One morning crossing the Pont de la Mar, here in Valencia, I met a photographer who was a professor of mine at the EASD. It is one of these that I call "genuine photographers", that is, those who take pictures and nothing else. It is also of these, and it is something that I have always valued, that has no problem in giving you an honest opinion if you ask, be it good or bad, but always with education and above all with foundation. Also, he will help you in whatever way he can, one of those who if does to you a favour you a favour is not, as it is for many, an exchange of something. Well, after greeting us and telling us a little about how our lives were going, I told him that I had just been put in a photo stock agency. The first thing he said to me was: "but are you an asshole or what the hell is wrong with you?"
Leaving aside whether I'm an asshole or not, which can be a great debate, he explained that my photos are gallery photos, not agency photos, he knows it well because he has more than 30 years in one agency. I explained that I had no intention of uploading anything from my portfolio, that I was going to use the agency as a place to put other types of images and will be better in a place where they can give some money. Seen like that, he gave me his blessing and a warning: "not a fucking picture of the portfolio". I've always been clear that I was not going to upload any of them to the agency, but it never hurts that someone you appreciate and appreciate what you do reminds you of something like that.
Stock agencies are curious places. There you can buy licenses to use an image in various fields: press, editorial, advertising, ... So the images are usually quite conceptual and are labelled and ordered so that when searching you find what you need. There is everything from photos that emanate an exasperating happiness to really dark and disturbing photos. From photos where there is not even a filter without using to photos that you do not know well if they have gone through the rigorous digital development. To summarize we can say that they are mostly gimmicky photos, made to be bought, consumed and forgotten. It's like a souk, a market or a disco at 4 in the morning.
When I got in, I knew, it was totally clear, that it was not going to be my main source of income. First because of the type of image. I do not make images of the type that succeed in the agencies, they are not gimmicky (luckily), but at the same time they can be saleable enough. Secondly, you have to devote your body and soul to take pictures for stock, upload and upload huge amounts of material, be accepted and be able to go up in the search results of the agency.
I did not go, nor did I intend, to dedicate myself 24/7 to it. For me, inclusion in the agency is one more way to earn some money and, in passing, give out another type of image beyond those of my essays. One more leg of the table, something that could also diversify production and not always thinking about projects. I do not know if a way to escape, but a way to do other things and take economic advantage. When doing something I need to see that it has a utility, to feel that it is for and for something, to work for an agency serves as that perfect excuse to make images beyond my projects.
There are people who take it rather on the contrary, as their way of life, their main place of work. In a way I admire them. It is not easy to do, or have to do, mostly vague photos, 700 images of the same thing and sell them. It's not a criticism, I really admire them, they're like photography workers. I could not live with that stress of being aware of what people want when in general you never know what the hell we want. Nor is it easy, nor for them, to survive in the middle of the ecosystem of the agencies. Not only because of fierce competition and without any modesty, but for what is paid for an image. Years before, this professor told me, yes you could live more or less well than what you sold in an agency. Today, for that you have to be a star. And not even like that.
I will try to explain roughly how it works. To begin with, not all the images you upload are accepted. They have to have a minimum of technical quality, be well labelled and described (if not, nobody will find them) and, oh surprise, be a salable image. It is what is most valued, whether that image can be sold or not. This is a business, let's not forget it. Once they accept it, it goes up next to the thousands of images more or less similar to yours and then you wait. If you have tagged it well and the image is about something that is usually searched, it will be more or less high in the searches. And the more you sell it, the higher it will come out. As you can see, there is a certain meritocracy in your position within the search engine. The business, you know. The more you sell in general, the higher your images will appear, which means you will have more sales still. So it's important to go up because, usually, when we search we get by with the first thing we find. Unless we are looking for something very specific, we do not look beyond the second or third page of the search engine. Ergo, the starting position is essential.
As you know, when buying an image in an agency what you buy is a license to use. Not the image itself, but the right to use it (and earn money through it, directly or indirectly). Therefore, the same image can be sold as many times as they can be, unless they buy it exclusively (which, friends, does not happen). Depending on how you license the image (there are several types) and the use for which it is purchased, the price varies. It is not the same price if it is to illustrate a story in a local media that a cover of a best-selling book or a worldwide advertising. We are assholes but not stupid, although sometimes that does not show.
Why? Well, because we are going to commission with the agencies. That is, you take a percentage of the sale and the other percentage belongs to the agency. Your percentage is crap, really low, and to raise it you have to, oh another surprise, be profitable. That is, the more you sell, the more percentage you get, both in general and in a particular image. Agencies value you for profitability, not for quality. Therefore, and this is opinion and the reason for the anger that I told you at the beginning, you should not freak out with the stock agencies or upload your best material: they simply will not pay you as they should.
In fact, it is something like being a farmer: you work the land, plants seeds and trees, take care that there are no pests, pray that it will rain when it has to rain and that it will be sunny when it has to be, you will collect it, present it well in the boxes, take care that there is no fruit or vegetable touched or "ugly", you take it to the cooperative or distributor. And you pray more and stronger even if you are not a believer. Then you go to a Mercadona/Carrefour/greengrocer/badulaque of life and see that the kilo of what you have produced sells for 2 Euros. You will see the extract of the sold and you see that you have been paid at 30 cents as much, and that being generous. They tell you that you should give thanks for selling it, that if you look at the economy how bad is nowadays, if this or that. And at the end, you have to give thanks to being able to cover expenses with what you have been paid per kilo.
With the photographic subject, it is something similar. Many people eat and put gasoline in the car thanks to your images, but the last one who eats and puts gas (if it is not expensive) is you. That's why you do not have to flirt with the agencies, you're not going to live on them. If you are reading this and you do it, I would like to know your story. Also, by the way, if you feel happy with the images you have to do, if they have contributed something to you or it is simply something that must be done to pay bills because it would be worse to be in a mine. I really want to know because, as I said, I admire it.
To finish, a tip. Do not use images without permission, "steal" them and use them to earn money without a license. Believe me that acquiring one will cost you very cheap, in fact the agencies even offer bonuses, as if this were the bus or the Metro. To us, the photographers, however little money could be, help us to spend the month, or at least, to pay us a coffee. To you, you will immediately recover the cost of buying the license and you will have a file (do not forget that the images are files, all ones and zeros) perfectly prepared, of quality, for whatever you need the image. Do us a favour: buy. Do yourself a favour: buy. And if it is directly, even better.