Be a Good Photography Seller

Flickr’s deal with GettyImages is good news for buyers. Designers and other image users can now easily pick up the kind of creative, original photos that are more likely to be found on photo-sharing sites than in traditional stock inventories. It’s also good news for photographers. If buyers know that they can deal with a professional agency instead of negotiating with amateur photographers, and that the images they buy will have model releases and not breach copyright rules, then more of them will have the confidence to come to the site and browse. But making your images available through Getty is an expensive choice. The company might set the sales price but it then takes an industry standard commission of 70 percent. If you’re supplying the buyer as well as the photo then that’s a high price to pay for a middle-man to pass over the pictures. Handle the deal yourself and you can still land sales, even as an enthusiast, but you’ll be keeping all of the revenue. That means understanding what professional buyers need when they want to buy one of your images and where other amateur sellers are going wrong.

Most of the problems come down to communication — or rather, the lack of it.

“I have never had such a horrible time trying to acquire rights than when a client wants something off Flickr, DeviantArt or Twitpics, or similar,” one designer told us. “I’ve had several instances where people on those sites were hiding behind aliases and either don’t check their comments, PMs or email, or they just don’t believe we are offering them money to use their photos or they may think we are scamming them somehow.”

Those delays and doubts are problems that are always possible when a supplier who regards their work primarily as something they do for fun meets a buyer with a budget and a deadline. Designers will often have a certain amount of time to find a number of suitable photographs, and if they don’t believe that they can close a deal quickly with a photographer they’ll quickly move on to a different source.

Shoot Amateur, Behave Professional

The solution though is relatively simple: act like a professional, at least as far as communication is concerned. Make yourself easy to find and respond promptly. Check your FlickrMail at least once a day, and if you do receive an image request, answer immediately so that the buyer isn’t left wondering whether he stands a chance of landing the image.

It’s also a good idea to provide an alternative contact method. Use the profile on the photo-sharing site not just to describe who you are and the kind of photography you want to shoot, but also to link to your portfolio site and supply an email address. Just showing that you’re easily available can increase buyers’ confidence in your ability to handle a sale, as well as providing them with a way to see more of your images.

The same is true though of images posted on websites. Flickr might be particularly well-known for the flakiness (as well as the creativity) of its members, but website owners can deliver some strange responses too. The same buyer who described the difficulty of buying images on photosharing sites reported that photographers who post images on their own sites tend to respond in one of three ways:

“a) They reply immediately; b) They don’t reply at all or not in a timely fashion: or c) the image and sometimes the entire site will vanish off the web. That last is especially frustrating, and sad, and a little bit funny all at the same time.”

Even if the seller does respond promptly though, buyers are often faced with another problem: an amateur photographer might not have the answers to the questions they need to ask, especially when it comes to pricing. If the buyer deals with Getty, he knows exactly how much Getty is going to charge, and he understands that the company will be setting the market rate. Buyers might not need to see rates posted on your website or listed under each entry on Flickr, but they do expect the seller to have a realistic idea of the amount they need to charge.

Know the Market Rates

That isn’t easy. Rates for image usage very considerably, but the simplest solution is to look for images on similar topics on GettyImages’s Flickr Collection, or on other stock sites, and see how much they’d charge for a similar use. That is, after all, what the buyer will do if you charge an excessive amount.

A professional response to an image enquiry then won’t just be fast, it will also contain questions about how the image is going to be used, whether the buyer needs exclusivity (and if so, for how long), and the size of the image they’ll want to use. In short, you’ll need to ask the same questions that GettyImages asks before a buyer reaches the checkout.

And to keep the communication shorter, it’s also a good idea to supply information about the images you’re offering for sale. Buyers will want to know whether the image is digital or was originally shot on film (and if so, the film format) as well as the image sizes that are available. Enlarging small images to make them more attractive to buyers is a big no-no.

“I’ve seen attempts to make images larger by adding noise, blurs, motion effects and other crap that does not hide the fact that the image started small,” we were told. “And I’ve returned them for refund when I’ve gotten them in hand if they don’t work.

So good selling — the kind that attracts buyers to stock companies rather than independent individuals — is largely about fast communication and an awareness of market requirements. But it’s still mostly about great pictures, the kinds that are dynamic, focused, clear and usable. Combine those professional-quality images with a professional attitude to talking to buyers and there’s no reason that you have to hand over 70 percent of your sales revenues to a professional stock agency.

4 comments for this post.

  1. Ben Said:

    Thanks for this.

    Found this very useful for where I am in my photo career. I've been approached by online mags and other websites but I've never know what I should charge. Now I have a good place to start.

  2. Ed O'Keeffe Said:

    This is excellent advice, some of which I already do but there are excellent tips that I hadn't thought of that I will look at implimenting in my sites redesign.


  3. pam Said:

    Most photographers are not hard to work with until they have been burned, run around and had really, really bizarre experiences with "buyers". If they are smart they keep the bizarre emails and wait for the "genuine buyers".

    I keep emails.

  4. Scott Thomas Photography Said:

    Great advice. Adjusted my flickr profile a bit based on your advice. Now, how does one attract real photo buyers? I have only gotten people wanting to use my photos for free. I feel too many people do that.

    Also, are there more questions we should ask a photo buyer besides the ones you mentioned?


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