Getty Photographers Pessimistic About the Future

When I recently asked Getty photographers if their royalties were going up or down, I was quickly flooded with responses that indicate a high level of dissatisfaction and frustration. I promised anonymity so I won’t identify respondents by name, but I will include comments that went well beyond the simple survey questions.

Seventy-eight percent of the 69 respondents said that so far in 2007 their revenue has been down compared to the same period last year. Of the 22 percent who said revenue was flat or up, all but two had added new images in 2006 that grew their previous total by five percent or more. Thus, it is entirely possible that for these people the increased number of images was the principal reason for the increase in revenue, not an improving average return-per-image.

But even adding images wasn’t enough to grow revenue. Two said they had grown their number of images on the site by more than 20 percent and one by close to 50 percent and their gross revenue was still down. One photographer said, “Overall, my net royalties received per-month from Getty are down 30 percent to 40 percent from last year, even though I have 15 percent more images on the website.” Several indicated that the downward trend has been going on for longer than one year and one said his sales have been “on a financial downhill slide for 3 years at Getty.”

In his Q3 2006 conference call to investment analysts Jonathan Klein told them that Getty Images had plans to open its “content taps” to all professional photographers. He also said, “Be under no illusion. Photographers are clamoring to give us more content, not less, and they will embrace this.”

Maybe new photographers are “clamoring,” but existing Getty contributors certainly seem to be having second thoughts and are pulling back.

Communicating With Editors

A major frustration for existing contract photographers is that it has become much more difficult to get images accepted and loaded on the site than it had been in the past – even when the photographer is willing to pay the Photographer’s Choice participation fee.

One photographer said, “We are at a loss in finding a good contact with Getty Images. We have never been able to speak to the same person twice.”

Another photographer reports, “edits have been taking three to seven months. Art directors and editors seem to have been assigned too many photographers. The ‘Traffic’ staff was fired in the restructuring of the company, and it seems that therefore it is another three to six months until the work appears ‘Live’ on the website, once I have turned it in final files to my art director. So it is now taking nine months to a year to get work ‘Live’ on the website.”

He continued, “The keywording is terrible, and at times the image title is wrong, making all the keywords wrong. I must inspect images in new uploads and write Getty to fix the keywords which takes four weeks or more.”

Cuts In Editing Staff

In October 2006, in and effort to cut costs, Getty made some significant reductions in staff. As a result there seems to be less communication with photographers and less guidance as the photographers plan shoots. In addition, it is now taking much longer for a photographer to get his production where it can start generating revenue.

One photographer whose revenue is falling commented, “My production is very much reduced, and I am not doing big expensive lifestyle shoots for them any more, particularly with the lack of guidance and art direction that they used to offer. I am not prepared to risk up to $25,000 for a couple of days shooting, without some guidance from them … and then some moral obligation to take a good number of images, once they have given that guidance.”

Another photographer complained, “I have not received any input, e-mails, feedback, newsletters or communication from Getty to help me focus on producing images. In addition, they like to cherry pick one or two images from an entire shoot for their website and then not allow similars or sisters from that shoot to go to other agencies.”

And still another photographer commented, “Getty has a good deal going for themselves: not only do they take the lion’s share of the royalties, but they get photographers to pay for Getty’s file handling, keywording and uploading expenses. Additionally, they have frequently changed the submissions mechanics, foisting much more work onto the photographers.”

Paying To Upload Images

With all this negativity one thing that surprised me was that when I asked the question, “Has the $50 fee per-image discouraged you from contributing to Photographers’ Choice?” almost two-thirds of the photographers said NO. However, 46 percent are no longer submitting to PC. As one photographer put it, “It’s not really the $50 per se, but the lower return per-image that is discouraging.”

In summary, a female photographer who always offers sharp insights said, “Getty is a distributor, not an agency. After being a boutique outlet with some of the best shooters in the business and very strict editing policy, it now subscribes to the ‘Crazy Eddie’ stores’ principle: dump truckloads of merchandise on top of other stock, and someone is sure to buy it. Quality doesn’t matter anymore: it is a game of numbers and this precious shelf life.”

Is There No Optimism?

Despite the general pessimism, not all photographers were as negative. One who has been a professional in NYC for 20 years and who has made a major commitment to stock photography in the last three years said, “I am optimistic.  I don’t think that the individual freelancer has to look at this as a volume commodity business as you often suggest that it is. By producing fewer images that are carefully crafted and original, I am getting traction in the marketplace.”

But another New York photographer said, “Stock is oversaturated with images easily available to buyers. It’s a buyers market. I’m moving out of stock. Starting over at age 54. I have found new interests in photography and realize that this change is necessary for me as a creator, and am taking what comes with a positive frame of mind. Stock for professional producers only works in volume, not quality, now.”

Tags: ((Jim Pickerell)), ((Getty Images)), ((stock photography))

One Response to “Getty Photographers Pessimistic About the Future”

  1. How about an update to this article, especially considering the recent shake-up at istock.


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