When it comes to paying for stock photography, many small-to-medium-sized businesses and agencies find themselves at a crossroads. In this post, Fiona Cole of BigWords NZ talks about the issue of traditional payment structures and how unfair they are to both photographers and photo buyers.

Fiona Cole of BigWords NZ

When in need of an assortment of readily-available photographs for their projects, most large organisations will simply pay for a subscription plan on an international stock image library and download as needed. Meanwhile, when in the same situation, many small-to-medium-sized businesses and marketing agencies struggle to strike a balance between price, quantity, quality, and flexibility. This might be because they can't afford or don't want to be prodigal. It might be because the given database doesn't tick all the boxes. But it may also be because they don't feel like these plans are fair – neither to image buyers nor to the photographers who supply them.

Manawa mangrove seed and propagule at Ohiwa Harbour by Lorraine Neill

“Free sites are not fit for a purpose beyond base-level images," says Fiona Cole, founder and director of BigWords, a copywriting and content marketing specialist based in Dunedin. "Whereas paid subscriptions are not good value for money, their structure doesn’t work for variable levels of need, and there’s no transparency around how much the artist is paid.”

Like many marketers out there, Fiona constantly finds herself at a crossroads when sourcing photographs for her clients' media collateral. Buying one image at a time is hardly an option: “The purchase of individual images is not cost-effective, as I usually require a set for a page, article or newsletter." And given that most stock image platforms don't allow credits to carry over, neither is subscribing to a monthly image plan of, say, 50 downloads for US$125. “Images are sourced by project, and the number isn't consistent every month," explains Fiona. "So I can have several months of unused image credits, then need more than the monthly quota for multiple projects at the same time."

The issue is then twofold: not only is it challenging to use up your monthly quota every month, but if you happen to need more, you’re back to the pay-per-image quandary. Which raises the question: If you only download 20 out of your 50 images, where does the 'extra' payment for the remaining 30 go? One thing is certain, it doesn't go to the photographer.

Round straw bails rural by Damon Marshall

“Information on what the photographer is paid is not really promoted or even available," says Fiona, describing what is yet another snag in the payment structure of most traditional stock libraries, and a matter of increasing concern among image buyers. "Unless you are really determined to dig it out, it is not part of the offering on stock photo sites.”

As an example, one website charges between US$0.25 and US$3 per photograph under any given subscription plan. Of that, about 15% goes to the photographer, depending on their ‘status’ in the platform, which, in turn, depends on how often their photographs are downloaded. In any case, the maximum a very few select photographers earn is 40% of a single photograph, which could be as low as US$0.10 per download.

On the Pouakai Track, Taranaki by Shaun Barnett

In a time when transparency plays a fundamental role in commercial decisions, both businesses and consumers want to be able to trace and justify their purchases so that they can invest in what they believe in. “Some of the free sites do give you the opportunity to ‘Buy a cup of coffee’ for the photographer or some such donation – but how much of it goes to the photographer is not clear,” emphasises Fiona. "I think that making this a selling point would be strategically advantageous as it builds goodwill and provides a point of difference." Fortunately, such a model is afoot.

Learn more about Excio's PhotoTokens and how it revolutionises the traditional subscription models, giving flexibility to buyers and rewarding photographers fairly.

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