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Resource Magazine

Frank Meo on the Business of Stock Agencies

Resource Magazine January 28, 2014 BIZ
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With photographers receiving checks for peanuts for their imagery why do they continue these one sided relationships with stock agencies? This bullshit really has got to stop..

Simple question: What is the upside to your business relationship with your stock agency?

Why do we keep these stock photo companies in business? It is an asinine situation that I simply do not get. Look at the revenue numbers for stock houses, and then look at your own. Why do photographers continue to feed these monsters? Is it just laziness? On every level it makes zero sense.

Even more insipid, when the agency sells an image of yours they don’t even give you an opportunity to up-sell. No client information, no art buyer contact, no art director contact–no information at all. How can that be? It most cases you don’t even know the image that was sold. Why do you put up with that? This is so condescending it is beyond words.

The financial split is not within my comprehension nor a conversation I can have without the high possibility of a brain aneurism.

Why do various photography clubs and organizations continue to have relationships with these stock agencies giants? My understanding of a trade organization’s mission is to be an advocate for their members. What part of the stock agency / photographer relationship benefits the photographer?

Why does the trade media continue to team with companies whose sole focus is to diminish the value of their core audience? What am I missing here? Please, tell me why we as an industry of free spirited, passionate, creatively gifted folks allow this to continue unabated.

Now of course there are stock agencies that are great and fair to their photographers. Everyone should run to them. Of course–the problem is that there are so few.

The stock agencies created and facilitated this devaluing of the incredible craft that you’ve master without any consequence to their bottom line.  Their solution to diminished revenue of your images is pretty simple, they just increase their percentage. All off your back! Why not put a halt to it?

Over the years there’s been plenty of industries that simply went away and nobody noticed. Photographers hold and supply all the assets to these greedy giants. If stock photography went away who would really care?

My passion comes from the utmost respect for photographers. We’ve been attached at the hip for thirty+ years, and the photographers who know me know my respect runs deep and wide. As a photo rep I personally would have nothing without you folks. This situation with stock photography baffles and pains me to my core.

Frank-Meo, Stock-agencies, Business

About the Author:

Frank Meo is the founder of thephotocloser.com, an online global search engine that connects photographers to art buyers, editors and clients. Currently, thephotocloser.com represents 200+ photographers and video directors in 80 cities around the world. Meo has worked for Getty Images as Director of Photo Assignments, USA Sales.

For 25 years, Meo has represented photographers that include Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalists in securing highly valued commercial assignments. He has worked on hundreds of company photo libraries and campaigns for clients such as American Express, Acura Motor Sports, Xerox, ESPN, Citi, Nike and others. His photographers have worked for every major newspaper, magazine and TV station around the globe.

Meo has been an active member of The Society of Photographers and Artists Representatives (SPAR) from 1984-present. He participates on various panels and workshops for the International Center of Photography (ICP), The Art Directors Club, The One Club for Art & Copy, American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), and Advertising Photographers of America (APA), PDN Expo and Palm Springs Photo Festival. In 2010 he was a nominator for the prestigious Infinity Awards. He was a judge for the 2011 and 2012 Foto Week DC Awards as well as the 2012 PDN Photo Contest.

 

  • http://www.danwagnerphotography.com Dan Wagner

    As usual Frank Meo hits the nail on the head. His analysis and logic are flawless. As a photographer I remember going to hear a stock agency owner preach how stock photos would help photographers. He said that stock buyers would be people who normally don’t buy or can’t afford photography, like churches and tiny businesses doing their own one page brochures and such. I didn’t believe one word. Soon after I heard another agency owner describe the goal of stock photography was to turn photos into a commodity, like corn. Of course stock photography ruined many assignment photographers. I used to have magazine clients say, our budget is X because that’s what a stock photo would cost us. Funny thing is that now, with prices depressed, most mags don’t want to pay the cost of a stock photo because it’s often tied to their subscription numbers and space. Oh, well the cat is out of the bag — good luck getting it to go back in. :)

  • http://www.debbybrown.com Debby Brown

    I definitely agree with Frank and am very frustrated with the stock agencies that sell royalty free (and almost free) images. That being said, I like the idea of selling existing images for a fair usage fee. I rep several photographers, none of whom have a big presence in any stock agency. However, only one has managed to organize his images into a cohesive, easy-to-use library of his own. I am lucky enough to manage it for him, and we do very well charging fair, albeit sometimes higher, prices than the stock agencies do. And no royalty-free option.
    I would love to see more photographers setting up their own libraries and selling to their existing clients, but it takes some time to start from scratch. However, I believe it pays off handsomely in the long run. If the biggest resistance to this idea is that it would cut down on the number of assignments being doled out, that is already happening and has been going on for quite some time. My theory is if you can’t beat the stock agencies, then join them. Just do it on your own and better.

