbers I have done. In 2018 I am set to have the worst full year, numbers and revenue, since I started in 2002, and even that first part year was more financially rewarding.

 

Jim Pickerell has been a prescient and incisive commentator on the stock industry for almost as long as I can remember. It is a pity to see him leaving the field, I wish him well. But one should think carefully about what he says in the article above and make plans accordingly. I came to a similar conclusion a couple of years or so ago (as some will have noticed ;) ) and have been winding things down, but it does leave a hole in one's life that needs filling with other activities; it almost feels like a bereavement of sorts.

 

Photographers who want an income will have to go back to assignment work or, as suggested, fine art, both very challenging fields which cannot absorb all those involved with stock at some level.

 

BTW I think video (and other visual forms) will follow the same path, just a year or two later but probably faster.

Edited by Martin P Wilson
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7 minutes ago, geogphotos said:

I agree.

 

So what are the ethics of charging  for training courses about how to succeed in stock photography when the people running these courses are running them because stock photography is not returning a proper income?

 

I ask as a genuine question as I would quite like to offer such courses. Would you simply describe stock photography as a hobby?

 

I'm not clear that the agencies/portals including Alamy are direct about this.

 

Universities and colleges have and, as far as I know, still are training more photographers than there are jobs, even perhaps including related ones where the skills might transfer.

 

BTW My PhD research is more philosophical about the changing nature of documentary photography and the photo-story as a result of new technology; University of Nottingham where I am do not run photography courses as such.

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1 hour ago, geogphotos said:

I agree.

 

So what are the ethics of charging  for training courses about how to succeed in stock photography when the people running these courses are running them because stock photography is not returning a proper income?

 

I ask as a genuine question as I would quite like to offer such courses. Would you simply describe stock photography as a hobby?

 

I'm not clear that the agencies/portals including Alamy are direct about this.

 

No one thinks that you have to win the Nobel prize in physics, in order to teach physics.

 

I do not know of anyone who teaches stock photography because they cannot make a go of stock photography. However if anyone is contemplating teaching stock photography only because they cannot make a proper go of stock photography, they should not do it.

 

There has to be a love of teaching, as well as a love of the subject they are teaching.

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3 hours ago, funkyworm said:

 

Crikey.

 

Wasn't there a questionnaire from Jim Pickerell about this a little while ago? I wonder if this is the conclusion from the results of that questionnaire.

 

Yes, sounds a bit dire , doesn't it? Especially this paragraph:

 

"At one time, stock photography was an exciting way for many photographers to earn a comfortable and enjoyable living. Now, it is a bad-paying hobby. And it is on a path that seems likely to get even worse, and more depressing for most of those who hope to earn real money from the images they produce."

 

Not sure I agree with the "bad-paying hobby" part, though. Most hobbies don't pay anything at all.

 

 

Edited by John Mitchell
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