Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Per image returns from Alamy slumping

The stock photo portal Alamy have announced their trading results for the quarter to 31 December 2010, reported on in the British Journal of Photography. Their chief executive, James West, is pleased that the year on year decline in gross revenue is 13% against a background of an expected decline of about 15% to 20%, but it's worth looking behind the numbers, in particular one which Alamy do not publish, the revenue per image per annum.

I made a note of the 13.8m images online in October 2008 - today there are 18.03m stock photos up for licensing from the site. That's an almost 31 % increase in image numbers in just over a year. James West says nothing about what is expected for the current year but if sales stay flat (the final quarter's results being repeated throughout 2010) then Alamy will generate US$7.42m of sales.

Year.......Sales.......No. Images........Revenue per image p.a.

2009.......8.385m........15.6m............. US$0.54
2010........7.42m........18.03m.............US$0.41

I've done some back-of-the-envelope time averaging in there but these figures show an approximate 24% decline in revenue per image. With just over 40 cents going to Alamy for every image online, and at least 40% of that going as commission to Alamy, the return to the photographer is now about 24 cents per image per annum.

In Quarter 2 2008, Alamy sales peaked at US$2.937m. I then made a note of 12m images online. At the then Alamy commission of 35%, the return per image per annum to the photographer was about 64 cents per image per annum.

A decline from 64 cents to 24 cents per image per annum online in the space of about 2 years is a dramatic fall of 62.5%.

Alamy itself is still apparently profitable, costs being kept under control no doubt, but for the photographer who considers the time and costs invested against the likely return, this decline is substantial and I certainly have been submitting a lot fewer images in the last year or two.

My own return for 2009 on about 3,600 images was $1.20 per image, a sad decline from what was close to $3 per image in 2007. There must be an awful lot of photographers earning less than 24 cents per image per annum and that must mean an awful lot of disappointed people. But still they submit....

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Dealing with a day's stock shoot (and a pricing diversion)


Yesterday I went to Fulham to cover an area of London for which I have no stock photos - I finished up choosing 95 images which I've processed today and set up a Fulham stock photo collection on photoconnect which I'll be adding more photos to as I get time to upload them. The 95 images include some nice ones from Earls Court and a few from neighbouring Chelsea and I'll be dealing with those separately.

But beyond photoconnect - my own website which does really well on the search engines - what happens to the images? Firstly, I'll put them all on Flickr at high resolution as an online backup - that will be a long upload happening overnight. (Remember that these high resolution images cannot be accessed by Flickr pilferers!)

Next, I'll be selecting perhaps about 30, maybe 40, to go on Alamy. Why not all the images?

Well, some I know will not pass Alamy QC even though I can see they are perfectly good for most uses. If you supply images directly yourself then you don't have to be quite so anal about QC - if someone tells me that an image is wanted quarter page for a newsletter then almost anything will do and if I've got what somebody needs then I'm not going to withhold it because it would not make some external entity's QC test. If the client's happy that's fine by me.

Other images will be of marginal sales potential, even on Alamy. They are very quick to get onto Photoconnect but Alamy, well I judge they are just not worth the effort.

Finally there may be 4 or 5 suitable for iStock. I've been running a little experiment to really understand what microstock is about and one thing it's taught me is that it's really quite difficult to get suitable images for microstock in cities because of their rigid criteria for the absence of people, logos etc. And also quality control is rather tighter than Alamy and image loading is a pain, so although I'm now pretty confident on the what makes £'s on micros front it's not many images that makes the extra effort worthwhile.

[A stock photo pricing diversion - the fact that 90% of the images I get could never be acceptable to microstock agencies underlines the value of regular RM imagery. I'll return to this theme again and again in future posts but to just hint at what is happening in the market I'll run a search on 'Fulham' on iStock and on Alamy....

iStock - 5 results
Alamy - 1160 results (without mine!)

