Let’s face it …
Stock photography isn’t what it used to be.
The old hands will remember, but the newer photographers probably won’t realise just how bad things have gotten for photographers…
Especially when compared to how things used to be.
It used to be that stock libraries and photographers were partners, working together for mutual benefit. It was a real and personal relationship where the library had a vested interest in working with their photographers and helping them grow their respective stock photography businesses.
The libraries that excelled were those that made sure their photographers did well too.
Then stock went all big business and stock libraries suddenly had to answer to their shareholders instead.
Photographers were relegated to faceless content providers, and photography became just another commodity to be sources at the lowest possible price.
Competition has gone through the roof, prices are in the toilet and sales are totally unpredictable at even the biggest libraries.
Photographers are walking away from stock in droves, and no one seems to care, because there’s always a steady stream of new photographers lining up to take their place.
The good news is, it’s not all doom and gloom, and I do believe there’s a way for any talented & determined photographer to succeed in this industry today… but more on that shortly.
For now I want you to consider a few harsh truths about where we’re at as photographers and the state of our industry.
I don’t expect you’ll agree with all of it, but if you read it through to the end, it will give you a few ideas about how you can build a successful photography business despite all the current problems.
Now I know a lot of professional photographers want to blame the ‘amateurs’ for all our woes, but I don’t think it’s a matter of professional status that determines the difference here … but rather the attitude and approach.
The dominant players in the industry created a new low price, high volume business model, and photographers of all levels and experience, amateur and professional alike… have been drinking the cool-aide!
So for starters, I think it’s important not to blame this on amateurs. I prefer to refer to the problem photographers as ‘opportunist photo-sellers‘.
Basically they’re the photographers – amateur AND professional – who’ve entered the market with no clear strategy, hell-bent on selling photos to anyone who wants them, for whatever price and terms they can get for them.
They’ll shoot hundreds of random images of whatever catches their attention, then submit them all to their library… and then wait around to see what happens.
It’s like firing a shotgun in the dark… you might hit something but you probably won’t know what until it after happens.
In business, it’s an approach doomed to failure.
These photographers soon realise competition is already ridiculously high, and since they haven’t identified a niche or developed any kind of unique identity or brand, the only growth strategy they’ve got is to submit more images try and compete on price & volume…
In a market that’s already at rock bottom.
So these photographic opportunists keep pumping more and more random images into the marketplace, they keep accepting lower and lower prices (if that’s possible) and they keep giving up more and more rights… and the downward spiral continues.
And at that end of the industry, it’s hard to see anything changing… ever.
And professional or amateur, once a photographer slips into this cycle, it’s a tough habit to break.
If you’re getting paltry returns from the work you’ve done getting a big collection online with a stock library, are you really going to start over because maybe you got it wrong?
Personally I often wish more photographers would consider it…
We regularly get experienced and talented photographers coming through GlobalEye who’ll happily tell me they’re looking for another library, because the other library (or libraries!) they’re listed with aren’t making them sales.
It never occurs to them that perhaps part of the problem might be their images.
But as soon as we look over their selection, we see this same shotgun approach, usually with very little thought given to the possible end user for the subject matter.
So instead of reassessing the images they’re trying to sell, they happily keep putting more and more of the same non-performing images into more and more outlets.
Again, it’s an approach destined to fail.
Those photographers keep adding to their workload, chasing photo sales with no real plan or strategy. And unfortunately some of them invest massive amounts of time submitting huge numbers of images that are simply never going to sell.
Well I’m here to tell you there is a better way.
It does require a major mind-shift from the traditional submit-and-wait approach to stock photography though.
It also requires you to stop thinking about the hands-free sales we like to think of as stock photography, as a business in it’s own right.
Those days are long gone. These days, the only way a photographer can truly succeed in this market is to build a complete photography business…
The funny thing is, that’s exactly how it used to be!
Way back before the Internet, stock photography was mostly a sideline revenue stream for a relatively small percentage of photographers. Photographers who had a standalone business, would also submit some of their best work to a stock library, to gradually build up a passive stock income.
Then photography went digital and photo libraries moved online, and everyone wanted to be a full-time stock photographer. A lot of stock libraries helped perpetuate the myth…
Shoot whatever you want, put the images in our library and make a living doing what you love…
Well it’s clear that the reality didn’t live up to the dream and the vast majority of photographers who went online chasing it have come up short. Massive competition, throw-away prices, open-ended licensing, ever increasing workloads, ever decreasing returns… why would you bother?
Well a lot decided not to and have simply walked away from stock.
The savvy photographers though, have decided to re-think their approach, and now they’re selling stock photography on their own terms…
They are treating ‘stock’ as just one part of a complete photography business… and they’re planning more carefully and building their businesses accordingly… and they’re getting some amazing returns for their efforts.
It gets even better though…
When you take this whole-business approach and build it around your core strengths and interests, you can achieve everything the opportunist photo sellers have been chasing!
When you mind-shift from selling random photos to building a photography business, everything changes…
Instead of forever chasing new sales, you’re acquiring lifetime Clients… people who need the subjects you shoot and will continue to buy your photos for many years to come.
Instead of shooting anything and everything in the hope of snaring a hot-seller, you’re identifying possible markets for your preferred subjects, then creating images that those markets can use.
Instead of posting photos online and hoping someone finds them, you’re developing a strategic web presence designed to attract and engage Clients 24/7 on your behalf.
Instead of leaving it to the stock library to handle the sales you’re building real-person relationships with your buyers, so you can go back to them over and over, and generate new business any time you like… commission free!
And all this is really just the tip of the iceberg.
When you stop chasing photo sales and start building a photography business, you suddenly have the real opportunity to grow and improve every single aspect of your operation.
When you treat your photography as a real and complete business, that persistent dream of making a good living doing what you love, actually becomes possible.
And for my thinking, the very first step towards that goal has to be to opt-out of the race-to-the-bottom going on at the mainstream stock libraries.
You cannot make a living giving your photos away for peanuts.
No doubt there are exceptions and the mainstream libraries do like to plaster these ‘success stories’ around, but for the most part, no photographer can make a living giving images away… on open-ended RF licenses… for a few dollars each.
You have to take back control of your work, and quite possibly your self respect as a photographer, and say, my work is worth more than that, and I won’t let you devalue it.
And then you have to set about creating a business that markets your photography to buyers who do value it and respect you enough to make fair and reasonable payment for the use of your images.
They are out there and the good news is, the mega-discount photo superstores have pretty much been ignoring them for years!
Once you start to identify your target market… the quality buyers who need images of the subjects you like to shoot… then you can start to think about what they need from you in terms of content, style and message…
And then you can finally start to build a stock catalogue that generates a consistent return.
This post was originally published not long after we launched GlobalEyeImages.com. It’s always been quite popular and generated some excellent feedback over the years, so it seemed appropriate to update and republish it for the launch of this, our latest website.
You see for all the time and all the changes, some things remain constant…
So if that sounds like a better plan, then please take a moment to watch our short presentation below.
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