Selling images was all about negotiating. And it is still very much so in the editorial world. Being at the right place, at the right time beats all other aspects, be it composition, lighting, framing and talent. In the celebrity space, for example, those images of celebrities in the street that you see everywhere and that most discard as lousy photography usually go for ten of thousands of dollars. Numerous times. for one image.
It is not so hard to figure out which image is going to sell well. You have about 10 to 15 celebrities, at any given time, that all the magazines in the world are looking for. They vary over time, but the pool always remain at the same number. All you need to do, and that is the hard part, is just get pictures of them, anywhere, doing anything.
Those paparazzi agencies that most in this industry try to dismiss with a shrug easily generate more income than most stock photography agencies, combined. And its not a science, but an art, based purely on instinct. Not only what image to get but how to price it. And 6 figures sells are really not uncommon.
There is no pricing book in celebrity photography, no price per image, no attempt to have automated pricing and download. There is even no real need for sophisticated search engine as most searches are by celebrity name and nothing else. No concept words, no visual search, and no model release.
News photography, although sometimes more dangerous, used to be the same. Magazines used to pay huge amounts of money for stunning exclusive . While this is an exercise still being practice in Europe, the news magazine in the United States have successfully convinced photographers that their images are not worth much. And its working well. For the same image, you will get 10% or less than what the same image has been bought for in one magazine in Europe.
The value of an image resides in how much it is needed. It would be very interesting to see wire services drop their subscription model, which is an accountant heaven and a photographers nightmare, and return to a price per image negotiation pricing. I am absolutely convinced that prices would immediately go up, especially knowing that some of the images could be licensed exclusively. Sure, it would take more time to license an image, but it would be worth it.
Photo agencies pour a lot of money into the marketplace in order to have their images bought instead of their competition’s. These marketing initiatives we see around us, brochure, cd’s, free Ipods, lunches, parties and traveling salespeople are a very expensive proposition. As Corbis knows too well, you cannot buy your way into this market. I once saw hundreds of brand new Corbis branded calculator being sold at my local flee market, still wrapped in their original boxes. Giving out free T shirts is just not going to make photo editors buy your images. It doesn’t matter how much money you have borrowed from greedy VC’s, you cannot bully yourself into being loved. This industry just doesn’t work like that.
Why have salespeople if all they do is quote a price book ? Most people know how to use a vending machine, don’t they ? The real talent of a photo agency lies not only in providing the right content, like the celebrity photo agencies, but pricing it accordingly. Corporations invented the price book because they couldn’t get their hands around price negotiation. You cannot do projections with negotiated prices, it is much too vague and unpredictable. Sadly, everyone has blindly followed, thinking that this was the right way to go.
It would be nice to see price negotiations make a come back and images sell for what they are worth. A great image needs no price book. And this industry could do with less free pens and more great images.