For articles, see F2 eZine Archive 8 - Oct - Dec 2001

Archive 8 - October - December 2001

Marketing News

Stock Photography: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
by Pat Hunt

Stock photography is a hot topic these days. It used to be definable in a context that everyone could understand. You chose to make it part of your revenue stream or not. You chose to pick an agency to market your film. You shot lots of volume (film was cheap), and you turned in a lot of your outtakes, and waited for a year, hoping for a 50% return commission on your investment. That was pretty straightforward and easy. What happened? How did it get hard?

Actually the industry goes back quite a bit further than you may think. In the 1920’s Ruth Nichols was a photographer of children. Her work was unique because she ran around with her heavy view camera capturing children in their natural environment, at play, at meals, in the bath, and having fun. This imagery caught on with the budding advertising community for its natural look and homespun appeal. She was so successful that she put together a printed catalog of her black and white images and sold them for $5.00 apiece.

Stock photography, as most of us know it, began to find it’s niche in the 1950’s, when enough agencies had formed into businesses to merit a trade organization to unite them. This was called PACA – The Picture Agency Council of America. PACA became more active in the 60’s and 70’s, concurrent with the development of better color printing techniques, and increased use of imagery in advertising. Clients began to seek quick, less costly access to images, and the editorial market absorbed a lot of stock material. During this time, photographers often thought of their outtakes and extras as the images to donate to stock usage, and rarely composed photographic shoots for the purpose of marketing in the stock arena.

As consumerism, communication, and advertising have continued to grow over the last two decades, the marketing and sale of stock photography has become a worldwide, sophisticated industry. We have seen the growth of new markets, new agencies, and new forms of production and delivery, that have created an industry which is now hand in hand with the control and dissemination of intellectual property on the internet in a global community.

With the growth of the photo industry has come the maturation of copyright laws, rights issues, trademark claims and model/property release needs, all having formed a strong structure around the photo industry. The biggest engine of change in the last decade has been the development of digital imagery, and the delivery of that imagery on various forms of media and on the Internet. Up until that time, all imagery was shipped in analog form (film), via systems such as Fed Ex and UPS. Clients were held responsible for tracking and returning these images, and production schedules required much longer turn around time.

We still see this system in force. But today, a lightbox of low rez sample images can be sent via a web URL in a matter of minutes. The client can make a choice, order the high rez to be sent for download on a fast DLS or T1 line, and go to press all in 24 hours. The ease and popularity of this technology has forced the stock industry as a whole to “fast forward” in its development. The cost of this development for traditional stock agencies has been very high, and for many the price tag has been out of reach.

The sophistication of this technology, along with the power of holding the world’s intellectual property, has attracted the investment community to the industry, thus changing forever the landscape of what we call the “traditional” stock photography agency. The former business model was most likely owned by photographers or designers, who enjoyed a personal relationship with the contributing artists, and fostered a marketing structure that almost seemed fraternal. The consolidation of many of these companies has now created structures owned by private venture or public money, run by CEO’s and powered by Internet technology experts, who all have to answer to the Board of Directors that evaluate the “bottom line”.

The days of “hand shake” agreements and traditional camaraderie are gone, and producers of imagery are concerned about losing control of copyright, assuming more liability, having less opportunity to be involved in pricing, and fewer assurances that their work will be safe guarded and disseminated properly. Artists are seeing commissions rates change and new markets develop in which profitability may not be immediately obvious.

The quality of imagery in this market has soared, along with the volume of good imagery that many of the new markets demand. We no longer deal with only the advertising and editorial markets, but a multitude of consumer markets from E-cards to subscription buying, from SoHo (small office, home office-low rez) to royalty free imagery (offering broad usage rights for a single purchase price). Today you are more likely to see photographers doing major production shoots, with models, location scouts and stylists. These activities are supported financially by themselves or their agents, who offer a variety of commission deals and charge backs. Some voice concern that this will lead to a corporate form of “natural selection”, where only the highly salable images will be marketed and the experimentally creative will be over looked.

As I see it, all these changes have evolved us only half way into the new digital era. What is looming on the horizon are totally new models for doing business in stock photography, illustration, graphic design, and film/video marketing. The development of new Internet “portals” are coming on line at a fast pace. These portals provide access to Internet marketing for the individual artist, as well as the small agency, without the development costs and maintenance overhead. . For the most part, they are a marketing service only, and offer the artists a higher percentage of the return, with greater control of rights and pricing. They give much of the work and cost of digital prepress back to the artist, and offer fewer services and less protection from liability in return. The advantage of this broadening of technology may represent new opportunities for niche markets and experimental creations that don’t have to prove themselves to the profitability of the “bottom line”. We will also see continued global expansion of the larger moneyed agencies, offering new opportunities for creative talent in the future and around the world.

