Micro Payment Agencies - Some Alternatives
By George Munday
My earlier essay Micro Payment Agencies – A Force for Good or Evil resulted in an overflowing inbox and a strongly debated string in the Luminous Landscape Forum. It was my intention to start a debate and in that respect it was a success, with the range of views and depth of feeling about the subject coming as a welcome surprise. Some interpreted my comments as a very good thing that needed to be said!, others dismissed them as the dying squeals of an aging dinosaur. Both are probably partly correct. Either way I would like to thank all of you - for or against - who took the time to write.
I would like to make a couple of final comments on this changing market and many of those who disagreed suggested that rights managed (RM) agencies sold photography at extortionately high prices. Probably true in a few cases, but there was always a vast range of fees and most clients were able to shop around to get better prices. None of those who disagreed with my viewpoint were able to give me a convincing reason why the prices need to have dropped to quite such a low figure; and current analysis indicates that the agencies most suffering from the impact of the MPA are those in the royalty free (RF) sector that never charged the higher prices of the RM agencies.
St Patrick's Day:
This iconic image of Ireland has sold well
because it is fully released.
The cost to the photographer would include models,
make-up artist, costume hire and the photographer's time and would amount to
quite a substantial amount.
Sold through a rights managed agency it will make
up the outlay and return a profit in a reasonable time. Credit "The Irish
There is a vast gulf between top professionals and even the advanced amateurs when it comes to shooting the genre known as "lifestyle". If professionals are unable to recoup the high expenditure for model and property released shoots of high quality, and make a profit, then they wonít shoot them. This presents the MPA's with a problem, because they may have to operate without high-end photography.
In the long term therefore, the cost of setting up high quality shoots will probably ensure that rights managed agencies will continue to exist. As for the MPA's, I suspect that they will evolve into a different model with a wider range of prices, just like RF agencies did.
So, what are the alternatives to the micro payment agencies?
It's an undoubted fact that Corbis and Getty Images rule the stock industry (Jupiter should also be there, but rumours are rife that it will shortly be taken over by Getty). But they are not the only players in the stock photography market. History is littered with huge monoliths from the Roman Empire in military terms, to Enron in the business environment. The common failing in these vast empires is that they tend to spawn inherent weaknesses that present opportunities to smaller entities that are more flexible and can respond to changes much quicker.
Donít write off the chance of the above agencies accepting your images, but do be aware that between them they represent many superb photographers who are at the top of their game. No matter how many pictures they have though, people and places continue to change and this means that images need to be updated.
Often the changes are quite dramatic, hairstyles change, make-up and fashions change. Cities and communities all over the world look different from one year to the next, major buildings appear where previously there was a derelict site, major buildings disappear overnight to be replaced by a new structure. Take a look at a street scene photographed just six or seven years earlier and already it looks dated, especially with the overall design and appearance of cars changing almost as fast as digital cameras! Changes like these mean that most agencies constantly need to update their stock, they could be yours.
Despite the dominance of Getty and Corbis, there are still a large number of stock agencies, but who or what to choose? In the following examples, Iíve selected three agencies each with a different way of working.
The first of the three is Alamy, a comparatively new company that has a different approach in that the contributing photographers choose their (hopefully) best images. Initially each picture was required as a high res tif file of 48 MB or more, to be sent on a DVD; but they are now accepting them as Jpegs through a web browser via http.
Unusually, they don't edit their incoming stock for content, but they do examine imagery very carefully for dirt, noise and other aberrations. Their quality control is rigorous and rarely do pictures that are not up to standard escape their quality control department. Photographers also need to supply all the required metadata like captions, keywords and release details. In exchange for this additional work the photographers are offered commission rates of 65% on sales.
The downside for good photographers and clients is that the lack of editorial control tends to mean that searches on any given subject may result in the appearance of second-rate images. However, they have recently introduced a new search technology called AlamyRank, that moves images from the best collections to the top of search results. The new search engine will favour the photographers and stock distributors that provide the best images along with the equally important key wording and captions. It will, however, penalize those providing mediocre work or using inappropriate keywords, hoping their images will be seen more often.
A second software package, called the Diversity Algorithm ensures that no individual supplier dominates any particular search. It functions by dispersing the images of even the highest-ranked suppliers so that image buyers see excellent work from many different sources before seeing more images from the top-ranked suppliers. For the conscientious and dedicated photographers it comes as some welcome news.
Details can be found at http://www.alamy.com.
Farmers: This shot could be undertaken using friends, but unless it's released
it will not sell to a great degree.
But even friends deserve some payback even
if it's only a couple of pints each.
Again the photographer's time and costs
like location finding and transport etc should be factored in.
