Selling Your Stock Photography

I just had an interesting experience in regards to selling stock photos. A major travel book publisher contacted me interested in purchasing some of my photos that I have of a specific area in San Francisco. They were very energetic and given that they were a well-established brand, I realized that they were serious about getting some photos. So, I quoted them a price of $500 a photo for full reproduction rights. This is below the standard rate which, based upon my publishing experience, is $750, $1,000, or more depending on what the subject is or who took the photos. Once I emailed them the rate, they flat-out refused. I wrote back telling them I was willing to reduce the price, since this is not something I rely on for a living. To this, they responded that they found photos they could use for free. For free! Now, why on earth would anyone do this? This is a group who will probably sell tens of thousands of copies of the book that they’re going to use these in. Well, here’s the answer to that: you get some name recognition and in an ever-widening sea of no-name amateurs, that’s worth something to some people.
I don’t mention the name of this publisher because from what I’ve heard from friends, they all do this and they can because everyone is a “professional photographer” these days. Obviously that’s not really the case, but it is a fact that professional equipment has gotten so cheap that it’s in the range of most people here ($2,000 gets you a good, basic setup.) And you see this in the fact that any event you go to, there are one of us goobers that has a fancy Canon or Nikon or Sony Digital SLR and is running around with this grandiose seriousness to get shots. It doesn’t make any of our photos less good, but it does cheapen the worth of the photos of a place or event when there is much more supply than demand and the net result is that publishers can get images for free.
Toss in to this the fact that I know of a certain well-known magazine publisher who will download stock images from photo libraries like Getty Images and then not pay for them. Yes, they’re most definitely supposed to pay and if they ever got caught, they’d be in a lot of trouble, but they’re not worried about that, just their bottom line, which does not include a line item for the real cost of stock photography. Once again, they’re not alone in this.
I have no idea as to the quality of the person’s photos who gave them to this travel book publisher. They might have been worse, they might have been much better. I suppose that the lesson in all of this is that you’re most likely not going to make a decent living as a stock photographer these days. If you get hired specifically for an event like a wedding, then it may be possible to earn the rent. Otherwise, think of it as a hobby first.