Sustaining A Creative Economy: It’s Up To Us
For too long we’ve been hearing about the downward spiral of royalties photographers receive from their stock photography agents. By way of example, iStockphoto.com, pays a royalty of 15% to photographers each time an image is sold. Meaning that photographers receive 15 cents on the dollar each time an image is licensed. In spite of pressure from industry groups and much hand-wringing, royalties continue to slide and as a result many talented professionals have abandoned stock as a profitable way to generate income or have quit creating images altogether.
Certainly this problem is exacerbated by the parallel downward spiral of prices for stock images. The proliferation of user generated content and citizen journalists, equipped with powerful, pro-level digital SLRs, whose primary income is not dependent upon image sales, contributes to this effect by generating an over-supply of images that far outstrips demand, further eroding both price and royalties.
These combined factors have created an imbalance in our “Creative Economy.” A Creative Economy exists when commercial artists, who are dedicated to the craft of producing professional images, are fairly compensated for their work so that they have resources they need to produce more exceptional work that in turn feeds the creativity AND economy of those creative professionals (designers, art directors, editors, producers) who utilize their images to generate revenue from campaigns, media and products.
Reciprocal. Fair. Balanced.
We can complain or we can do something about it. So here are ten truths that we have adopted and believe are essential in sustaining a Creative Economy:
1) Share royalties fairly: At least 50% of the revenue generated by a stock license should be shared with the artist or copyright holder.
2) Fees should reflect the relative value of the image: Images with higher production costs – especially those that include talent with signed commercial model releases– should command higher fees. Conversely, those images that have lower production costs – or are duplicative or non-distinct– should be priced lower.
3) Simplify licensing of rights managed images: Buyers need a simple and effective way to license rights managed images.
4) Make it easy for buyers to re-license images: Automated reminders with a one-click option to re-license should be standard.
5) Focus on quality over quantity: Professionals cannot nor should not compete with the oversupply of images found on the web. Focus on producing high quality professional images that anticipate the current and future demands of professional photo buyers.
6) Deliver the highest resolution image file available for every license: Give buyers the flexibility they need to produce campaigns and products that deliver maximum impact and showcase your work in the best possible manner.
7) Diversify: Just as professional buyers will always explore multiple sources to locate images, professional photographers should also look for representation through multiple distributors – both domestic and international- including reps, agents, galleries and yes, even, microstock.
8) Assign image exclusives: To preserve both the real and perceived value of your portfolio, set aside some percentage of your images and place them on an image exclusive basis with an agency.
9) Charge higher fees for your assignment work: When buyers know they can hire you on assignment for less than what it will cost them to license one of your images, we should all go home.
10) Evangelize the creative economy among buyers AND sellers of images: Get involved. Join a professional association, host a webinar, write a blog, tweet this post. Take action to educate and engage. And listen carefully for opportunities.
If we all do our part, the principles of a creative economy should work for everyone.
Now it’s up to us. Evolve or face the consequences.