In the stock world, one fundamental question that’s been nagging contributors for ages is whether Alamy buyers search at multiple agencies for the same image.
In the grand scheme of things, it’s not as fundamental as some questions facing humanity, such what will happen once the polar caps melt and nuclear proliferation, but the information contained in this piece may inevitably have a substantial impact on your stock photography business – so read on!
Why does it matter?
One of the most important decisions you can make in your stock submissions strategy is where to place your images. There’s broadly three schools of thought when it comes to submitting to Alamy:
Traditional Rights-Managed Crowd
Many within the Alamy old-school crowd regard Royalty-Free and Microstock as a threat to their potential earnings. A quick glance at the Alamy forum threads confirms this. Some veteran contributors point out out that a few years ago earnings were substantially greater, putting the blame squarely on Microstock/RF for driving down their returns.
Without getting into this messy argument, this crowd continues to license their images with Alamy and Rights-Managed. Now, whether they license with other Rights-Managed agencies is not clear, but not relevant here.
New-Age ‘Put your Pics Everywhere RF Crowd’
On the opposite end of the spectrum are the Microstockers that are looking to diversify their income in Midstock. These contributors elect to submit their images everywhere and RF, including Alamy.
Mix and match
The third camp is composed broadly of those who look at Midstock as a different market segment to Microstock. They elect to submit different types of images as either Royalty-Free or Rights-Managed on Alamy, without duplicating the material on Micros (which isn’t even permitted in the case of RM licenses on Alamy and RF elsewhere).
These contributors are trying to milk the best of both worlds. One one hand, higher-priced sales for more specific predominately editorially-based material at Alamy (few and high priced sales). On another hand, generic images on Micros (many and low-priced sales).
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, this is the camp I most identify with.
Do Alamy Buyers Search Elsewhere?
The nature of the internet makes it relatively effortless to shop around. We do it for airline tickets, booking hotels and camera gear.
So, it makes sense that if a business needs to source a stock image, they’ll check the low-cost (subscription-based) agencies first, right? Intuitively, making perfect sense.
However, without resorting to dogmatic / lazy reasoning, in practice does it really happen often enough to have a significant impact on our earnings?
Alamy Zooms to Microstock sales
We have to work with the data that’s available to us.
Master Steve Heap and I have looked for patterns between zooms on Alamy and sales shortly after on Microstock sites with inconclusive results – he wrote about it on this blog post. To make matters more complicated, not all of buyers’ search results show up on the Alamy Analytics tool.
You can only sit on the fence long enough until it starts hurting
I’ve been reluctant to place my more premium images and most editorials on Micros for a long time for fear that Alamy buyers would simply buy a cheaper (subs) option at Micros. Enough speculation, I went directly to a primary source, Alamy.
James Allsworth, Alamy Contributor Relations
A few days ago, I decided to email in James Allsworth from Alamy Contributor Relations with two specific questions.
He has kindly given me permission to publish his detailed answers.
Question: Does submitting images to subscription-based Microstock sites impact potentially higher-priced sales on Alamy (RF)?
Answer: “Perhaps. The honest answer is that we can’t be sure. We’re non-exclusive, so we’re always going to have imagery in our collection that appears elsewhere at various different price points (higher and lower). Because that’s the case, we work on making sure the buying experience is so good, that the customer doesn’t want (or need) to look elsewhere. With us, customers can pick up the phone and talk to sales staff and get quick responses to questions etc – something you don’t see as much with the microstock guys (if at all).
Some customers don’t have time to shop around, some do. Many work via contracts with agencies (or vendor agreements as they are called) so have deals in place to only source images from certain providers. Some clients want a very tailored licence agreement and therefore need a very bespoke service which is where we have an advantage too. Lots of people wrongly assume that a microstock licence means images can be used for anything and everything but it’s often not that simple.”
Key points: There’s a lot of information here, so I’ve broken it down into key digestible points:
- As a non-exclusive agency, duplicate images will inevitably be available elsewhere at different pricing points
- Alamy aims at providing the best customer experience for repeat business
- Some customers don’t have time to shop around
- Some customers can only deal with Alamy due to vendor agreement
- Some clients want a very tailored licence agreement
- Microstock licence isn’t as simple as many contributors/customers presume
Question: Is there any merit in being exclusive at Alamy?
