Featured Reports

SAA Evaluations
SAA's Investigative Shopping Project
Paradigm Shift - SAA Portfolio in ASPP's
Picture Professional
Pharmer or fotographer?
SAA Issue Paper: Why Sensitive Subject Policies are Important

SAA Issue Paper: The Problem with Funded Shoots
A Perspective on the Future


SAA Evaluations

SAA is engaged in an ongoing project to build a database of factual information along with analysis and observations of stock marketing resources available to stock photographers to license their images.

As part of this program, SAA is taking a closer look at some of the new and emerging business models for pricing and licensing stock images and how they impact the royalties and business opportunities for stock photographers. These observations are based on the descriptions provided by the companies on their own web sites and promotional literature, interspersed with commentary.

December 2003

SAA Evaluates the “Custom Stock Photography” Model

SAA visited the OnRequest Images website and took a closer look at the business model they call “ Custom Stock™ Photography .”

“At OnRequest Images, we combine the creativity, quality, and control of hiring a photographer, with the speed, variety, and price of stock photography. Clients get the best of both worlds.”

“Stock” by definition is not "custom". What this business model is REALLY about is asking a group of contributing photographers to shoot speculatively on "assignment" for one prospective client. One of them may “get the job” or none!

“Creatives dream up concepts. They have the perfect image in mind, but can’t afford to hire a photographer and do a photo shoot.”

This service encourages individual art buyers to do something that as individuals by positioning it as a legitimate business model : to ask multiple photographers to shoot on spec for the same job!

“And they know they won’t find it in a stock library.”

By their own admission, they are targeting those buyers whose image needs that are so specific (or obscure) that “they won’t find it in a stock library.”

“The selected photographers (up to 5), compete for your business by shooting the same assignment simultaneously. And clients get the rights-managed images they need, priced based on usage, in 48-72 hours.”

No matter how you label it, this is simply a small-scale photography contest between a group of photographers. A group of photographers all shoot on assignment on a rush-basis, absorbing the production costs, with the prospect that one (or none) of them will be paid. And the compensation?

 “Because of our unique model, we are able to bring you custom stock imagery at incredible prices … Our pricing is very competitive and typically less than traditional rights-managed stock imagery.”

 So the one photographer who MAY have the winning image can expect lower than usual stock license fees!

"As an OnRequest Images Photographer you will: Get access to legitimate, verified client assignments. Have a higher probability of generating license royalties than the "old" stock method."

Stock is about shopping for images, not photographers. This is a rotten carrot to offer up to the stock photographer that they will make client contacts this way. Also, what is the value of exposure to a prospect list of companies that can't afford to pay photographers?

“We know how hard it is for shooters to try to figure out what kind of stock images the market needs."

Are they suggesting that shooting images to meet the narrow parameters of these image requests is an effective strategy for photographers to employ in developing a collection of marketable stock images?

“We know how difficult it is for shooters to get an image chosen for one of the two big stock houses.”

And do they offer a viable alternative? They are preying on photographers' desire to have more marketing outlets for their images, but they are only offering an outlet for those images shot specifically for them.

“And we know that the odds are 1 in 80 million that a photographer’s image will ever produce any revenue once accepted.”

We would be interested in understanding the basis for this statement, and if it also applies to images accepted by them.

"And we provide a place for all of this imagery in our rapidly growing stock library."

What they are actually doing is creating a stock library that will consist of groups of images from different photographers that were all shot to the same concept and specs, many of them highly specific and likely obscure. And why would a stock buyer license images from the OnRequest Images library when they can have up to 5 images shot "on request" for the same price?

“At OnRequest Images, we combine the creativity, quality, and control of hiring a photographer, with the speed, variety, and price of stock photography. Clients get the best of both worlds.”

According to the “Custom Stock” model, clients can have the best of both worlds: assignment work on demand shot by multiple photographers on spec and for below-average stock pricing. A sweet deal for the clients, but what kind of a deal does it offer to photographers?

OnRequest Images … http://www.onrequestimages.com/

 © StockArtistsAlliance 2004






SAA's Investigative Shopping Project

Starting in late 2003, SAA began conducting an ongoing study of stock image distribution through investigative shopping for stock images worldwide. We are tracking sales and royalty payments and in general observing the licensing process across a broad range of companies and distribution channels through licensing inquiries, "window shopping" on their websites and purchasing a variety of licenses from locations around the world.

