It’s becoming increasingly difficult to make a reasonable amount of money from stock sales. There are still some success stories but the explosion of inventory and new sources for stock imagery, and the resulting downward price pressure all present significant challenges for photographers.
Some photographers decide to market their stock images themselves. This can have many benefits. It removes the “gatekeeper” aspect of stock agencies that may not want your work because they already have similar inventory. It’s also a chance for you to make your stock stand out from the crowd. And it opens up the possibility of much greater revenue. But marketing your own stock requires a substantial commitment in both time and resources.
There are many things to consider when deciding to market your own stock. The focus of this article is on marketing, so it assumes that if you want to market your stock directly you’ve already considered the following:
– Whether to use a hosted, turnkey service (such as IPN Stock, PhotoShelter, Digital Railroad, PhotoStockPlus) or build your own stock photo site.
– That you need distinctive, high-quality images that are significantly different from what buyers can find at the dozens of other common sources for stock.
– You are committed to spending a specific amount of your time and money in preparing and marketing your stock images.
The most difficult and expensive part of any stock business is getting your work in front of interested and qualified buyers. To give yourself the greatest chance of success, you should:
Focus on a Specific Market
It’s very difficult to compete head on with the big stock agencies. It’s expensive to address all possible photo buyers as they do, and your relative lack of inventory means that a lot of your marketing effort will be wasted. Your best chance of success is to focus on a specific set of buyers. Oftentimes, the work you do will dictate what that market is. If you shoot outdoors adventure images then your market is outdoor equipment companies and outdoor magazines. Do you have a lot of images from a specific geographic region? Focus on travel magazines and travel companies. The more tightly you can define your market, the easier and more cost-effectively you can address them.
Create a Distinctive Service
Many photographers offer stock for licensing on a “what the hell” basis. Somewhere on their portfolio site it says “Stock” where visitors can see some of the photographer’s most popular images. This is very different than making a proactive effort to market stock. Having a few dozen images on your site that you call stock is not something that will get the attention of buyers. Give your stock offering a sub-brand or its own brand. Make it clear that stock is a serious business to you. Clients can tell the difference.
Articulate Your Difference
Why should someone license an image from you? What is special about your images or your service? There is a lot of “noise” in the stock photo market. What is your brand for stock and what distinguishes it from the competition?
Market Consistently and Use a Variety of Channels
How will you get the attention of art buyers? Most hosted stock photo services attempt to attract photo buyers to their sites. But if you’re serious about getting stock sales you’ll need to drive traffic to your site yourself. Email blasts, postcards and booklets are just some of the ways you need to promote your stock offering. If your work is around a very specific subject (i.e. gambling, horses, rock climbing, jazz musicians) then Google AdWords might be a good way to attract traffic. The key is to be consistent. It often takes repeated exposure to a brand before a buyer will investigate. And photo buyers have different needs over time. The only way to ensure that you hit them at the time they are looking for work like yours is to always be out there.
Remember, buyers aren’t looking for images. They are looking for a service that provides the images they need. They want to deal with an organization that looks to be efficient and professional.
Marketing you own stock can be rewarding both creatively and financially. But it requires creating a brand that photo buyers recognize as targeted and professional. It also means making a commitment to put in the time, and resources to market your stock consistently and effectively.