This effect can be seen in many, many subject areas. It's the total oversupply of RM images which pushes down the value of RM images, not microstock prices. Of course this does not apply in the case of the RF photo of the nice, smiling girl wearing a headset against a white background, but that's a nasty commercial image. For regular editorial stock it's the RM editorial agencies competing against each other that are to blame. Not microstock.

And so to return to Alamy. Because no other Agency has the range of images that Alamy has, it should not have to have its RM prices sucked down endlessly by microstock (for sure) or even by the RM collections of the Gettys of this world. Or at least this should not happen to the truly rare images that are in the collection. But Alamy is an an automated selling machine that cannot differentiate the one off from the mass. If as a photographer you know you've hit gold with an image then you don't take it to an agency with standardised pricing models. You deal with it some other way - if you can find the buyer..... ]

Anyway, no gold in yesterday's shoot, but hopefully enough to make the day worthwhile!

The image above is a random one I like (but will probably never sell) from Earls Court at the end of the day.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Social networking? A photographer makes a plan.....

With the January blitz to get the accounts completed and tax returns filed over (I do the wife's as well!) there's a real feeling that this is the start of a new year. I always leave the tax until the last moment because January always is a quiet period for business - but this year it seems that February is quiet too. The Light Touch website has been reorganised and updated with my latest work; should I hit my usual quiet period standby - stock photography - or invest some time in marketing?

The latter it is - prompted by the people at Photoshelter putting together a guide "Social Media for Photographers" which allows someone like me who to various degrees has dabbled at social networking to join the dots and dive in and test the water properly. But will this activity achieve anything when it comes to marketing Scott the assignment photographer?

And where am I right now anyway?

Over at photoconnect.net is my stock photography site. Although it's clunky (I put it together myself) it's notably successful at ranking very well in all the search engines. Plonk the phrases "stock photography London", "stock photos Paris" "stock photos Florence" (and countless others) into the search box and photoconnect turns up at number one in the rankings. This is despite the fact that for the last 2 years or so I have rather neglected the site.

Can social networking take buyers of stock photography directly to photoconnect and further improve it's ranking in the search engines?

Here at Light Touch I have never put any real effort into pushing myself at Google. Too many competitors I have told myself. But the competitors for photoconnect are multinational behemoths who dominate the stock photo industry. Should I not be able to mix it with the little guys and do well for simple terms like "commercial photographer London"? Blogging will help, if I can write content that you want to read - and link to - but can social networking also help me market my photography services directly to people and businesses in and around London?

Let's look at the possible components of social networking, dealing first with those analysed in some depth by the photoshelter paper...

Blogging

This is it. As a photographer I should be informative, witty, controversial - make YOU want to read me, make YOU want to link to me. This is easy to write but desperately difficult to implement. WHO SHOULD YOU BE ANYWAY? Photographers can write stuff to interest other photographers (which I suspect you are) - but perhaps I should be writing for an existing or potential client base? I need to deal with the issue of whether I need to produce a much broader blog. Broader blogging means more time and effort invested. Is it worth it?

This article is not a final plan; it's going to ask questions. Perhaps the other social media outlets will allow me to bring existing and potential photography clients into the mix?

Twitter

I'm 'scotthortop' on Twitter, which asks "What's happening?" and I have 140 characters to let people know....

"So Yuri know who is on Alamy - http://tinyurl.com/yg8r2xr. Let me see, shall I pay £255 or £5 for a photo of that smiling face?"

I posted that a few seconds ago. It's not necessarily going to mean anything to you but for some it will cause some thinking about stock photography ethics and the state of the industry. However with only 7 followers right now I thoroughly expect nobody to relate to it at all!

Apparently Twitter is used by photographers to communicate with clients and prospective clients. I've used it a little and think I 'get' Twitter - sending out ("tweeting" - hate that expression) short snappy statements ("tweets") about what's going on is a way of unobtrusively connecting with all sorts of people. I'm not sure right now about how to gather 'followers' but photoshelter has just published a list of photographers using twitter so that seems a reasonable place to start.