We offer the results as we find them and it is up to individual photographers to determine how these may be interpreted in relation to their own business plan. We also offer the stock distributors the opportunity to reply to our observations. As our reports are based on the results of one or perhaps several contacts or licenses made, they may not be generally representative of other people's experiences. Following is a synopsis of observations made to date.

SAA Investigative Shopping Project: Archive

Feb 2004 - Getty's UK Pricing Substantially Higher than US and ROW
We observed that Getty Images as a rule has significantly higher prices for a UK based buyer to license Rights Managed images than for a buyer in the US or the rest of the world. This held true regardless of in which territory the images would actually be used. So. the higher price is NOT related to the place where the USE would occur but rather to the place where the BUYER was located.

For example, in pricing out  a small intranet use, a US based buyer would pay $120 for use in either the US or UK.  Conversely, a UK based buyer would pay 330 pounds for the same use in either the US or UK. We tried other pricing formulas and the prices stayed significantly higher in the UK across the board except for editorial use. We also tried these formulas in France, Brazil and New Zealand and all countries except the UK had reasonably comparable prices.

Why are UK buyers up-charged so much?  When we queried the UK sales team on three separate occasions, the representatives explained the difference as consistent with higher cost of other goods such as cars, CDs and shoes in the UK. They all pointed us to RF. RF however remains the same comparable price in the UK and the US and is evidently not affected by these economic forces.

We then followed up with Getty management and received the explanation that  specific regional pricing is partially based on local economic and market conditions and that pricing is subject to continuous review to achieve fair and equitable pricing in all regions.

Jan 2004 - Getty RM Pricing High for Small Commercial Uses.

We costed out a small commercial license on the Getty Images site of Powerpoint presentation usage for one month in US.. Among the RM brands on the Getty Images site, license fees ranged from $290 to $395.

We speculate that while smaller commercial licenses represent significant revenue potential, it would seem that high RM pricing for such uses would discourage buyers from using Rights Managed images and encourage the use of Royalty Free images which are priced from $35 to $99 for a 1MB file.  This is consistent with our experience in a follow up call to the London sales office in which the Getty representative recommended we consider RF rather than RM for this type of license.

Dec 2003 - Easy Cancellation of Getty Images License.
We licensed an image from Getty Images via their web site and cancelled it within the one month period allowed. The cancellation process, from a buyer's perspective was exemplary. Our request was promptly processed and the personal service was courteous and professional.

Nov 2003 - 3rd Party Distribution Splits: Foodpix on Getty Images.

We licensed a Foodpix image from the Getty website in order to determine what share of gross revenues the photographer was making due to the sub-distribution split. SAA paid $120 for a license which netted $30 to the photographer, so it appears that Getty Images' commission is 50% of the gross license fee, the photographer then splits the balance received by Foodpix, and thus nets 25% of the gross license fee.

The photographer was unable to obtain this information by inquiring of PictureArts (Foodpix) directly as it was described as "proprietary". SAA also contacted Foodpix with the results of our license and asked for confirmation of the commission paid to Getty as a "sub" distributor and were again told that the terms of their sub-distribution agreement were proprietary.

Premium Pricing of 3rd Party Brands on Getty Images Website.
Pricing out Rights Managed images on the GettyImages.com web site, we were surprised to observe that several 3rd party brands costed out substantially higher than the Getty RM Brands for the same usage.

For example, in the UK, the cost for the lowest intranet use was 330 UK pounds for a FoodPix image versus 275 pounds for a Stone image. This pricing differential was confirmed with a telephone call to the UK sales office. In the US, the same use costed out at $395 for a Foodpix image versus $310. for a Stone image and $290. for images from the other Getty RM brands Taxi, TIB and Photographer's Choice.





Pharmer or Fotographer? - by David Riecks

" Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world.
   Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. "            Margaret Mead

I've been reading a book over the past week titled "Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" by Eric Schlosser. I'm finding too many parallels between what has happened to the farmers that supply the consolidators and middlemen of chain restaurants and photographers that supply the mega-stock photo agencies.

The one thing that becomes obvious quickly, is that the groups that make out the best financially in virtually any segment of the fast food industry are the middle men. Those who find a way to control the prices for commodities through various methods, either through their purchasing methods, or the way they sell to their franchisee, are the ones that make out like bandits. You can tell that Mark Getty has a good grasp of this concept, because he's used it to allow photographers to destroy themselves. Unfortunately most of the individual photographers that are being abused by this system haven't "got it" yet, and probably won't until they are paying $200 an image for the "honor" of having it appear on the providers website where they will get 25 cents on the dollar anytime it is licensed.

