Stock media libraries

Image and mixed media libraries exist to provide content to all those that seek content. Those seeking content include private and professional individuals, groups, agencies and various organisations. Media content is used extensively in all kinds of applications including product development and labelling, publication content, advertising and marketing campaigns, both printed and electronic including:

  • Newspapers
  • Magazines and periodicals
  • Books
  • Reports
  • Promotional products
  • Displays
  • Catalogs
  • Portfolios
  • Papers
  • Websites
  • Electronic media disks
  • TV & Radio—Audio media
  • Investigation & forensic applications
  • Art decor
  • Personal collections

Stock media in this day and age is predominately in the form of stored digital electronic files that render to visual graphics and pictures both still and movie/animated along with audio sounds. I mostly refer to stock media here as digital picture files, but the same generally applies to other media forms as mentioned above. Those seeking images can search the internet on keywords such as “stock photo”, “stock photography”, “stock image” libraries, agencies or sites.
There are many of them, so be prepared to do a lot of reading when looking for the one that best suits your needs. Some offer a range of free images, although their use might be limited so you will need to check the terms of use and copyright agreements. Others provide them at a relatively low cost under a “microstock” marketing model, while others provide subscriptions for regular buyers such as advertising and promotional agencies, periodical publishers and organisations that are very active in communication via various media. So everybody is catered for.

The media content that makes up the stock library or archive is usually derived from a wide community of various artists both amateur and professional. These artists include photographers, graphic artists, videographers, sound engineers or enthusiasts, writers, illustrators and the likes. These artists open accounts with various stock libraries to be suppliers and many supply to more than one stock library. Most suppliers are paid a commission from licence fees charged by the library to the buyer/user, based on downloads of their work. It is usually very small for royalty-free licensed downloads—particularly the microstock sales model, promoting a supermarket style of operation (small commissions, large volumes). That does impact on the overall quality of the images as sacrifices must be made to achieve volume of variety. However most libraries have quality control procedures in place that limits lower-end quality work. Usually this quality drop-off is only reflected in the studio, shooting location, subject set-up, look or composition presentation and not the digital reproduction quality. Those looking for a higher standard of image technical and artistic quality such as high-rating advertising and branding agencies still provide a solid market for higher-end work that is not so prevalent in the microstock markets. This could change in time however, but will still be subject to that common conundrum: “You pay for branding vs you get what you pay for”!
If you are a frequent, or even infrequent content buyer, which stock image or digital file library offers the best deals and opportunities for you? That is the million dollar question!

Photographers and other artists want to go where the buyers go, but that is hard to know! As a buyer you want volume, variety, quality, value and navigational/operation simplicity of a comprehensive stock library website. This would infer the more popular stock image library sites would be the ones with a great web interface for buyers! Like many things the ones that get their marketing right win in the end, but who reviews this stuff! A survey to a representative population of users might reveal who’s stock site marketing efforts are winning. As a buyer, “who do you know of and use”, might be a leading question in such as survey, but I cannot shed any light on the source of such information.

Some stock libraries provide individual image files to any buyers through the modern shopping cart model, while others require you to register with the stock library as a potential buyer first, then use the shopping cart style model. Some offer subscriptions where you subscribe for a period of time at a set cost and can download set quantities, or any number of image files for that matter as long as your subscription is valid. It can be renewed for continuation each time. Generally creative works used in creating saleable product will be sold as rights managed and the cost of the user licence will vary with the speculated royalties earning potential. This speculation is compiled from such information as type of use or publication, volume of circulation or size of audience, number of insertions, performances etc, front/home page, or middle content, size with respect to rest of the page/label/performance time etc, exclusivity, and any other elements that define how valuable the image or works are to the income earning potential of the end product. How much did the creative works attribute to the sales value of the product?

Royalty-free licencing does away with all this complexity that is not applicable to the intended use of the creative works. Such as images used in advertising a product, brand, or business enterprise. They add no value to any product to which royalties can be sort. The stock media libraries will ascertain whether royalty-free licences or rights-managed licences are granted and that should be reflected in the commissions paid to the supplying artists.
If you are a photographer looking to be a stock photo supplier, you may find this link very helpful:
Potential supplying artists, particularly photographers need to be aware of the myth surrounding the stock media industry as a business. It is not always disclosed in articles promoting professional income. Find out more in my other article titled “The truth about stock image photography”

Researched and written by Gavin Lardner © 2012. Updated 2014.


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