I've just stumbled into 'tweetphoto' by commenting on an image by Chase Jarvis. I didn't expect the comment to be 'tweeted' to all my 'followers' but this has happened and I may have to be more professional with my comments in future! But certainly I can see some scope for using this as a tool to gain followers so getting images in front of potential new clients.

What am I going to post about? Commercial shoots, stock shoots, shooting for fun, microstock, photo industry, ethics, freedom to photograph on the streets; I might get a bit political with the election coming on. But I don't think I'll be tweeting about personal stuff, my sense right now is that sort of things is the domain of Facebook.....

Facebook

Here my username is scott.hortop and I'm meant to be answering the question "What's on your mind?". But Facebook is not a narrow tool as is Twitter and for many it's THE way of interacting socially on the web. I think that makes it an unusual place to make the sort of insightful professional comment that may go down well on Twitter. But I'm wiser for using it - in certain ways! For example I know that my daughter at university in Birmingham drank far too much Red Bull last night and did not sleep a wink.

I've been using Facebook for a while. As soon as I plugged I quickly found invitations to be a friend from people who I know or perhaps once knew and don't want to know again. To date I've only invited two people to be my 'friend' - perhaps that has to change?

A fundamental point which I've missed out on so far is to build a 'fan page' for my business. While only people I allow can become friends, anyone can become a 'fan' so people interested in my photography but with whom I have no personal connection can start to follow me. Alongside twitter it seems to be a good way of launching selective promotions that I would not want to broadcast on Light Touch itself.

How does one get in touch with these people who might become fans? Through Facebook groups it seems. And you can even create your own group.....

Linkedin

Like Facebook, I was dragged into Linkedin quite a while ago by an email request I received. With 4 contacts I'm even further behind than I am on Facebook and have even less of a clue as to what is going on. It seems a very DRY place to be, well this is social networking for professionals!

But I'm probably doing it a disservice - there are groups here too it seems, including "Photo Industry Professionals " and "Professional Photography". And a LinkedIn company page to push my business.

It seems that blog posts and Twitter postings can be fed into Linkedin - it must be worth finding out how they all interact.

Flickr

Here I am on flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/scotthortop/ - I pay $25 a year for a 'professional' account and that is a bargain for what I get which above all else is the ability to backup, in minimal compression high resolution .jpg, any photo I wish.

What I like about Flickr is the huge control it gives me over access to photos. I can hide from everyone any or all my photos if I wish. Or share certain images with 'friends' or 'family' groups only. And even if I've uploaded a high resolution version for safekeeping I can ensure that only a 500px version is viewable by the public.

Many see the social element of Flickr as the giving and taking of comments on images. And indeed there are many images with lots of praise simply because the photographer has gone out of his way to praise many others. So I can connect with other photographers but I'm not quite sure where that aspect will get me.

Flickr can pull in IPTC info to create tags so the images get found in searches. Indeed, I've had contacts in respect of the limited number of stock photos on the site but no sales. In fact there's more interest here than on photoshelter despite rather fewer images for a shorter period of time.

Photoshelter

Worth a mention because they would like me to convert my basic $9.99 per month account into something costing there times that as a centrepiece for everything, including it seems social networking. And their paper is very helpful.

With photoshelter, everything is nicely presented but I'm still not convinced. Clunky old photoconnect seems to do the SEO business and that and Light Touch shall continue for now to be the main online presences. When photoshelter is a little less USA-centric especially providing a base for print sales to the UK and not just America (three options, we just want one!) then I might be sold.

So is this a plan? Not in detail, no, I need to learn more from using these social media. Not a plan maybe, but a statement of intent.

And there are no targets set, although if I don't get one new client directly recruited from the Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn axis then I'll be very disappointed. Similarly if the number of unique new visitors to each of photoconnect and Light Touch from search engines does not double I'll think of these efforts as a failure. There, I have targets!