Image Licensing: Time for a change?

I recently received a link to a White paper written by the folks at Alamy:

My responses are in bold.

They are a stock agency who convened a round table discussion about issues revolving around image licensing

From James West, CEO of Alamy:

There was much debate over the many challenges faced by our industry; such as how the global financial crisis has seen many companies reduce their picture budgets, increasing the pressure to drive down prices. Added to this, print media – one of stock photography’s biggest customers – is suffering from declining sales, reduced advertising revenues, and readers switching from paper to screen. And for photographers, the general trend to reduce prices and broaden rights is causing concern.

Of course- stock agencies are offering  clients bulk deals that are astounding- use of an image for under a dollar!

Further into the paper:

Stock companies can often resolve
 this issue by offering larger clients pre-negotiated rights at a fixed price, but this is not possible for the vast majority of customers, so a simpler system needs to be in place. The current licensing system also leaves photographers confused, they cannot understand how the same image can be sold for $500 to one client, and $1 to another.

“As a photographer, I have no control over any discounting or special offers – they’re set by the distributor.”   Chris Ryan, freelance photographer

One possible solution could be for photographers to place their images with a distributor who will protect their value, such as a specialist photo library, but this may have to be balanced against the global and marketing reach offered by the larger stock photography companies. Photographers could also deal directly with clients, perhaps using a low-cost broker as a link, and then set their own rates. But this could involve dealing with dozens of clients.

Photographers have no way to access as many clients as agencies do- this would be a full time job!

Some argue that it’s unrealistic for photographers to expect the same image to be sold for the same price, regardless of use, and that a move towards a segmented market (such as web, editorial, advertising), with an agreed minimum rate for
each band, would yield greater returns. Others believe that the focus should shift from price to revenue, and that photographers should now adopt a strategy of maximising revenues through higher volume sales. But many photographers would doubtless argue that bulk sales do not necessarily translate into higher revenues.

Although a nice check each month is nice, there is something very mentally debilitating about knowing that one of my photos is being licensed for under a dollar!!!

So….. Looks like the entire system is broken, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to fix it. It has, as Malcolm Gladwell says, gone past the tipping point. The young editors today do not see any monetary value in photography, just as they don’t see any reason to pay for music.

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