I think for many photographers the ability to license their images as stock without paying a huge commission to some middle man is the ultimate dream. And, to be honest I don’t think it matters a bit to buyers whether they get the image from Corbis/Getty or directly from the photographer as long as the transaction is fairly seamless (e.g. prices are fixed, high res download available, images are captioned). Photoshelter has a solution with a new feature that allows photographers to form virtual agencies. Art Wolfe, David Doubilet, and Thomas Mangelsen formed a new agency called Wild (here). Art thinks the big agency model is dead and you can read more on that in a story he wrote for Outdoor Photographer (here).
The big hurdle of course is figuring out how to get your material in front of buyers if you’re not 3 of the most famous wildlife photographers in the world. PS has a Q&A with photographer Randy Santos, who now makes a living independently licensing his images as stock (here). He uses SEO and direct marketing to reach potential buyers. Here’s his tips from the piece on how to sell stock independently:
- Listen. Talk with your potential customers, listen for the void, and then fill it.
- Show the client you understand their perspective. Art buyers certainly care about quality images – but their favorite photographers also provide assurance and convenience.
- Specialize and build a full collection. My work may not be groundbreaking, revolutionary, or even the best photography in the world. But, there is value in that this is well-defined, well-organized, searchable collection of images.
- Differentiate yourself. Set yourself apart from the masses. Clients need to remember you for something special.
- Learn and practice good business. Professionalism is essential in every aspect of the how you conduct business.
- Work really hard on your website and SEO. Sure, you want to be creative and get personal fulfillment, but you need to get your work out there in a way that buyers will find it.
When I worked as a photo editor I competed with other publications for advertising and readers. I always needed to run the best unpublished stock photography I could find. That usually amounted to calling photographers directly and cajoling them into sending me outtakes from a shoot I found on their portfolio. I see no reason why solutions like this can’t be the future of high quality stock.