Irish Image Collection"
The second is Photographers Direct, a photographic portal where photographers receive 80% of the sale price of their images. It should be noted that they will not work with photographers who submit their photographs to micro payment agencies. Currently they do not store high res files, so photographers upload jpegs with a dimension of 500 pixels on the longest side at 72 dpi. Criteria concerning the images, which is strictly adhered to, can be found on the website. For photographers whose work is accepted there is an FTP facility for bulk uploads of the preview sized images. The Photographers Direct watermark is then automatically applied so the researcher can keep track of where they are from. The file size is compressed so you can fit more pictures in your space allocation and downloads are faster.
They have no set fees for images, so picture buyers contact the photographer directly, they can quote the budget available to them and the photographers can individually decide if this is acceptable or visa versa. Details can be found at http://www.photographersdirect.com.
A similar commission rate is offered to photographers at the Independent Photography Network or IPNStock. They are not a traditional agent, but a facilitator that distributes work, promotes its members and provides technological solutions. A useful service for photographers who don't want to invest a lot of money into customizing or updating their own website and are interested in being part of a larger stock network.
IPN claim to offer one of the most favourable commission splits that exists for submitting photographers, with nearly 80% of the sale going to the member. As part of VNU Business Media, parent company of Photo District News, IPNstock is assured of multi-level marketing and promotion. They market the site directly through regularly scheduled e-mail campaigns to photo buyers and creatives around the world, print ads in trade publications and also use Google marketing and direct mail campaigns.
IPN is also one of the stock photography providers feeding images into Adobe Stock Photos (ASP). Whilst they accept images on CD or DVD, photographers can also post new images daily using a simple FTP drop box.
They have a one-time set-up fee of $595 for IPN to build and customize the photographerís site. For hosting photographers pay $195 a month. They look for a two-year commitment, and reserve the right to refuse images if they do not fit their quality criteria for the network site.
Details can be found at www.ipnstock.com.
Apart from those previously mentioned, there are many more agencies and these can be found by perusing the websites of the stock agency organisations in different countries overseas. Hereís a list of some of them:
Spain: Association: AEAPAF http://www.aeapaf.org
Portugal: Association : AEAPAF http://www.aei.pt
United Kingdom: Association : BAPLA http://www.bapla.org
France: Association : FNAPPI http://www.fnappi.com
Netherlands: Association : NLIMAGE http://www.nlimage.nl
Switzerland Association : SAB http://www.sab-photo.ch
USA Association : PACA http://pacaoffice.org
Yet More Agencies
While the larger "generic" agencies will usually have a carefully edited and small selection of diverse subjects, they rarely have the depth of coverage that can be found in specialist agencies. Specialist agency staff have an in-depth knowledge of their subject, information that they are happy to impart and is frequently of great importance to picture researchers, they also tend to have a more people orientated approach to their clients. One agency owner recently said that picture researchers often ring her so that they can get to talk to a real person and not an automated answer machine!
They succeed quite simply because the range of specialist subjects covered is enormous, ranging from maternal mother and child pictures to solely environmental matters, aviation to flowers, individual countries and often specific areas within a country.
A random glance at some of the above websites revealed Photocuisine in France, just food - being made, prepared and eaten. Queer Stock with pictures of the universal gay fraternity and Alaska Stock with pictures covering all aspects of life and landscape in that most northerly of American locations. Thereís an agency called World Religions and there is of course my old company, The Irish Image Collection, now based in London under new management. There are transport agencies offering images of vintage cars, while thereís another called Milepost 92 Ω, that specialises in Railways. The UK has a large number of specialist agencies, some rather eccentric.
Finally there is another factor that unites many of them, they are often owned and ran by a photographer (rather than the ubiquitous accountant). Often, the agency staff are also photographers and share a passion and commitment for photography, particularly when it features the subject of their esoteric genre. New submissions are for the most part welcome from skilled, creative photographers and you may be surprised by their willingness to offer advice to new photographers with potential ability.
There are too many too list here, but perhaps other photographers could start a forum and write in with suggestions. I hope that the information Iíve given will point you in the right direction and encourage you to dig a little deeper to find an agency that suits your talents and requirements.
by George Munday
George Munday graduated from the Birmingham (England) School of Photography in 1975. After leaving college he became a photo - journalist for four years, before moving to Ireland to take up a partnership in an advertising and commercial studio; a business that gradually morphed into Irelandís leading stock photography agency.
In 2002 he set up a specialist Irish Agency, however tired of being a photography administrator, he sold it at the beginning of this year to enable him to go back to being a photographer. In addition it has also given him the opportunity to devote more time to Copper Coast Workshops, the residential, weekend workshops for digital photographers that were set up two years ago. He has also set up his first ten-day workshop scheduled for this years Fall (Autumn) on the wild west coast of Ireland.
Apart from the workshops, he supplies stock photography to various stock agencies, writes, photographs and supplies features about Ireland.