07 Dec, 2011 | Posted by: st


Begone !

A photobuyer calls, "We like the photos you sent us and have scanned two dozen of them in our database."

"You what...?" is your response.

The photobuyer responds, "You have a lot of pictures that we feel we could use in the future. We're building an in-house reference file. Any problem with that?"

Consider it a compliment. Scanning of photos by a photobuyer needn't be a threatening experience.

It wasn't always that way. Thirty years ago, when only large corporations had photocopy machines, copying a photo for their files seemed to stock photographers like an infringement of copyright.

Gradually the process became accepted, because stock photographers saw they could get sales from photocopy reference photos already on file with photobuyers.

The same is happening today with scanning.
A photobuyer will scan photos to obtain low resolution "thumbnail" images to put into their reference "view-only" database. A software program cross-references them for keywords.


If you are working with editorial photobuyers, where you know your buyers and they know you, it would be odd to hear of theft among that photobuying community. If you are on a first-name basis with a photobuyer at a publishing house, you are proably in good hands.

In the editorial stock photo field, I’ve rarely heard of a photobuyer intentionally stealing a photo. There’s no sense to it. The photo editor has a budget to work within; there’s no material profit to him or her to “borrow” a photo. Besides, the photo will be published and viewed by hundreds, even thousands of viewers. Most gangsters would say that’s not a good way to run a clandestine thievery business.


With commercial stock photography there is a different attitude and a different morality. In advertising and commercial stock photography there are situations where it could be advantageous to steal someone’s photo. Especially if it’s a limited ad campaign and the campaign ties to a limited region of the country (rather than nationwide).

Because the ad agency is allotted a limited budget for artwork, it might be to the ad agency’s advantage to bring the cost of the photo illustration down to zero (theft). They’ll still bill the client for the artwork.

If you’re involved in strictly editorial stock photography, this kind of information might be news to you. If you deal only in commercial stock photography, it’s no surprise.

Are scans a useful reference tool?

Scanning comes in all forms. The 72-dpi scanned image is excellent. However, it can be “decompressed” and in some cases used as a 300-dpi image.


A graver problem is that it's possible to easily pass scans on to others (swapping). If an ad agency goes out of business, what happens to your images in their data file?

If you check on Google, you’ll see how often small ad agencies disappear. Also, photobuyers at ad agencies are known to sometimes trade images – yours, or parts of yours could get in the mix.

Again, however, if you are working as a specialist and deal with repeat buyers in a vertical editorial field, you will know your buyers and they will know you. My thirty-five years observing stock photography tell me that for the editorial stock photographer, thievery has never been a problem. There is no incentive for editorial photobuyers to use a photo in a major publication without first finding the owner of the copyright, and making compensation. So, you want to encourage potential repeat buyers to scan your photos.


My recommendation is to go even farther and initiate an offer to leave a substantial selection of photos (a dozen or more) with the art department of a publishing company for potential future use.

Many publishing houses maintain a “permanent file” – a database of photos that are designated as candidates for “layout emergencies.” Any transactions involving these photos on file are coordinated with the accounting department and a check is sent to you the month after publication.

It’s always pleasant to find an unexpected check in the mail!

As an editorial stock photographer you are going to find much more enjoyment when you are photographing subject matter that you like to take. Learn more about how to sell those pictures at PhotoSource International and the PhotoSourceBANK, Pine Lake Farm, 1910 35th Road, Osceola, WI 54020 USA. Rohn Engh is director of and publisher of PhotoStockNotes. E-mail: info[at]photosource[dot]com Fax: 1 715 248 3800; www.photosource.com



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