The Digital Journalist

Common Cents:

Stock Licensing

by Mark Loundy

August 2006

"The arts are an even better barometer of what is happening in our world than the stock market or the debates in congress."

— Hendrik Willem Van Loon (1882-1944)

Every time you log onto a photographers' discussion list, it's like a broken record: "Register your copyright." "Don't sign work-for-hire contracts." "Watch out for rights-grabbing contracts."

But why? For what are we protecting our rights? The answer is "stock." Most published images were either originally produced for another assignment or were specifically shot for stock licensing. They are licensed from stock agencies such as the two giants, Corbis and Getty, or one of dozens of smaller agencies.

Stock images are often generic images placed in online-searchable catalogs. Editors can go to an agency's Web site and search for images according to a subject's name, generic concepts like "fruit," "airplanes" or an infinite number of other terms. Stock licensing is nearly always less expensive than commissioning a custom shoot.

Stock sales are what move many photographers away from wondering how they're going to pay next month's rent and into a grown-up world of personal investments and fully-funded retirement plans.

Richard Weisgrau's 12-article series "Strategies for Successful Stock Photography" on the Web site analyzes the history, dissects the present and projects the future of the stock photography industry. Weisgrau examines and explains the Rights Protected, Rights Managed, Royalty Free and Microstock licensing models. He takes the reader along for the ride as he approaches a number of different stock business situations and formulates business approaches for licensing specific types of images.

As Executive Director of the ASMP for 14 years, Wesigrau has seen it all. With no inappropriate cynicism, he correctly points out that most photo agencies are really image "brokers," dealing in a commodity. They are no longer photographers' representatives.

But Weisgrau doesn't stop at mere numbers. He realizes that photographers are driven as much by their passions as by their calculators. He advises folding a personal analysis of what motivates you on an emotional level into your planning process: What kind of shooting do you like to do?

If you have been protecting the rights to your images, Weisgrau's series is a superb starting point for a full self-examination of your business.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly are taking the month off.

Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.


• A retainer is not just a dental appliance. If you have a client that wants to engage your services on a regular basis, you might consider a retainer arrangement. With a monthly retainer, you bill the client a mutually agreed fee that "retains" your services for a set number of assignments. The retainer agreement also contains a schedule of fees and rights should they request your services beyond the retainer amount. This way, if the client uses you less, you still get paid the same amount. If they use you more, your monthly invoice reflects the higher fee. Retainers also build a relationship (or at least a habit) with your client.

• Retainers aren't for every situation, but they can be a good tool to keep in your biz bag.

• If you don't know an LLC from a General Partnership, you might want to take a look at attorney Carolyn E. Wright's chart that compares the advantages and disadvantages various business entities. If your business has grown recently and you want to shield your personal assets from business liability, you might want to consider one of the various forms of corporate organization. You can find the chart on the Common Cents Web site.

© Mark Loundy

Mark Loundy is a visual journalist, writer and media consultant based in San Jose, California.