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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Get Into The Stock Market

With more Outdoor Photographer readers looking to sell images in the face of an increasingly fragmented marketplace, there are some tremendous opportunities opening up

Labels: BusinessStock

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The last 10 years have been chaotic for independent photographers, as the old ways of doing business have withered before our eyes. By the turn of the millennium, I knew I had to adjust my business in the face of the collapse of stock photography, a once-thriving enterprise eroded by consolidation, royalty-free images, microstock, shrinking ad budgets and, recently, general economic collapse. I decided I needed to elevate my profile and take control of marketing my own work.

I built a gallery, print center, classroom and office in Seattle, a base of operations. Next, I secured funding from Microsoft, Canon and Conservation International for Art Wolfe’s Travels to the Edge, a public television series. I knew I’d reach more people with a single episode of the show than I had so far with 60 books. The show outstripped our expectations; it was viewed by 33 million viewers in the first season and broadcast 90,000 times across the United States. Stations in Europe, China, Japan, Canada and the Middle East picked it up, as well.

With the help of the photo website builder liveBooks and Girvin, a leading branding and graphic design firm, we recast our image and created a website to support all our initiatives. With our website in place, we turned our attention to reclaiming stock from the ruins left by the large stock agencies. With new platforms and models appearing every day, we saw a way to declare our independence and multiply our revenue.

The large stock houses are increasingly failing both photographers and photo buyers. Their strategies are a disaster for stock shooters. Getty and Corbis accept fewer images from their signed photographers each year. Even so, the return per image per year is in decline. The percentage they pay for each sale shrinks, and the rush toward micro-stock is pushing prices down, although some of that’s inevitable. They create agency-owned images that they put highest in the search results. Since nature, wildlife and cultures—my areas of concentration—are a small part of their portfolio, they give those areas little attention. It’s the best and most prolific photographers who suffer the most from these strategies.

Instead of accepting images from their photographers, they purchase entire collections, thus diluting the work of their current photographers. Getty licensed so few of my images that I stopped submitting new work five years ago. The best work of my career has been sitting on hard drives, unseen.

As they engulf and devour collections, the brands built by the small companies vaporize, destroying the position the original owners so carefully built. You could visualize the kind of imagery you could expect from Tony Stone or Photonica. Describe what characterizes a Getty image. I rest my case.


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