Why I do I charge what I do for commercial image use? I explain at Compound Eye:
As a business experiment I’ve submitted an assortment of photos to the high-end science/medical stock agency Visuals Unlimited. Photo users now have the option to license my images instantly through a third party instead of waiting for me to answer my email.
I had resisted joining an agency for years, as in the age of Google there is really no need for a middleman to sit between photographers and their clients. But I’m finding that an office of professionals ready to handle paperwork is quite helpful when I’m in the field. I still license directly, of course, but that’s no longer the only way to do it.
Also, they named me a Featured Wildlife Photographer, whereby I find myself flattered to be listed alongside such greats as Thomas Marent and Arthur Morris.
The New York Times on the changing face of the photography business:
Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.
“There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting,” said Holly Stuart Hughes, editor of the magazine Photo District News.
It’s worth pointing out that what’s happening to photographers is little different than what happens to every profession tied to ever-cheapening technology. The tools become accessible and careerists can’t rely on economic barriers to keep out the competition.
The world survives without typists, for example, as it will with a reduced cadre of pro photographers.
A couple years back I posted a short bit on how to register photo copyright with the U.S. government. That turned out to be the last time I filled out a registration with pen and paper. For all subsequent submissions I’ve used the new ECO system at http://www.copyright.gov/eco.
Let me disabuse you of any preconception that the online method is easier. You’ll need to clear an hour or two out of your schedule to prepare a submission. The new process involves clicking though an interminable array of confusing steps, filling out an order of magnitude more information than was requested in the paper form, and jockeying awkwardly between upload and payment sites.
Fortunately, photo attorney Carolyn Wright has created a set of directions that are clearer than anything the copyright office provides. I won’t duplicate her efforts by explaining how it works, other than to offer the following pointer: compress your images into a series of .zip files before you begin. How many files you’ll need will depend on the speed of your internet connection, as ECO logs you out after an hour. As with the old system, you can register an unlimited number of images in a single batch and a single fee.
Despite the hassle, I find online registration worthwhile. For one, it’s ten bucks cheaper. And more importantly, the turnaround time is several months faster than paper submission. So if you need your reg numbers quickly, ECO is really your only option.
Anyway, this is been an absolutely thrilling post. So here’s an ant:
15 points to the first person who can identify it.
The issue is not writing. It’s what you write about. One of my favorite columnists is Jonathan Weil, who writes for Bloomberg. He broke the Enron story, and he broke it because he’s one of the very few mainstream journalists in America who really knows how to read a balance sheet. That means Jonathan Weil will always have a job, and will always be read, and will always have something interesting to say. He’s unique. Most accountants don’t write articles, and most journalists don’t know anything about accounting. Aspiring journalists should stop going to journalism programs and go to some other kind of grad school. If I was studying today, I would go get a master’s in statistics, and maybe do a bunch of accounting courses and then write from that perspective. I think that’s the way to survive. The role of the generalist is diminishing. Journalism has to get smarter.
Gladwell’s advice applies equally to photography. Forget film school. Nature photographers are better served by graduate degrees in Genetics, Evolution, or Geology than anything from a generalized photography school. Know your subject, as they say.
Every year my part-time photography business does a little better than the year before. A few new clients, a few new venues, a few more visitors to my web sites. It’s not a meteoric rise by any measure, but considering the current economic situation I am counting my blessings.
Naturally, of course, when business is good I muse about expanding it. What would it take to become a full-time professional photographer? Continue reading →
This morning I had to deny a scientist permission to use my photos of her ants in a paper headed for PLoS Biology. I hate doing that. Especially when I took those photos in part to help her to promote her research.
The problem is that PLoS content is managed under a Creative Commons (=CC) licensing scheme. I don’t do CC. Overall it’s not a bad licensing scheme, but for one sticking point: CC allows users to re-distribute an image to external parties.
In an ideal world, non-profit users would faithfully tack on the CC license and the attribution to the photographer, as required by the CC license, and then the downstream users of those projects would faithfully continue to do the same.
But this is the real world. Continue reading →
My favorite upstart stock photography business, the Photoshelter Collection, has decided that their experiment was not successful enough to continue. This is a shame. The quality of imagery at Photoshelter is competitive with the industry giants, yet they treated photographers more fairly than the traditional agencies and used a more democratic, more merit-based criteria to recruit their talent. According to CEO Allen Murabayashi, the problem was one of competion with the entrenched corporate heft of the traditional agencies, especially Getty:
The largest consumers of stock photography are often locked into subscription deals, which makes it very difficult for them to consider alternate sources.
The closing of Photoshelter does not affect me in any material sense, but it’s never fun to see Goliath beating out David.
Update: Terry Smith Dissents
I don’t market my photos through an agency- my own sites work pretty well- but if I did, Photoshelter is one of the first companies I’d consider. They’ve navigated the emerging internet market more successfully than the traditional photo agency giants like Getty and Corbis, but unlike the microstocks they also pay their photographers decently.
What is microstock? It is a relatively new internet-based business model that licenses existing images for scandalously low prices. Traditionally, images are licensed through highly selective stock agencies for amounts in the hundreds of dollars or so, but microstock turns everything upside-down, moving images for just pennies each. Microstock companies aren’t choosy about the images they peddle, as they need vast quantities of stock for their business model to work. By allowing anyone to upload photos, they’ve dropped nearly every barrier to entry into the photo licensing business aside from the cost of a camera itself. And those get cheaper every year. A deluge of digital hobbyists is now competing with the pros, and the pros aren’t happy.
As a portion of my income derives from traditional photo licensing, I’ve been curious for some time about how competition from microstock affects my bottom line. This weekend I devoted a few hours at the computer to comparing the holdings of a number of stock agencies, both traditional and micro, to get a handle on whether I ought to be worried about this new phenomenon.
The answer, it turns out, is no.