It feels like déjà vu all over again, doesn’t it?
Fall seems to be the season for falling commissions. We’ve seen it in the past with the big boys, and now even the smaller players are dropping photographers’ commissions without a second thought. Is it because companies are in dire financial straits? Or are they simply indifferent to the contributors on which they rely? Do they have so much supply that pissing off a few photographers won’t affect the behavior of the majority? Are venture capitalists swooping in to squeeze money out of their investments at the contributors’ expense? Or is it just good old-fashioned corporate greed?
I am frustrated and mad. I have many friends who sell photos, and who are negatively affected by declining commissions. I also own a business that is trying to succeed in an industry where agencies seem to operate behind a cloak of secrecy, while photographers passively accept changes that suck for them. Commissions are falling, agencies are lowering prices to compete, and supply is inflated. The industry has grown stagnant as a few companies monopolize it, leaving little room for smaller companies to compete. Most photographers are uncertain about what, if any, course of action to take.
But we must not cower in the face of uncertainty. We need change and we need to act now. Here are some ways to get started:
1. Remove links to sites that reduce payouts without notice or to sites that keep details hidden in confusing press releases. Don’t market sites that don’t care about YOUR bottom line.
2. Do link to sites from your blog, website or portfolio site that pay higher commissions, even if they have less sales for you. These sites need your help getting links in order for them to affect positive change in the industry. Don’t stand idly by while the established players lock you into a worse future.
3. Stop referring buyers to your lower paying commission sites and start sending them to sites that pay you better commissions.
4. Start an upload embargo for 6 months to a year. Don’t upload new or exclusive content to sites that decrease payouts without notice or discussion.
5. Upload to sites with lower payout thresholds and commit to keeping those limits low.
6. Don’t go exclusive with one agency. Only go exclusive with certain new uploads that you know sell better at certain sites, and only with sites that pay you a high commission.
7. Delete your portfolio from sites that do not clearly explain their commission and pricing strategies.
8. Explain to buyers how royalty drops hurt your individual business, and let them know that they can get the same images for the same prices at sites that help you by paying higher commission. Most photo buyers do care about you and about the photography industry; they need to know that you are getting unfairly screwed and that they can help reverse this at no extra cost to them.
9. Commit to a new agency that you trust on a non-exclusive basis. Support them with your uploads and, if you choose, a small amount of exclusive content for them to market. Write a blog article or post in a forum about the agency and why you chose it.
10. Convince fellow photographers to act with you, taking concrete steps TODAY towards improving your situation.
Photographers and photo buyers have strength in numbers. It takes a cooperative community of people to affect lasting change. If you feel commission drops are unfair and non-transparent, ACT. Your actions will speak for themselves.
Please comment below with any suggestions or ideas that we can add to the list. Your ideas can help change the industry!