Stock photography has taken some interesting turns in the last decade, each one tightening the screws on photographers a bit more until it has become unwise and unprofitable for a good photographer to work with any of the existing stock photo agencies.
The latest hit came from Alamy who has announced that they will be funding their expansion by cutting royalties to photographers 10%. The math on this isn’t very clear, but it works out to a loss of income of considerably more than a straight 10% cut in royalties.
Downward pressure can only go so far before it either breaks the machine, or springs back. I believe this day has arrived in the stock photo market. I do not currently know of one agency at this point who has not given the shaft to the photographers to which they owe their lifeblood.
It is interesting to see how the game is playing out. Microstock pushed many of the bigger players, and ones who gave photographers a fair deal, out of business by accepting low quality images from amateur photographers and licensing them for pennies. The price was so cheap that it couldn’t help but disrupt the industry.
Now the microstock companies are seeing their pricing was too low and are significantly raising prices, with two of the agencies approaching pre microstock prices on the images they license… while cutting rates to contributors at the same time. Nice game, but eventually the margins cross and with some agencies paying less than 15% of royalties the zero line is near.
Both buyers and contributors lose here. For example, iStock who initiated the race to the bottom by licensing images for 10 and 15 cents is now charging as much as $270 per image. That is more than most royalty free stock agencies charged before being driven out of business by the pennies on the dollar pricing of microstock. Those old royalty free stock photo agencies paid photographers a 60% or better commission on the images they licensed. We now have a situation where buyers are paying more, and photographers are getting less. Much less!
Quality images are expensive to produce. Diminishing returns result in the more professional photographers pulling out, and all contributors cutting back on production values to maintain some modicum of profitability, and a severe decline of image quality. Add to this the liabilities of the crowdsourcing business model where the agencies don’t know and refuse to even speak with their contributors and it will prove a wise move for buyers to also shun the stock photo agencies.
A growing number of photographers have pulled out of the stock photo agencies and have moved to direct licensing of stock. I think we will see this becoming a trend.
For photographers who are looking for a way out, the following may be solutions for you:
These are a starting point. There are many other options for licensing your own stock.