How You Can Compete with Large Corporate Stock Agencies

You can become a monopoly.

“A monopoly?” you say. “Me, become a monopoly?”

My Webster’s tells me a monopoly is a “commodity controlled by one party.” Applied to our stock photography industry on the web, that means if you have very extensive photo coverage of one subject – you have a mini-monopoly.

When photo buyers are meeting a deadline and are up against a stone wall trying to locate a specific picture, you are the knight on a white horse when you can supply them with that highly specific photo.

Monopolies already exist in stock photography. As an example, my old friend Flip Schulke had a near-monopoly of photos of Martin Luther King Jr. When photo buyers need photos of the civil rights leader, guess whose archive  they turn to? You may already have an emerging monopoly of highly specialized photos: insects, daffodils, table tennis, giraffes, and so on.

Here’s How You Do It

In the world of commerce, marketing people say, “Find a need and fill it.” In the creative world, we say, “Determine what I love to photograph and find buyers who need that.” In other words, if wild horses couldn’t pull you away from your avid interest in some subject area, you have discovered where you can easily become a monopoly.

Why? Because you don’t have to worry about failing at it. Yes, you’ll fail sometimes, but you won’t quit. If you really love what you’re doing, you won’t mind failing until you get it right. Begin now to ask yourself where your interest area(s) is (are). If it’s animals, for example, examine your photos.

Do you lean toward certain animals? Domestic? Wild? North American? European? African? Asian? Be specific, because when photobuyers come calling, they will be looking for a specific animal (Abyssinian cat in snow, pregnant dromedary camel, etc.), not animals in general. When photo buyers can target their search on the Internet, they will avoid large general stock photo agencies that they know are likely not to have a broad selection in their interest area to choose from, or keywording that will direct them to a suitable image. Instead, they’ll come to you, with your highly specific file, up-to-date depth of coverage that gives a variety of choices, and extensive, precise, descriptive keywording, which will save the photo buyer time.

This approach results in you “automatically” developing an in-depth historical collection. Most commercial stock agencies (because of space and storage considerations) throw away outdated pictures. You have the capability to save them, let them mature, and feature them later as historical photos.

And how do you know when you’ve achieved monopoly status? Easy: When they start coming to you instead of you reaching out to them. You may find you have three or four monopolies. That’s when you can profitably build your files in those areas.

How to be Unique

Uniqueness, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder. What one photo buyer will consider unique, another will consider commonplace. From a marketing point of view, you can use this truism to your advantage, and position yourself and your photography to be considered unique.

Here’s how. First of all, choose a vertical market to work in. (The Law of Probability is not on your side if you try to be “unique” to the whole world.)

Choose an area you love working in: aviation, medicine, zoology, children, etc. Photograph only in the area(s) you choose. Resist the temptation to photograph in areas outside your specialties. You are now making your photography and yourself unique. You are building a monopoly.

Watch Out for Trite

Caution: Even within a vertical market, don’t fall into the trap of believing that if your photo is “cute” it is therefore unique. Many times a brilliant idea (e.g. a kitten hanging for dear life on a clothesline) will be copied and recopied in various styles, turning what might have been unique into something trite.

In summary, here are the elements:

a.) Choose a vertical market and shoot in that specialized area.

b.) Have a substantial collection of images in that specialty for photo buyers to choose from.

c.) Run, don’t walk. Put your specialty up on the web so that buyers can find you. You’ll be able to link your site to other like-minded areas on the Web. You may have several vertical markets and specializations that you pursue.

Photo buyers, increasingly aware of the search power of the web for their photo-find purposes, are going to be using it to find you. Book and magazine photo editors don’t look for pictures, they look for subject matter. If you have their subject matter, you are going to hook up with that buyer, a relationship that may last a lifetime.


2 Responses to “How You Can Compete with Large Corporate Stock Agencies”

  1. Great article. I totally agree about attacking vertical markets and being the best in your niche.

    It's getting to the point with online where there is so much content that being part of a big conglomerate like some of the stock library sites just means you are the dust on top of a needle in a haystack.

    Much better to be huge in a small space and optimise your own website and promote yourself than be part of a big 'club' and compete with so many others.

  2. I've been photographing in the garden niche for nearly 20 years and have developed strong relationships with a handful of photo editors who come to me every issue with very specific requests. If I can't name it, I don't bother to photograph it because there will be no market. I also sell through Getty, but my niche sales are much better direct to my clients. The market is down because of changes in publishing overall, but individual license fees have held up.

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