In the end, it's society that loses out. Whether it's food or images, the "consumer" ends up being served a largely homogenous product, at what appears to be a reasonable price and being told it's good for them. However, the producers of that food or those images get just a few pennies on the dollar of every sale. Schlosser gives this chilling account of the Idaho potato farmer:

Over the past twenty-five years, Idaho has lost about half of it's potato farmers. During the same period, that amount of land devoted to potatoes has increased. Family farms are giving way to corporate farms that stretch for thousands of acres. These immense corporate farms are divided into smaller holdings for administrative purposes, and farmers who've been driven off the land are often hired to manage them. The patterns of land ownership in the American West more and more resemble those of rural England. "We've come full circle, " says Paul Patterson. "You increasingly find two classes of people in rural Idaho: the people who run the farms and the people who own them."

The author goes on to interview Bert Moulton, a representative of PGI, (the Potato Growers of Idaho) who explains that Idaho's farmers deserve some of the blame for their own predicament. The potato farmers remain stubbornly independent and unwilling to join forces. He says that "Some of them are independent to the point of poverty."

Sound familiar?

About half of Idaho's farmers belong to the PGI, but they need about three-quarters to have any real bargaining power. The large processors (the middlemen) now offer "joint-ventures" where they provide farmers with the potato seed and financing for their crop (doesn't sound like they are all that "independent" does it?). Mr. Moulton warned at the time (the book was published in 2001) that, "If potato farmers don't band together, they'll wind up sharecroppers."

I think one could argue that photographers who accept "assignments" from the big agencies, (such as where the agency foots the expenses in exchange for a smaller percentage of the licensing fee), or outright "work-for-hire" are about as "independent" as those potato farmers accepting these "joint-ventures."

Unlike photography, the farming profession has already been depressed for several decades. Farmers continue to get squeezed out, having to take on second jobs, just to make ends meet. This is because what they produce is considered an "undifferentiated commodity." By producing the same raw material as hundreds of others (what the consolidators and middlemen ask for), they gave up, in effect, the ability to set their own price.

I've heard photographers wince at being called "content providers" and of having large agencies refer to their work as "commodities," but let's face it. To most of these large agencies, that's all we are... Work-for-hire day-laborers, and digital serfs .

On the other hand, I know some farmers that did listen to what the consumer wanted, and they started organic livestock and produce farms. As a result, they often can set their own price, a price often considerably above what the typical market charges. In my local area, (the heart of the heartland), I'm please to see these farmers fighting back; but they do understand it's an uphill battle. The best they can hope for now is too command a "niche" market, such as organics. Even this is not an assured future, however; as the corporations have this target market in their sights as well. They plan to erode this niche as well (and drag down the quality of organic while they are at it but that's another story).

The demand for these niche products isn't always enough to support many farmers in a given area, but it can support some. Those that are doing better than others have found ways to create something that isn't a "commodity." They raise free range chickens, organic pork and beef, or organic crops. They form Community Sponsored Agriculture organizations (a form of co-op) where consumers pay up front, and share in both the risk or the bounty. All of these situations "work" because they are either cutting out, or becoming the middleman.

Think of what lessons we as photographers can learn from these scenarios. If we remain the creators of largely undifferentiated commodities, accept the "joint-ventures" and become "content providers" for the big middlemen we will likely suffer the same fate as that of most farmers today. The alternative is to learn from their mistakes, get smart and become our own middleman and consolidators. We could open up new markets and find new ways of handling assignment work. But much remains to be done if the consumer is to find us and demand our product.

The first step we can take is to put aside our stubborn independence, and get enough of us to band together that we become a force to be reckoned with. It's time for this "committed group of individuals" to see what we can do to change our world, before the sun goes down on our operation.

David Riecks

Originally Posted to the Creative Eye "Roundtable" on 6/25/03   david@riecks.com   Websites: http://www.riecks.com/ http://zillionbucks.com   http://www.ControlledVocabulary.com/

Back to Top

SAA Issue Paper: Why Sensitive Subject Policies Are Important

We are heartened to see that many stock agencies and portals address the issue of usage restrictions which prevent images from being licensed for a range of potentially sensitive subject areas such as disease, sexuality and politics along with alcohol and tobacco, without the photographer's permission. Some agencies have blanket policies in place to flag such licenses in order to obtain approval. Portals typically give the photographer the option to reject sensitive subject uses via an online template in which you can choose to exclude certain types of licenses.

