Selling stock photos with Alamy

The last few days, whenever I’ve had some time, I’ve been sitting here at the computer, tightening up my keywords on Alamy (stock photo agency). Man, not the most interesting thing to be doing. But Alamy offers a lot of behind-the-scenes statistics for it’s contributors and, how I read it, I can still improve my ranking with more precise keywording, even though my rank already looks to be well above average. Better rank -> More sales (hopefully).

While doing this routine work I’ve been sitting and thinking about how it’s all going. With photography and newspapers and such. And in the middle of all this, I get an email from the Alamy CEO basically saying that they have to slash prices (again) for the British newspapers – through a new subscription scheme. Not the best piece of motivation!

Just a photo for you all to enjoy.

Just a photo for you all to enjoy. Illustrating how difficult keywording can be sometimes: "BUSINESSMAN running away from exploding TEAR GAS GRENADE in front of HINDU TEMPLE" - not the most common combination of circumstances to be looking for a photo of, I suppose. A free cup of coffee for whoever can think of a super set of keywords for this one! Photo copyright Morten Svenningsen, click to order via Alamy.

1st nail

It just makes me wonder, since they’ve been busy with several decisions that seems a bit un-thought through lately. First it was their ‘Novelty Scheme’, a vaguely defined model for selling our photos at rock bottom prices. To compete with the microstock sites, it seemed. Thankfully, it was done on an opt-in basis and like a lot of other pros, I didn’t buy it. Not sure what ever came of it, think perhaps it was scrapped due to poor participation. Way to go, colleagues!

2nd nail

Then they announced that they would slash the photographers cut from 65% to 60% in order to finance a new rep office in New York. Ok, the US is a really significant market, do your best to get strong foothold over there. But, firstly, have to say, this is pretty poor reasoning. If they want to open a new office, surely, it must be because they expect to increase sales and revenues. If this increased revenue can’t cover the expenses of the new office, then why do it? And secondly, opening a new office in the US now, in the midst of a recession? Hmmm… Wouldn’t it have been cheaper to just get an American phone number and routing it across the Atlantic, and then hiring a couple of sales guys to work night shifts in the already existing UK office? Their sales dept just works day time in the UK but sales are worldwide. To boost sales service, in the US and everywhere else, I’d think getting a 24-7 sales support staff would be better…

3rd nail

What’s next? Oh, yes, their ‘Commercial Collection’. Suddenly it appeared on their web site front page: “Click here if you want photos suitable for commercial use!” Only thing, it included lots of photos with people in them, without model releases. And pretty much the same average image quality, just a lot less contributors included. Sorry, that’s not “suitable for commercial use”. After another storm of contributor comments, telling them just that, they’ve now added a “BETA” to the click button. But honestly, if it’s not working yet, don’t show it to the customers! At best, this is of no value. More likely, it has some negative publicity value. People looking for ‘commercial use’ images are better off just searching for ‘released images only’ – already a possibility.

I like the idea of creating a ‘Premium Quality’ selection of their photos, perhaps that’s what they intended. But it can’t be done this way. Hire a professional photo editor if that’s what you want to do!

4th nail

And this finally brings us to their latest haphazard move: Introducing a subscription model for selected customers. (Details here.) Yep, it’s good for Alamy. At least not too bad. They probably get to keep some customers they would otherwise have lost – and they get a fixed guaranteed income. Good for them. But for us photographers, we now risk having our photos overused without getting paid properly per usage. The selected UK newspapers (and let’s see how many other customers will be demanding a subscription price-model), they can now use as many Alamy photos as they like, on the front page, double spread, no limit. And no extra charge!

Personally, I haven’t opt’ed out of this one… yet. I want to see if this (worst-case) scenario is really going to happen. Alamy is still a good thing but the management doesn’t seem to have an exact and clear vision of where they want to be – nor a roadmap telling them how to get there!

the coffin?

So let this be a little word of caution to other photographers thinking about joining Alamy, or for that matter most other stock agencies. Things are really changing in the photo industry now. And with the global recession, who knows how many agencies will be left in 2010? So don’t go spending hundreds of hours on building a collection with an agency that might not be around tomorrow! Perhaps we should just all go out and take some great pictures, leave the whole business side of things to itself until the dust settles! That’s my best advice…

I’ll be writing a bit more on the state of the photo industry in the coming days, stay tuned if you’re interested in my opinions and analyses.

4 Responses to “Selling stock photos with Alamy”

  1. Morten- did you leave Alamy stock agency?
    Do you trust that your high res images are not being used without compensation?
    From what you have written – I’m still not sure if you have had any great sales through Alamy?

  2. Hi Mona- no, I’m still with Alamy but I don’t upload new material any more. At least for me it is so not worth my time. I make the occational sale, like this week, I sold an image for less than 10 $, a record low… And I never signed up for their low-fare schemes, never RF! Most sales are still 1-200 bucks, but it’s not even every month I make one of those sales. I have no reason to think they’re selling my images without my knowledge – in that respect I trust Alamy. But the good days in stock are over for now.

  3. Hi Morten – I have been having second thoughts about picture libraries lately, not only have numbers of sales and prices for sales fallen through the floor but i know that over three weeks ago one of my pictures was used in a magazine through Alamy, and yet they still haven\’t informed me of the sale. And this was a british magazine, so god knows what is happening further afield. Hopefully it is just a matter of time before they tell me, i\’ll wait another couple of weeks and see. Any idea what i can do if they are doing the dirty on me?


  4. hi Sean, – If someone use your picture without obtaining proper licence, you just send them a bill. Since they got it off of Alamy, just calculate the license price with Alamy’s calculator and multiply it by 3, that’s what I do. License + 200% penalty. I also refer to my t&c where it sais I reserve the right to charge x10 in case of use without license. If they don’t pay up within a short period, you send them a new bill with an extra fee and so on. Finally, you contact a lawyer. I’ve never had to take it that far though… But first, just wait longer. Some mags are just really slow to pay up. A couple of month after publication, there’s no talking out of it.