Monday, July 20, 2009

What is the real price of stock photography ?

Recently Sheryl and I were looking at Highroads magazine, which is a publication of AAA. We both noticed some really nice photography in there (and some decidedly mediocre frames as well), and so we started reading the photo credits. A really large percentage of photos came from a stock photo company called iStockphoto. On the web they purport to be one of the largest of their kind, or the most popular, or the best or some such. A stock photo company is a company which "stocks" photos, millions of them, and then sells them via digital downloads. We've been aware of stock photo companies for a long time now, and I usually have avoided looking at them because it's just too depressing.

What we found today-- best case scenario for the contributing photographer is that he sells an unlimited print run to a corporate client, and that he has secured an "exclusive" distributorship through iStockphoto wherein he get's a 40% commission instead of the usual 20%. Now, bear in mind that this is the top payment from a corporate subscriber: a nationwide or even worldwide publisher buys rights to your photo to reproduce an unlimited number of times. OK, I am having to get the calculator out again because my mind just won't process and hold onto this in my memory. The corporate client pays $72.50 and the photographer's cut is $29.00 . Yes, cover of Newsweek, Time Magazine, National Geographic, AARP; twenty nine bucks. I'm not saying that those magazines use stock photos for their covers, but they certainly could, and some of them probably have at some time in the past, at least for a portion of the cover. Back when Sheryl was working for a small publishing house they were paying at least ten times more for limited print runs to artists and photographers-- and they paid the artist directly. You might consider that a 90% reduction in pay to artists may have a long term effect on the industry.

Now, if you're a really lucky "stock" photographer, once in a while some individual who is on the "pay as you go" plan might pay a bit more, and maybe you'll get as much as $95.00, but again, that buys them a whole lot of rights to reproduce and sell your fine work.

Seems a bit askew. I have to consider that I'm on the wrong side of this equation. If you really want to make money selling fine photography: buy unlimited rights to other people's photos, and buy a color printer. The first fine print that you sell will cover the rights fee and the rest is pure profit.

Throw away the camera gear, the lighting gear, your years of knowledge, experience, skill and talent. While you are at it, throw away the future generations of photographers who aspire to a profession. There won't be one if this keeps up. And. . . who is to blame? Today's photographers for degrading their own work (and by extension, all photographers work) for pennies.

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