  • http://Www.roblindsaypictures.com Rob Lindsay

    Thank you, Frank, for your brutal honesty. I hope it will make some shooters think harder about the worth of their work.

    This financial race to the bottom can be fought by more open honest talks like this one. Perhaps groups of photographers can create their own coops and sell on their own as suggested by Debbie Brown.

    It’s been done before, under much harsher conditions!

    Rob Lindsay

  • http://www.matthiastunger.de Matthias Tunger

    Hello Frank, hello creative people,
    it would be unture to say that stock agencies are bad for photographers. There are so many changes that happen to the photo industry through the years. Nowadays photographers realy have to think about how and where to sell their work. It can´t be the best to earn less than a Dollar or Euro per sale, compared to the work an image needs to be successfull and most important of all pleasing your mind and senses. There should be an interaction with the industry, but with people understanding what photographers need and how they live, not with the key account manager who tries to get the best share. If anyone knows about a new brilliant compromise, let me know!
    Beste Grüße
    Matthias

  • Anonymous

    Hello,

    i think the stock photography can’t damage the assignment photography as wear a plastic bag can’t damage jobs of tailors. Probably the only thing that could hurt is the view of the spectators.

    Giorgio Cesarini

  • “Established Genius, Aspiring Pro”
  • http://nope.com Martin Slate

    Hi Frank,

    Sorry, but you’re misguided. Stock agencies are a vital part of the industry and not going away. It’s simply a matter of supply and demand. If you (or any photographer) can create super high-end, hard-to-recreate photographs, then guess what? You’re in business.

    If what you’re capable of is average, or barely above average, then you’re not going to survive as a photographer. It’s too easy to make a decent picture these days. Everybody is a photographer.

    As a result, the prices paid for licensing photographs have dropped.

    Simple.

    Railing against companies for making money isn’t very effective, but thanks for trying.

  • http://michaelrweaver.com Michael Weaver

    Years ago the stock agencies filled a void that is almost completely gone now with the ability to do an image search online. You can find pretty much anything you want and connect directly with the image creator today.

    Stock agencies held transparencies and took requests for a certain type of image. They were generally put in an air courier package and sent off to whatever entity ordered them. They paid a research fee and the cost of the courier.

    Today the agency hosts images online and the customer creates a search and sees the results almost instantly. They can download an image for a comp or get a final image for publication. Completely automated.

    Now, when there were huge files of transparencies that needed handling and shuffling to various buyers, there were reasons that the stock agency made sense. Today they serve pretty much only as a search engine and take the same cut as when they actually had to earn their keep with human intervention.

    Just like the newspapers saved all of the money from wet processes when they went to digital production, the stock agencies have been able to maximize efficiency by using electronic means to store and deliver images. The newspapers have historically squandered the savings and not reinvested in talent and product, but gave it to owners and shareholders.

    The stock agencies have done the same. They pocket the money that came from increased efficiency and have kept the percentage payout to photographers the same as prices have been deflated.

    Lastly, not everyone is a photographer. Many people get lucky from time to time with equipment that does a lot of the work that used to require training and skill, but that does not make them a photographer. They are generally unable to repeat what they have done in the past because they don’t know what they did the first time. The camera did it for them. They will never be my competition.

    Part of the problem with photographer compensation is that material that would never pass for print media is “good enough” for the transmitted light of a phone or tablet display. You see images that would never translate to a print page well (cheaply and improperly done) being used because someone needs to fill cheap space online. That is the bulk of the business out there today. Transmitted light images on a small screen hide a lot of defects.

    I say that whoever creates the image search engine that works well to locate existing images and connect them with end users at a reasonable fee to either the user or creator will put the stock agencies out of business. Everyone loves or hates Google for any number of reasons, but their image search function is a step in the right direction.

  • Carl Madson

    Thanks, Frank — that was well stated and with appropriate emphasis (and frustration). You’re right that both sides need serious change, and that only a coordinated effort by photographers pushing back will amount to anything the agencies will notice. If shooters keep handing over the goods for pennies, they shouldn’t be surprised if the situation gets worse instead of better. There will always be some exploitative agencies and mediocre shooters out there; I hope good reps & agencies can distinguish themselves in the market and keep quality photography available for a fair price — and well above zero.

    (And the latest from Getty shows that games are played by small and large operations. The good ones are indeed very hard to find.)

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