Using a stock image agent
This is by far the most popular method for the sale of photographs nowadays. The bulk of images purchased are for use in some sort of marketing or electronic production. For the people who use images for publication via print or on the web they use stock image agents to ensure they do not fall foul of copyright infringements. So if you are looking to be able to sit back on your sofa and watch your pictures roll out and the profits roll in, this may be the method for you.
How does it work?
The stock image agents use photographers to amass a database of images which they allow the public to select and purchase. The images are generally watermarked and secured to prevent illegal downloading. In the majority of cases this sale is for the rights to use the image rather than exclusivity. This means the client can use the image but it remains available for resale to anyone else who might wish to use it.
For each of the images sold the photographer is paid a commission and the image agent will get paid a handling fee. The prices and allocated percentage differ greatly from one agent to the next. There are a number of variables involved in the set up of each stocking agent. The amount of images, and space available for storage is a consideration and differs depending on the provider. The length of time you are allowed to have images stored without any sales can also vary. There are also different approaches to how the images are promoted with some agents using a range of direct marketing techniques to ensure they promote business.
Which agent is best for me?
All of the various strategies are important to consider before you commit to using any one stock image provider. Subscription to a stock image agent is usually free, all you will need is an email address. Payment is generally arranged via PayPal, or other alternative methods. Each agent will insist on exclusive use of your images, so you cannot enroll with five different agencies to ensure the widest dispersal of your material. There is no fail-safe method of ensuring this does not happen, but it is considered best practice to choose one which is tailored to how you want to work.
Can I change my agent?
There is no contract, just terms and conditions, with the agents and you can generally control your stock of images by adding and removing images from your own personal directory. It is worth checking this facility first. You can do this by making a small test folder of images and check how easy it is to add or delete pictures. If you feel as though you are not getting the best service then you can stop using one agent and start using another. Generally there is no fixed length of contract, but you should check this out when you are going through your subscription process. If you have already sold a photo through one agent you will usually not be able to remove this picture from their archive. You will also not be able to sell the same picture with a different agent as that is usually a breach of the terms and conditions of the website.
How do I know if it will work?
There is no sure fire way of guaranteeing you will sell your photography via a stock agent. The market for photographs and the quantity of pictures on the web is intensely competitive. Often it is as much down to luck as anything else that your photograph is selected for use. The stock agents are a global 24hour a day business and they thrive on having the largest number of photographers regularly updating their files. It is worthwhile if you have a regular customer asking their opinion on the services provided and get some genuine honest feedback. If you are just starting out then your best bet is to choose the one that has the right set up for the type of business that you want to develop.
If I use an agent will I need my own website as well?
It is possible to manage this sort of a business without having your own website, but if you really want to create a portfolio of work that reflects how you operate as a photographer there is no substitute for your own bespoke website. Be careful not to use a Facebook page for your work as the process of protecting your pictures via Facebook is notoriously tricky.
Which stockists should I use?
The most popular ones on the web at the moment are; iStockphotos, Photo Biz, Instaproofs, Photobox, Shutterpoint, PicProofs. These are some of the main agencies (in order of preference) but there are other smaller operations out there which might be more in tune with your business needs.
Credit: Imogen Reed
Credit: Imogen Reed