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Stock/Micro Photography

Many of us have wide collections of photographs and perhaps don't have the time or inclination to market them all. Perhaps you have heard of Stock/Micro photography (photo libraries) and wondered about putting some of your work through these.

Stock Photography is the licensing of rights to existing photographs for specific uses for a fee. It is based on the idea that a single photo can be licensed many times for fees to allow the photographer to cover his costs and make a profit. Publishers, advertising agencies, graphic artists, web designers and others use stock photography to fulfil their needs when working on creative assignments. Someone who uses stock photography instead of hiring a photographer wants to usually save time and money, but the disadvantage is they do not have creative control and have to use those photos that are available to them. Usually the images are presented in catalogue form whether that be in printed form, or more typically these days via websites and/or searchable online databases. Once purchased the customer receives the picture either via CD through the post or more typically today via download or email over the internet.

A collection of stock photography may also be called a photo archive, picture library, image bank or photo bank.

Microstock Photography is an offshoot of the traditional stock photography route and what makes them different is they source their images almost exclusively via the internet, sell the images at a much lower rate and usually for a royalty free licence.

A little bit of history

One of the first major stock agencies was founded in 1920 by H Armstrong Roberts and continues today under the name RobertStock. By the 1980's agencies had become a specialty in their own right with photographers creating material specifically for submitting to picture libraries. By the 1990's as a result of consolidations and acquisitions the two largest agencies were Getty Images and Corbis, by the end of the 1990's with the availability of the internet this has provided a means for smaller companies to come into the marketplace and alongside Getty and Corbis you also have Alamy and Photolibrary.

At the beginning of the 1990's it also saw the introduction of collections of images on CD-Rom discs being offered at a fixed price and allowing the purchaser to make unlimited use of any or all of the images on the disc. This saw the introduction of Royalty Free images. These discs usually contain 50+ images and usually organised by subject, but from the picture buyers point of view the images are cheaper and there is no longer the need to negotiate a fixed price for every image. However there are downsides for the buyer the image size is usually fixed and you can end up with lots of images on the CD you may not want, and for the photographer of course the amount he gets per image is drastically reduced. Collection CD's of Royalty Free Images can fetch various degrees of prices in your local store they may only fetch around 10 and these have small jpg images which are okay for web use maybe, but some companies such as Brand X Pictures do command 300-600 per disc of 50-100 images where the files are typically 30MB 300dpi 20cm x 25cm. Even smaller companies are producing CD's of their own collections which are commanding the same sorts of prices. See here f or an example. Today, 2008, companies are also offering 'Virtual CD's' which is a collection of royalty-free images based on a theme that is for sale online for immediate download, typically these can command the same fees as the physical CD. However some companies charge extra fee for the physical CD to be sent to you. You access your virtual CD by having a sign-on account where you can access the contents and then download them as and when you want them.

In the 2000's the microstock photography industry, took off and made photo library sales a possibility for both amateur and hobbyist photographers from around the world at much cheaper prices, this was led by  iStockphoto and Fotolia . By 2003 an open access model was introduced allowing everyone to upload and market images via sites such as fotoLibra and by 2007 FreePhotoMarket extended on this model by allowing everyone to upload and market images and define their own price.

So how does it work

Unless you have the ability to create your own online website typically photographs are put through an agency who specialises in selling stock photography. The agency negotiates the licensing fees on behalf of the photographer in return for a percentage, or in some cases owns the images outright. Pricing is determined by a number of factors and differs amongst agencies so it is worth not only looking at which agencies require your type of photograph but also what they sell them for and therefore what your return might be. Once it has been agreed that the agency will market your photographs they are placed within their catalogue/online database and when a request is made to purchase your image they deal with the complete selling, distribution and collection of fees each month sending you a payment for your images that have been licensed less their fees.

Different agencies, as well as having different pricing structures also have different requirements in terms of the type of images they want, image formats and file sizes, how many you can submit at a time, and while some have online systems where you can upload your images others want to vet your images first before agreeing to which images can be included within their database.

Professional stock photographers will usually place their images with one or more agencies on a contractual bases with a defined commission basis and for a specified contract term.

Licence Types

There are a number of licensing types.

Rights Managed. Rights managed stock photography is where an individual licensing agreement is negotiated for each use of the picture. The fee for using the image is calculated from several factors including size, where it is to appear, duration of use and geographic distribution. Sometimes the client may request 'exclusive' rights, meaning they want to restrict who else can use the same image for a specified length of time or in the same industry. Exclusive rights can command a much higher fee both because they tend to be high-exposure and because the agency is gambling that the image would not have made more money had it remained in circulation. We have a larger article specifically on Rights Managed images including what they are, how they work, details on contract terms, who uses them and more..... Rights Managed photography.

Rights Ready. In this case a fee is paid for a particular use, project and end client. Pricing of this type of licence is based on the use of the product, and no further royalties are paid if it is reused for the same project and end client.

Royalty Free Licences on the other hand - doesn't mean free use for no fee. It means the client pays a single fixed price licence fee to be able to use the image in an unlimited numbers of ways. Royalty Free prices are usually lower than Rights Managed. Its price is usually determined by the file size and the number of people entitled to use it not the specific use. No fee is payable on a use-by-use basis, however these rights are personal to the individual/company who purchases the licence and is not transferable. They are always non-exclusive.

Editorial Use. Some images are offered on an editorial use basis only, these are usually images that relate to events that are newsworthy or of public interest. These licences are usually on a use by use basis and cannot be used for any other purpose.

'Comping' and Preview Use. Some stock photography libraries do offer low-resolution images (very small files) for free or a very small fee which are available to clients for a limited duration, only for personal, non-commercial use and solely for test or to prepare advertising comps/samples to demonstrate a design only. If you then want to use the image then the rights to the high-resolution image have to be negotiated.

Subscriptions. In this case the customer pays a monthly fee for the right to access a database of images where they can use as many of the images as they want for any purpose and in any size or circulation. Most collections are general in nature and contain many thousands of images which are added to regularly. Some of these services do have restrictions on the number of images that can be used within a month, and how they can be used, but generally they have a smaller return for the photographer.

So how do you go about finding a Picture Library

A search of the internet will reveal a large number of Stock agencies/libraries, there are two good listings with some overlap. The first is the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA). They are a UK trade association and have over 400 member businesses from small specialists agencies to multinationals. They have a search engine within their site where you can list the full alpha list of members or search their database by category or by business name if you know it. For most you will get contact details and website links. There is another good source listing to some 330 specialist stock photography libraries, worldwide, is StockIndex Online, this is by no means a complete list as only those who have paid to go within their directory are listed.

Others you will find may in fact be part of a larger group where over time they have merged together and others like Getty Images, reported to be the worlds largest, have put themselves up for sale (January 2008), like most stock agencies it only owns a fraction of the images in it's collections. A larger proportion being re-licensed from individual contributors or third party collections.

See also Rights Managed photography.


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