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Rethinking the stock market

As you will probably know if you follow us on OCA-student forums, the OCA has become a partner in Alamy’s new student initiative. The scheme allows OCA students at levels 2 & 3 to become contributors to Alamy’s picture library and receive 100% royalties on their sales.
Sounds good? It certainly is, considering that regular contributors only get 60% commission on their sales. Sounds easy? Not quite. The stock image market is deceptively complex and having a successful go at it requires more business and photographic acumen than you may think. I’d like to share some thoughts with you that are the result of my own experience with a variety of picture libraries over the last 20 years.
Let’s get something out of the way first of all. A picture library is not a place where you send your leftover images. Perhaps it was before, 10 to 15 years ago, when you could send all that surplus imagery of commissions, personal projects, etc… and still realistically expect some financial return. Not any more. Digital changed everything. Now there is a surplus of images, to the extent that in order to succeed and make any money with a picture library you need to be strategic. Think about what you want to send and why. Think about your strengths as a photographer. Find a niche subject you are good at. Have a good look at Alamy’s images, decode them and try to figure out why anyone would want to buy them. Have a look at their ‘wants list’ if they have one.
Do you homework, in other words.
The stock market is a game of numbers. Alamy holds a stock of 27 million images. 15,000 new images are added every day. So, how many images do you need to send to make a slight dent in the big money cake of Alamy? Many hundreds, and I mean many, would be a reasonably good start. A few thousands would be a more realistic proposition. Which means that you will pro-actively have to shoot for stock in order to keep a healthy supply of stock images. You’ll have to think of Alamy as a goal and not as a sideline activity.
The stock market is also a game of words. Yes, keywords. Excruciatingly boring as it certainly is, intelligent keywording is absolutely crucial if you want to maximise your sales. Why? Your buyers will look for your images with words. It’s that simple. An added complication is that, being a visually sophisticated culture as we are, simple, descriptive words that worked fine before don’t do the job so well anymore. The stock photography market has moved big time in the last 10 years. Images are sold for  their connotations as much as for what they show. Abstract concepts reign supreme in the keyword world. Try this. Do a search on Alamy on the keyword ‘cooperation’ and see what the search engine comes back with. You know what I mean? How do you show cooperation in a photograph?
What has become painfully clear to me is that the stock images that sell these days are those with open meaning which convey abstract concepts. Have a look at the image below, which I bought from a picture library.

To be totally honest I can’t remember exactly the words I entered in the search engine of the online library, but the final use of the image is shown below. Open-meaning images with non-specific connotations are the ones bound to sell over and over again, mainly for marketing, advertising and publicity purposes, which are the most profitable outlets for stock photography.

Incidentally, photographs showing people will need appropriate model releases. And needless to say, your QC needs to be flawless. Images slightly out of focus, or blurred, or with the tiniest spec of dust on them will be detected and rejected by Alamy. Which takes me to the last recommendation I will share with you. Make sure that the initial, diagnostic submission of 4 images that you have to send to Alamy before they confirm you as a contributor includes not only your best shots but also the cleanest, sharpest images that you have.
[To apply, you should visit the OCA student site here Please be aware that you will need to use your student login details to access the student site]

Posted by author: Jose
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6 thoughts on “Rethinking the stock market

  • Well done OCA for negotiating this deal! I’m only level 1; but I’ll start working towards stock images for submission! Maybe,if I am lucky, I’ll sell some and can use that to help finance my studies!
    Don’t mean to sound glib/flippant/over-optmistic—stock imagery is a dog-eats-dog world. But never say never!

  • Good advice, Jose. Make the most of this opportunity – 100% of sales! Also be aware that Alamy don’t pay until you have a certain figure of cleared fund ($150/£ – I think). So you could find that you might sell one or two images, but it takes a little longer (years -if, like me you only have a handful of images on there!) until the cheque arrives. It’s also a bit of a shame that you don’t get to see who has bought your images or for what specific context they will be used. But as long as they pay up…. Get involved!

    • Yes, that’s true Jesse; good point. £150 I think it is. And before picture libraries went 100% online you would get sales reports specifying the context and in which country your image had been used. It was very satisfying to know that your work was being used worldwide.

      • You still get the notifications – I’ve got a few images on Alamy but don’t really give it the attention it requires, but my last sale, just before Christmas was for the UK, used in an editorial context within a magazine with a print run to 100,000. It just doesn’t tell you which magazine…

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