The Handcuffs and Temptation of Stock Agencies

Someone finds your work on Flickr. They contact Getty Images to buy it. Getty Images contacts you for permission to sell it to their buyer. Do you do it?

A week ago, I received two more requests from a potential Getty customer wanting to license my work for commercial use. I’m not told the price in advance. They simply want a yes or no answer.

But it’s not a guaranteed sale either. Whether it sells for $20, for $400, or maybe not at all, you loose the right to ever license that image or any other similar images again without going through Getty. At this point, Getty now owns the exclusive distribution rights with a no competition contract. A tough pill to swallow but maybe I value my own work too much.

To date, I have had 27 requests but have only accepted one as a “what if” test. I offered Getty that single image and while it did indeed sell, the royalty margins are the typical low. The Flickr collection is all royalty free and in this particular case, Getty licensed my image for their standard price of $382.50. They keep 80% of it leaving me with $76.50 before the IRS steps in (Canadians can file to get it back) and claims another 30% of that earnings dropping my payout to $53.55. I suppose $53 is better than nothing?

Turning down sales and commercial publication is very hard but the value Getty offers for 80% on a royalty free sale could be argued. But what do I know? I have local photographer friends that were able to quit their day job due to sales through iStockphoto alone — and those royalties are as low as $2 per sale.

On the flip side, the Parks and People Association are releasing a book next month to celebrate the 75th anniversary of PEI National Park and it has several of my images inside. If I would have accepted all 27 of those requests, I would not have been able to offer the images I did for this publication.

The “what if” temptation is strong and something I have now resisted for a very long time. While the argument can be made for both sides — it is hard not to wonder what would have happened if I uploaded all of my work, gave away my distributions rights and accepted the 80/20 business model.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Chris!

About the author: Stephen Desroches is a professional photographer based out of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada. Visit his website here. This post was originally published here.

Image credit: Private Eye Handcuffed to a Speaker by Mark Coggins

  • Disgusted at the 80/20 split.

    i think you can actually remove your images from the Getty collection, but you have to wait until the minimum 2 year licensing period is up.

  • Igogosh

    This is a load of BULL S…T, Sir! What agent makes more money than the creator of the goods! Say “Thank you, but no!” 
     Create a website and learn to sell your own work and keep 100% of the profit, license it on any condition you want for any price you can think of up the limit the client can bare. Have your contact info and direct your customers who want to license work directly to you and start being rich and happy!

  • Tam Nguyen Photography

    What if you deny the sale to Getty and sell your image directly to the buyer? Is that not an option?

  • Coyote Red

    You could go all in with Getty and post a note stating, “Anyone interested in licensing my work contact Getty Images.”  You don’t have to do much more work “business-side” than that.  Or you can do all of the licensing, marketing, etc. to get more of the pie.  While 80/20 seems a little rich for their side, they’re the ones with the clients and will be doing the work of getting your work into the hands of those who will use it leaving you to concentrate on the production-side of your photography.  It’s a matter of how deep into the business side you want to be.

  • mrbeard

    when i read the getty stuff on flickr i thought it meant they would take 20%, not that you would get paid 20%, i’m glad my photos arent suitable

  • Melo

     I’d rather sell 1 image a year personally for thousands than waste my creative on such a ridiculous split.  I would still hesitate if the split were reversed.  Hold your ground people.  “Don’t sacrifice what you WANT for what you want now.’

  • Aaron David Cole

    80/20 is a joke! If anyone told me that they were going to take 80% off the sale of one of my images and leave me with a paltry 20% I’d throw them out of a window.

  • jdm8

    Assuming you knew who the buyer was.  I don’t understand why the buyer didn’t make a direct contact.

  • Igogosh

     It’s great that they have a buyer, but it is YOU WHO HAVE THE GOODIES THESE CLIENTS WANT, YOU TELL THEM HOW MUCH IT SHOULD BE!!!!! These agencies will go out of business without YOUR top notch product, market your stuff YOURSELVES!

  • Tam Nguyen Photography

    One day one of us will be able to sell our picture for like 50 million dollars. Just make sure it looks like a picture of a foggy lake, or a supermarket or something…

  • Zak Henry

    Foggy lake actually sounds like it could be a good photo. Plastic bag might be more likely to reach that 50 million goal

  • Tam Nguyen Photography
  • ScottieC

    I would not mind if they received 33% of the take, but not 80%…  I had a image that I did sale directly to a person, and I made a nice $500 from it. I actually asked for $350, but the person wrote me a check for $500 which he came to pick up the print. It was a real surprise, but he also told me something that took me back a bit. The person told me that he would have paid me $800 if I asked for it, and he told me that photographers tend to undervalue their artwork too much. This is the image that the guy bought a print of… something that I don’t think is super. 

  • Steve

    When you see how little you make compared to Getty, I can understand why you don’t want to use them.  Alamy pay 65% commission to photographers but they might not charge as much as Getty.  I still prefer them though, as they let you sell non-exclusively and only reject photos if they have technical problems.

  • angry photo-er

    So, they take 80% just for brokering the sale *and* they force you into an exclusivity contract?  That is absolutely atrocious and downright unethical.  I can think of no other business that takes such a vast percentage as a cut for a product where you’ve done the actual leg-work.