Answer: “We know other agencies have exclusive contracts and we understand how limiting that can be to the photographer unless it is part of some kind of premium service. There can be an advantage to only having your images in one place of course, but the market is so competitive, we feel that for the majority of photographers, it’s best to maximise your reach and place your images with a range of distributors. Things change all the time and we’d love to be the only agency anyone contributes to but we also care about maximising the bottom line for photographers – they’re your images so you should be free to distribute as you wish. If your content is extremely unique and niche then you could be better off placing your images with us only, however if you are a general stock shooter or produce work in saturated markets it’s best to diversify your distribution agents.”
Key points: Again, there’s a lot of information here, so I’ve broken it down into key points:
- Market is competitive for contributors
- Best to maximise your reach and place images with a range of distributors
- Advantages to having images in one place, if your content is extremely unique and niche
- As a general stock shooter, or produce work in a saturated market, best to diversify
What to make of this insight?
One of the first rules of journalism is to consider the source. James Allsworth, from Alamy Contributor Relations, is explicitly advising general stock contributors to duplicate their content. The key-takeaway quote is the following:
“We feel that for the majority of photographers, it’s best to maximise your reach and place your images with a range of distributors.” – James Allsworth, Alamy Contributor Relations
I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but why Alamy publicly advise their contributors to license their images elsewhere? To me it means two factors:
- They’re confident in their own business model; and
- Their customers don’t shop around enough to have a significant impact on their revenues.
From the contributor’s perspective, which is what really matters, it may mean that duplicating general stock material may substantially help our bottom line. Food for thought.
As expected, after a four-month wait, Stocksy rejected my application with the following generic e-mail:
Thank you for your interest in Stocksy. After reviewing your work, we don’t feel there is a fit at this time.
As you can imagine, we get a lot of applications and it’s always a difficult decision, but we only have room for a small group of contributors.
We wish you the best in your future endeavours and thank you for taking the time to apply and share your work with us.
We hope you have a great day,
The Editors at Stocksy United”
I would have appreciated something a bit more personal touch with some tips on improvements for next time, but I won’t lose any sleep over it. In fact, I’ve moved on, even if some MSG Forum contributors cry and cry about their rejection.
But now what to do with the 70 or so images I had exclusively set aside for my Stocksy application? From the onset, I consider them premium, so I would have normally put them on Alamy as Rights-Managed (after they’ve been rejected by Robert Harding).
However, after this insight from James, as well as the zoom experiments, I’m much much more comfortable with duplicating and that’s precisely what I’ve done. Here’s a small selection of duplicated content:
Keep an eye open
I’ll still keep an eye open on whether I see any patterns between zooms and sales at Micros. If I see something fishy that’s hurting my bottom-line, I’ll have to reassess, but for the time being I’ve been enlightened by this latest exchange. Thank you, James!
Best of luck, wherever you decide to place your images.
Another excellent post, with some great insights to take away! The reply from the Alamy guy is very interesting, and indeed strengthens my believe to duplicate too (I’ve gone through all 3 stages of stock-believe in the past 12 years 🙂 )
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All this makes me wonder if there’s a fourth way…perhaps cutting out the middleman agency and pitching directly to clients? Any experience with this?
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Well… actually 😉
Back in the “good old” days (as a matter of speech, I love these days now too! 😉 ), I used to sell only through Alamy and photographersdirect.com. They did bring me in some nice extras aside my regular photography work (weddings & portraits at that time). And in about 25% of the cases, customers came in via those sites initially, and after that kept in touch directly.So yes, I think it is possible, but it becomes harder and harder to get a hold of those clients contact info I believe. Microstock did change the whole stock photography business quite a lot…
Perhaps via a self-hosted selling platform, it could be possible. Haven’t tried it yet…
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I’ve heard good things about https://www.symbiostock.org/ but have never tried them. It’s sickening sometimes to think that we’re giving away 50-75% of our earnings to agencies.
Self-hosting sure has some upsides. Steve Heap has written about his experience in his blog:
Slightly late to the comments but…
I’ve agonized about this for a long time. At the moment I still put all editorial images on Alamy as RM (exclusive) and general stock as RF on a range of sites. This month had 2 sales for comparison:RM – $915 (gross) and $1.25 (gross). The big RM sale would need a lot of downloads on the micros to get anywhere near the $915 mark. The image was simple – a crowd of tourists looking up viewed from a tower looking down on them. The only thing I would add is that my wife used to work for a large UK publisher who told her only to look on Alamy for images and not to waste time searching elsewhere for images. Her time was more valuable than the potential saving on image costs. She wrote and edited a large series of educational textbooks. So I think that the corporate buyer will not waste time searching and just use their favourite site. However, I think I may try putting some RF (editorial) images on Alamy and micro and see what happens.
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Thanks for sharing your experiences
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