Michael Jay Fotograf Berlin

Selling photos across agencies

Which agency should we support?

Poll results at MSG which agencies would "deserve" our support

Poll results at MSG which agencies would “deserve” our support

Occasionally I have followed posts at Microstockgroup telling us we should support Agency XYZ because it does so much for its contributors. Just recently someone held a poll about which agency deserves our support. I was a bit surprised to see Shutterstock taking the win from that poll – yes, I have made excellent contact with Shutterstock but they are listed on the stock market and their primary goal is to make money for them and their investors. Fair enough, that’s part of how our world works.

But I don’t think it needs or “derserves” our support. It is large enough, it is taking a big share of the license fees paid for our images. It can support substantial marketing campaigns and software development just fine on its own. Also, while I appreciate the total amount it pays, the single return per download is not really the best we can get, is it?

Then again, over time I have seen quite a few “contributor friendly agencies” starting up. In many cases led by one or two photographers who – let’s face it – in only very rare cases are technology experts, image editors, marketing gurus and sales people at the same time.

Contributor friendly agencies paying high percentages and making it easy to upload would certainly make us happy.¬†Though, an agency’s primary goal should be to sell my images. As often as possible. With the highest amount of royalties possible. For that, the most important fact of course is “the product”, content, price and search as the most important factors in this. The marketing is important as well, of course. The best looking site with usable content and a perfect search won’t make it unless it knows how to tell customers.

Therefore, dreams of agencies paying 60, 80 or 100% of license fees as royalties are not going to make me happy in the end, as they will lack the amount of money needed to advertise their services to clients and/or run and develop their technical platforms. A certain amount of money is needed for that.

I have recently written a first agency review and was very positive about GL Stock Images. I like their modern site, easiness of uploading, good communication and high royalties. However, there are other places I have sympathies for, Pond5 looks very interesting but also Shutterstock has a great contributor experience and I certainly like the amount of downloads. Also, the price range of GL Stock is pretty limited – while the choice of price levels is a nice thing, the most expensive image at the highest resolution is at a meager $15. Also the Extended Licenses are priced at $45 and $85 – not quite the highest prices seen even in the microstock markets. If I get 52% of a large image, I’m likely to get a royalty of $5,20 or $7,80 while as an iStock exclusive at 35% I used to get more than $20 for a single download quite regularly.

So percentages are not the only factor, price ranges are another. Stocksy is the example on the other side: The prices start at $10 and reach up to $100 for large sizes plus several hundreds for Extended Licenses. And I am getting a 50% cut plus a share in the profits (which I don’t really expect for the first few years). Still it is unclear if Stocksy will succeed, though the imagery is pretty astonishing and I am confident it will find its place in the market.

Another question is: How many agencies should be out there? This is quite difficult – as an independent, I don’t want too few agencies to be successful because if there is only a small amount of agencies, they would have enough market power to reduce the amount they are paying out to photographers. So I certainly want a strong competition for content.

The multitude of image agencies can be overwhelming

The multitude of image agencies can be overwhelming

Then again, the more agencies are out there, the more they need to fight for market share with clients. This means more cost for marketing and sales, and it also means fighting for the lowest price points. If all agencies would be equal, the only thing left for clients to make a decision would be the price – and if some agency pays me 50% of royalties, it won’t make me happy if their prices are half of another agency’s price paying 30%.

Also, more agencies means that each of them has to build, maintain and develop their technology platform. Those are being paid for with a part of the license fees collected for my images as well. Having to finance 20 agencies, each building their own system, obviously causes higher cost than only two or three agencies.

So, at the end it is hard to decide which scenario we should favour: Having three of four strong agencies, each serving the best product in a give segment of the market; or trying to push as many agencies as possible to avoid one or two of them gaining too much power which could also be used to reduce payments to us, the suppliers. For the time being I have decided to take most of my images to as many agencies as possible. Over the course of time, I will figure out which of them to make my favorites and support them as good as I can while trying to keep a balance.

What do you think? I’d be interested in a serious discussion beyond the typical replies to be seen that “all of them are bad”.

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