As artists shuffle and change in this industry, looking to meet the needs of the business model they want to follow, we will see a continuing evolving landscape over the next couple of years that hopefully will bode well for the creative industry as a whole. The opportunity to market and sell will be greater than ever in the constantly growing consumer and technological world. As the globe shrinks with the use of the Internet, so communication expands, and those who expand with it will reap the Pat Hunt

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Pat Hunt, Stock Photography Consultant for Port Authority, Inc. has spent the last 20 years in the photography industry. Fifteen of them in stock photography, as the owner of Light Sources. She later merged her company with industry giant, Index Stock Imagery. Pat became VP and Sales Director of Index Stock Boston. It was there that she had the opportunity to work with some of the world's best shooters, helping them to define their vision, understand the industry and become successful in the art of selling stock photography. Her commitment to photographers and her extensive experience in the field of stock photography are a bonus to any photographer. She can be reached at

Create Your Own Destiny
The dividing line between success and failure
© 2001 Selina Oppenheim


During the past 20 years, I have worked as a consultant to creative professionals. My role is to develop marketing and advertising programs that will enable my clients to reach their creative and financial goals.

During this time, I have observed photographers and designers as they sought success. I have worked side-by-side with my clients: some have been successful and others have not.

In an effort to understand the dividing line between success and failure, I started to note what each client did to contribute to his or her success. Over a period of time, it became clear that certain actions were consistently taken by successful talent. Although each person's success is achieved through different means, there is a pattern, one worth noting.

The first action that is always present is the setting of clear, well-defined goals. After all, how can you be successful if you don't know what success means to YOU? The following four sets of goals need consideration:

Personal Goals
Personal goals are the first set to consider.

Sit down and create a dream life. Pretend that you are five years into the future. Write down what your life looks like. Do you have family or a significant other in your life? What qualities do they have? What is your relationship like? Where does your craft fit into the picture? Is it simply your income potential or your passion?

After creating in detail your future life, look at your present situation. What needs to be changed in order for you to have the picture that you just created? The changes needed in order to complete the picture are your personal goals.

Creative Goals

List your short-term creative aspirations. Consider skills that you want to learn, accounts that you want to obtain, types of photographs that you want to create, different mediums that you want to explore. What is your top-priority creative goal? Is it creating a new image for your portfolio? Is it developing your visual integrity? After you have defined your priority goal, list the others in terms of importance.
Professional Goals

Professional goals involve the structure of relationships and business practices. Create a dream business. What would it look like? What would your relationships be like with your clients? Would they be with people you worked with a lot, or would there be many different clients all the time? Would you work closely with your clients, or would you create by yourself?

What type of business practices are important to you? Will you be actively retaining the copyrights to your images or will you choose to assign them to your clients? Will you charge a fee for late invoices and if so, how much?

You need to understand what part of life your professional aspirations play. Where does your craft fit into your life? How will your time be divided between work and the rest of your life? What is your priority? Is it home and family or your business.

Financial Goals

Financial goals tend to be the easiest for talent to list. After all, most people know how much money they need to exist and how much they want to save. Add to this list the following: How many days will be devoted to earning the income you desire? What additional equipment do you want? Look at your list of creative and professional goals. Do you need more income to achieve them? Will they generate more income for you?

The questions and ideas listed here are just the beginning. Add more of your own. As you create your list, THINK BIG! Don't hold back or edit your choices. Let the selections come from your heart and go with initial thoughts. What does success look like for you? Immediately, commit them to paper. There is something very powerful about writing down your goals.

Committing to a list of goals is the first action that is needed. The remaining actions taken by successful creatives include:

  • Strong work ethic
  • Defined creative vision
  • Willingness to take risks
  • Applying themselves consistently to tasks at hand
  • Willingness to embrace success

Review this list. Where do you need to start? What areas do you need to address? In future issues, I will discuss the six actions listed above. For now, get out your pens, find a comfortable spot and start dreaming. Create your dream life and business. Get started now! Success is yours to create!

Part one of a three part series... upcoming

  • Success is not earned, It’s created - EXAMINING YOUR WORK ETHIC

Selina Oppenheim Biography

Having begun her professional career as a representative for some of Boston's leading photographers, Selina has spent the last 20 years as a consultant to creative professionals, as a nationally acclaimed lecturer and as the developer of several professional workshops, the most popular being "CREATING YOUR OWN DESTINY." She has served on the Board of Directors of the Boston Graphic Artists' Guild and is a former correspondent for Photo District News. She has been profiled by Boston Magazine, ADWEEK, The Boston Globe Magazine, Photo District News, ADCOM, and Capital District Business Review.

Port Authority, Inc.
25A Stow Road, Boxborough MA 01719
Phone: 978.263.6822 Fax: 978.263.6439

For articles, see F2 eZine Archive 8 - Oct - Dec 2001