Stock, or existing, photography is valuable to editors and art buyers, because it is a known quantity - and quality - available immediately. An image from a student photojournalist is worth the same as an image that is equally good (and/or appropriate for the use) as an image by a seasoned pro, since the quality can be seen and judged immediately - even though the assignment rates for the two might differ widely.
For independent photojournalists, stock sales of outtakes or previously published images have been a key source of income. However, contracts proffered by media companies over the past decade have restricted or eliminated photographers’ rights to relicense images to others. Moreover, large companies have gathered smaller agencies into large stock distributors, and new “microstock” and “royalty-free” licensing schemes have driven down prices dramatically. Income splits have dropped from 60 percent of sales revenues being returned as royalties to photographers to 40 percent or less. Many photographers who specialize in stock have seen their incomes drop by half or more, even as they work harder to keep their collections current.
NPPA’s expertise in these changing and specialized markets is limited. However, we can’t overemphasize that the reuse rights to your images do have value, and it’s extremely important that you embed identifying photo metadata (“File Info”) in all your images, so future buyers can find you and pay you for licenses. And we do have some solid links below to other experts in this important industry:
The Stock Artists Alliance - This organization focuses on stock photography business practices and advocacy for photographers. They have a wealth of resources, such as an excellent primer on stock photography licensing models and their Metadata Manifesto. Other resources are available with registration, and SAA members have access to even more information at this vast site of resources and news.
Stock Photo Basics, by the Editorial Photographers group.
Note that we call the following “distributors.” Most are not “agents,” who are required by law to watch out for the best interests of those they represent. This is a key change in modern stock contracts. Also note that one distributor - Getty Images - now dominates the market.
Be sure to check the links listed above before investing too much of your effort or work in any distributor or licensing model. These are a rapidly changing markets, with innovations in licensing products and contracts. This is a short list of a big industry. It includes only sites where “rights-managed” images are available (although most also market royalty-free images). NPPA does not support royalty-free licensing of news images.