Many stock photographers previously enjoyed relationships with agents who had comprehensive sensitive subject policies in place which flagged such licenses and asked for our written approval in advance of granting these licenses. In some cases, the photographer or the talent declined the license; in other cases, it was an acceptable license for both photographer and talent.

With industry consolidation and the shift to ecommerce business models came the streamlining of policies and elimination and/or softening of of these protections for photographers. In doing so, however, these agents discounted the validity of reasonable ethical and business concerns of their contributing photographers and forced their blanket consent to any and all uses of their images. Consider the case of a photographer who is morally opposed to having their images used to promote tobacco use, or a model who does not want to appear in a condom ad. In addition to these objections on moral grounds, photographers are exposed to far greater potential liability if talent is offended by the usage, regardless of how tough a model release they had signed. It also puts increased pressure on the photographer to obtain talent who is willing to work under these terms. With tougher Model Releases and the broader spectrum of licenses, talent agents are increasingly aware of ramifications for their talent of accepting stock bookings ; and we are aware of several agencies advising their talent not to agree to such terms. This is not surprising given the growth of royalty free and the media coverage of legal actions by talent.

For many of us, this has became a major roadblock in moving forward with submissions. For those using professional models, there is the very real issue of increasing liability exposure. For those using family and friends as models, it may be more of a personal issue. A photographer who specializes in photographing children might be particularly uncomfortable with such terms. For others, it is also an issue of the comfort level with licensing their images to market certain types of products and services.

The stock agent's intention may be to streamline, simplify and increase revenues; but the unintended result may also be to dry up the well of talent and photographers who are willing to create images under such inflexible and unaccommodating terms.

We also find it hard to believe that the small limitation on usage - or simply the delay in licensing in order to obtain permission -- would have any appreciable impact on licensing revenues. Needless to say, clients seeking images for "sensitive uses" are well aware of their issues and responsibilities and could accept this condition which incidentally would provide assurance to them that the copyright holder of an image has signed off on their using it.

We are entitled to expect those who represent our images to respect our legitimate moral and business concerns, and would hope that they recognize that doing so is good business for them as well. A willingness to screen licenses would encourage more submissions by concerned photographers as well as increase the agent's opportunities to work with quality talent. It would also help to build a foundation of good will and trust at this critical juncture in the evolution of the stock photography business.

We urge all of you to carefully review the sensitive subject policies of your agents and representatives, and when in doubt, ask for clarification and documentation of their screening process.

Back to Top

SAA Issue Paper: The Problem with Funded Shoots

It has become standard practice for major stock agents to engage in the practice of funded shoots to develop "mostly/wholly owned" content for the agencies. While there are variations on the practice, the concept is the same - hiring a photographer to create rights-protected content for a fee (day rate) plus all expenses and art direction, in exchange for royalties of 5 to 10 percent of future license fees.

For photographers starting out in the business short on cash, and/or looking to get their foot in the door, this can be a tempting proposition. It is however, clearly detrimental to them and to all photographers as it results in the agent reaping dramatically increased potential revenues on future licenses while the photographer shares minimally in the profits from his or her own images.

It is our belief that this policy of commissioned shooting puts agents in direct competition with their contributing rights-protected photographers. In our poll of SAA membership on issues in the stock industry, members cited a top concern as "competition from commissioned images."

It is common knowledge that Getty and Corbis, along with other agencies, recruit rights-protected photographers for funded shoots. We have every indication that this practice is growing in instances where it is a more profitable alternative to the "traditional" model of developing rights-protected content with a more equitable royalty split with photographers paying their own production costs.

These productions are yielding extensive collections of mostly owned images that appear to be quickly edited and uploaded onto their web sites, to compete directly with images produced by photographers under contract who are paying their own production costs and making significantly higher royalties. In some cases, the agencies can 'cherry-pick' the most saleable subjects, fund the shoot, upload them quickly and reap a higher margin ... while leaving the less needed or more expensive (hence lower margin) subjects for the individual photographers.

