Successfully Market Your Stock Photos in Face of Today’s Massive Competition!

I was looking at this morning.  It‘s a search engine devoted to finding free stock photos.  It got me thinking.  What is the most precious thing we have?

Well, health aside, it is time.  Time, in a sense, is on our side.  The number of stock photos, free and otherwise, is burgeoning and is only going to increase.  The more photos there are, the longer it is going to take to find the one that is right for a given use and client.  Flicker (which accesses) has, for example, at the time of this writing, over 2 billion images.  Let’s see, at three seconds per image, to see them all it would take over… oh never mind. You need a stock photo and you don’t have much money, so you start looking at free stock photos. 

After about six hours, and you still haven’t found what you’re looking for. You begin to realize that time, indeed, is money.  So you settle for something you don’t really want, or you start looking at a higher quality collection.  This scenario isn’t limited to people looking for free images.  Art Directors at major agencies, for example, have time constraints too.  They may have more time constraints than money constraints.  All of us have time constraints.  Everyone who uses stock on a regular basis is going to have to find ways to make the best use of their time when doing searches.

The search is everything

How can people make their searches more efficient?  They may turn away from agencies that have inefficient and bloated searches.  They may turn to niche agencies.  They will find a group of agencies and, perhaps, individual photographers who they know they can turn to.  Some agencies may survive by shear quantity of images, but I believe that the agencies, and individuals who will thrive are the ones who provide quality images combined with efficient searches and a superior client experience. 

It is hard to predict the future.  It may be that some technology innovation changes everything.  But short of that, agencies are going to have to find ways to make searches more efficient.  Dan Heller suggested the answer might lie in editors who can create collections and share in the revenue from the monetization of those collections.  Back in the good old days Tony Stone revolutionized the stock industry by editing down his collection, duping the heck out of it, and thereby making the images available to a wider audience.  But however it is done, the need to sort through the mass of images is real and the answer will come.

Disaster to opportunity

What can we do as photographers to turn the tables on this mass influx of images, to make this disaster-in-the-making into an opportunity?  The first thing we have to do is to create images that are relevant to the needs of the market and that stand out from the crowd by either having higher production value, unusually strong emotional impact or perhaps some hard-to-get location.  We have to make wise choices in the distribution of those images.  Are we going to be exclusive to an agency, or get the images out to as many distributors as possible? 

Right now, generally speaking, the same RF imagery is distributed through numerous outlets.  Go to one agency and the chances are that you will see the same images as the next agency has.  Micro stock shooters, for the most part, consider it an effective strategy to distribute through as many agencies as possible.  Even RM images are starting to be distributed on a non-exclusive basis.  Some agencies may decide that needs to change, that they need to be known for their own strong and exclusive imagery.  Istockphoto’s recent move to push for exclusivity is just such a move in that direction.

Choosing the right industry

When we are deciding where to place our images we also need to look closely at which agencies can best distribute our work.  I have work with Getty and Corbis.  I also have work with two niche agencies.  My ethnic business and lifestyle work goes to Blend Images, an agency focused on celebrating ethnic and business diversity.  My Animal Antics imagery goes to Kimball Stock, an agency specializing in animal images.

Branding is the final part of the puzzle.  It has never been more important for each of us to brand ourselves, to stand apart and create a reputation that can predispose potential clients to look at our work first.  But what does branding mean for a photographer?  How do we go about creating our own brand?

A unique and consistent look

Branding means having and communicating a unique and consistent look from start to finish including our work, our website, and our entire business.  The methods of communicating our brand range from source book ads and mailers to our websites and e-mail blasts, to stationery and business cards.  What is important is that our brand is professional, classy and consistent.  The key, though, is quality work.  In this new intensely competitive environment can never be satisfied with “OK”.  Be your own harshest critic.  Edit your work down till it hurts.  Never before has “less is more” been more appropriate. 

With this huge glut of images it is more important than ever to have our work be seen.  To do that we must choose our distributors carefully, produce only the best work, and effectively develop our own brand.  If we can do that then I believe the rewards of being a stock photographer can be greater than ever.

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