    What is their actual CoDB anyway?  Their main expenses are probably website development (very small cost after the initial development, if done correctly), website hosting (even smaller cost) and marketing (they can’t possibly be spending almost 80% of their gross sales income on marketing, businesses pretty much them as the de-facto stock supplier anyway).  They must be making money hand-over-fist.

    This is very reminiscent of the way the music business works: a label offers a band a chance at wealth and fame, but only if they sell their soul.  Getty isn’t even offering you that much, they’re only giving you one sale.

    Claim, if you want, that we’d have a more difficult time turning a profit without them, but realize that we can still exist and shoot without them and they cannot exist without us.

    The status-quo is skewed because most of us are so giddy about making $2 from a hobby that we’re willing to let these rip-off artists take advantage of us.  Something tells me that these people are not passionate artists who enjoy photography, they’re just business jerks running a legitimized scam.

    Someone needs to start a stock photo business that actually respects photographers.  It’s not impossible, they just need to undercut Getty to attract buyers and offer a majority percentage cut to photographers.  But that’s not likely to happen, as business is business and the majority of people who run it are profit-driven, sociopathic assholes.

  • bob cooley

    Standard rates for an agent or commercial gallery in the art world are 50%.  While this may seem like a lot, they are taking the time to present and refer your images to their clientele – typically a clientele youwouldn’t have ready access to.   Which is fair.   

    80% is way too high for acting as an ‘agent’ when most people who see your images are seeing them on flickr. 

    Does flickr prohibit you from posting on your profile to contact you directly for licensing?

  • Mike

    So is Getty actually marketing the photos they find on Flickr prior to contacting the photographers?  I’m just wondering if the perspective client saw the image at Flickr and contacted Getty, or did they find the image through Getty first?  If I were a perspective client and found an image on Flickr I wanted to use for something, my first thought would be to contact the photographer, not a third party.  Just wondering because I really don’t know how the Flickr/Getty deal works.

  • KF

    I read with interest your post and the comments.

    I too have had my photos requested by Getty, but I did take the plunge and put them up on Getty. They were after all just languishing on my hard drive and getting the odd hit on Flickr. So now I am getting sales on Getty. Not great, and I totally agree that 20% is a tad low. But it is more than I was getting before.

    I suppose the real difference here is that this is my hobby, and I will do it anyway, so if Getty slings me a few pennies along the way then I am more than happy.

    Do I give them all of my shots… noooo.., do I give them the best ones.. noooo.. I am still hopeful that I may be able to sell these myself.. but I think this is purely delusional.

    The proliferation of cameras and images means that the cut you get from sales is diminishing. Anyone can take shots these days and they do.

    It would be great if we all could get paid handsomely for doing what we love but we have to live in the real world, we have to have real jobs and use our spare time for what we love.

    My shots have sold through Getty in the USA, Israel, Australia, Korea.. Getty has the distribution and marketing expertise.. I would not have sold in these markets on my own.

    It all comes down to whether you want to have a business or a hobby.

    I do apologise to all those Photographers who are struggling out there to live on their craft but this is the way of the world.

    So enjoy taking shots, posting and hoarding or you can like me, liberate a few..


  • Anon

    of the 99c you pay on itunes for a song, the artist gets 10c. Musicians have to sell something like 800,000 downloads per year to make minimum wage.

  • 9inchnail

     If it’s that easy, why isn’t everybody here rich by now? How do you plan on finding clients? Everyone knows Flickr and Getty Images, so everybody with a camera has a shot to sell their photos there. With your own website, you have to stick out among the quazillions of other private websites. Good luck with that.

  • 9inchnail

     Both those photos are by Gursky and most of his photos are bought by one and the same guy, some rich idiot from Eastern Europe. So it’s not really saying much about his work and business success. He just got lucky.

  • Regele Ionescu

     You are missing one important thing: on Flickr and Getty Images your image is not alone but competing with “quazillions” of other pictures.

  • ZamoraBeverly26

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  • Dani

    This article contains a couple of errors. First, the Getty Flickr collection has both rights managed and royalty free licensing models. Also, since Canada and the US have a tax treaty, the IRS takes nothing off the top if you fill out your paperwork properly.  I made enough last month from Getty Flickr to buy a new lens – more than I would have made from just leaving the photos on my hard drive or even sitting on Flickr. YMMV.

  • Ken McAllister

    Not quite true. While I can’t speak for record company deals, independent artists receive 70% of the sales, while Apple takes 30%.

  • Bootgrrl

    The don’t market it, the client would have found it on Flickr. Im a photo editor and I always contact the photographer direct. Better to get $100 direct from me and a photo credit, rather than 20% of $100 and a “Getty Images” credit next to your work, IMO. Getty is so unethical…

  • Bootgrrl

    Yes perhaps you should all state on your Flickr accounts that you are willing to sell your photos. Maybe list an email we can contact you on. Sometimes its hard to get in touch with you guys but some of us do try.

  • bootgrrl

    Alamy has about the same rates as Getty, and less clientele – Getty should be able to afford better commission for their photographers, they are getting greedy as they take more of the market.

  • Anuj Nair

    My goodness ! This reminds me of ‘Taxman’ the Beatles song. I thought they take a commission of 20% and 80% of the sale is for me. I have submitted few pictures for sale and I regret to have not checked and searched the web before doing that. Can somebody please enlighten me on how I can cancel the contract permanently and retain my rights on my own picture ?

  • incendiary

    Wow, I’ve always wondered about that. Being a hobbyist I’d love to start selling some photo’s eventually.