I consider myself very fortunate to have had the opportunity to earn a living and support my family as a full-time stock photographer for about 20 years. I have learned much over that time, but most importantly was the fact that we live in a country where we can do pretty much anything we wish providing we work hard and stay within the boundaries of what is acceptable by law, or implied by common sense and decency.
Stock photography for me was not a job; it was a lifestyle. I can honestly say I did not know what it was like to go to work each day. Yes, some days might have been more fun than others, but I cannot suggest there was a day that I would have preferred to write off. Make no mistake, most successful stock photographers may take a day off to go fishing, or volunteer for a day at their kid’s school; however, we always worked sixty hours a week or more. Yet, we were doing what we loved.
I have also been fortunate to have been presented with many opportunities over that same time period to give presentations on photography across Canada and in the United States. I cannot count how many times I have heard, “Wow, what a life you have! How can I do that?” My response then and now remains steadfast: Do what you love, and do it better than anyone else. I still think that comment stands today, with one addition: You also have to work smarter than I did. That good old ship I knew has long since sailed.
I also stand by what I wrote in the initial blog entry: “…I would suggest if old business models are utilized—and by old I am referring to pre-2008—the chances of success are quite minimal, at best.” The young, savvy photographers entering the stock photo market today understand the power of the internet better than me. That is how you will work smarter. I still believe a solid education should be a prerequisite, followed by several years of interning to learn the business of photography before you strike out on your own. A solid foundation is required before you can build a house.
However, you should also have no illusions; it is going to be tough. As Peter Burian wrote in his blog entry, you will be competing with everyone under the sun, including the individual who has disposable income and can afford the latest and best in technology. Many of these weekend rebels and non-professional photographers will make their material available to micro stock agencies and relish in the glory of photo credits and likes. These compounded submissions are your competition, and they have created an incredible oversupply in the industry. However, there will always be room for better and smarter photographers. Your task is to learn how to be better and smarter.
Over the course of my entries with the titles “Micro-Managing Your Stock Portfolio” and “Going-Indie,” I hope I have provided you with sufficient background information to encourage further reading, research and investigation. It may be easy to overlook such considerations as various types of business insurance, legal counsel on a myriad of topics, and having working capital and a line of credit; however, if you don’t approach your business start-up as a business, you are flirting with danger in a big way. At the end of the day, if the numbers don’t add up in your business plan, there is a reason why. It is imperative you think with your head and not your heart.
Personally, I can’t see how working with a micro agency with a maximum of 20% returns can provide sufficient ROI (Return On Investment) to even warrant consideration. However, you may have found a way to make that business model work, and good for you. If, on the other hand, you go indie, you will ensure that the lion’s share of revenue stays with you, but you will also have all the associated expenses of managing a good web presence to favourably compete with all the stock agencies that are already well established.
As mentioned earlier throughout my writings on Photo Life, I honestly believe there is a massive opportunity for young, bright, savvy minds to redefine the sales and distribution of photo content. The old model, the model I am used to and have made a very comfortable living with is ready to implode. Agencies are giving photos away for free…yes, FREE, in an effort to gain market share. These agencies simply cannot continue to operate if they are losing revenues. Their predicament is compounded because the good photographers are leaving the agencies because the ROI simply will not allow them to pay their bills. The old models are broken, and, I believe, broken beyond repair.
What is that new model?
I wish I knew.
That’s why I think that the person who can think outside the box, be incredibly savvy in their approach, and be smarter in business than with a camera will be the victor. I have little doubt that person will be flying solo, or…Going Indie.