Agencies claim that they don't want to do funded shoots, but have no option if photographers aren't delivering the images they need. Yet, at the same time, it is not "business as usual" as many photographers report that it is increasingly difficult to get images accepted, and that entire shoots have been rejected making their self-financed productions less financially viable, and subsequently the level of submissions has dropped significantly.

We are further concerned about the possibility of preferential treatment being shown in marketing images from these funded shoots. It is an inherent conflict of interest for a content distributor to make decisions as to which images to promote, when they will clearly profit more from some than from others (90 percent or more of royalties), as well as have an "investment" in some more than others (production costs and day rates to recoup).

Indeed, with the loss of the "artist/agent" concept as the defining term of major agency contracts - with its legal obligation that they use "best efforts" to market our images - the agency practice of commissioned shooting to develop mostly owned collections puts Right-Protected photographers in an even more precarious position.

Turning the other cheek to funded shoots essentially allows content providers to use the revenues from licensing our images to build long-term business models that could put US out of business. It is for each photographer to decide whether they can continue to contribute images in the potentially uneven playing field of competing with the growing collection of agent-financed images.

Back to Top

A Perspective on the Future - September 15 2001

The process of negotiating the Getty Images contract highlighted a number of changes taking place between photographers and stock photography companies. I would like to examine a few of these issues and propose an alternative way of thinking about the evolution underway in the stock industry.

Getty Images has not been and never will be an "Agency." An Agency represents a photographer's images and finds markets for the work. Getty Images is an (IDC) image distribution company. Getty looks first to the client and determines what the client wants then filters through the photographers' images selecting those images the client needs. The sooner we recognize this change within Getty Images and virtually every other stock photography company, the less frustration we will have and the better off we will be. We will be better off because we will realize that getting our images to the market is our responsibility. We have already taken the first step by making the SAA work. We demonstrated that we possess the most important ingredient in determining our success, TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR OUR FUTURE. I say forget the agency model, by in large it was always an illusion. Tony Stone Images, FPG and TIB demonstrated how committed they were to the photographer when they sold out and moved on leaving us in the care of Getty Images. The same can be said about Sharpshooters, The Stock Market, Corbis and numerous other stock companies.

The death of the 50/50 percent split is a bad deal, but a better deal may have been born. Free market dynamics has at its core competition and other companies noticing that photographers demand a more equitable split have responded to this need. Along come Creative-eye, Alamy and Workbook Stock with a better royalty split, lower catalog charges and a photographer friendly structure. Those choices, however, are still predicated on codependency. The healthiest choice is to dismiss the expectation of them taking care of us, and switch our thinking to us taking care of ourselves. The tools of the Internet and e-commerce provide us with what we need to build our own business model based on independence, and under that model we get more than thirty, forty or fifty percent. We get 100%.

From my point of view a revolution is taking place in stock photography. Like all revolutions there is a great deal of pain, uncertainty and anxiety. When this phase is complete there will be a new order. The question is, do we have what it will take individually and collectively to define the new order or will we allow Getty Images, Corbis or any other "agency" to do that for us? Make no mistake, this struggle is as old as business. It's all about Control, Power, Capital and Labor. While we have the talent and labor, we must also get our hands on the capital and build effective distribution networks.

A factor which will challenge the Stock Artist Alliance is our ability to have a global vision while allowing for and even celebrating our uniqueness. Being British, American, European, Asian, Latin or African and balancing those individual characteristics with the need to be unified as a global group of photographers is going to be a monumental challenge. I would suggest that the ingredient which will be essential is Respect. We will need to develop a way of communicating which will allow for individualism while working for the collective interest. We will need an understanding that dissent is not our enemy. When we care about something we have passion and when we express our ideas we are actually trying to get to a better place. The real enemy is apathy and singular self interest. Mature self interest is not only a good thing, it is essential. We must see that protecting the rights and promoting the interests of all photographers is helping us achieve our personal self interest.

Educating, motivating and organizing our colleagues who are in the frame of mind of looking out just for themselves and not working for the collective interest is going to be one of our biggest challenges.

The Stock Artists Alliance provides you with an organization focusing on the issues and opportunities effecting Stock Photography. The SAA needs your ideas, your participation, and support. When you join you will be taking positive action which demonstrates that you are taking responsibility for your future.

Wayne Eastep



About SAA | News & Reports | Membership Info | StockArtists.com Website| Member Log-In


Copyright © 2004 StockArtistsAlliance