Photojournalists have threatened to leave photo agency Alamy after it announced it will reduce its contributor commission rates next year.
Photographers currently receive 50 per cent commission for images sold through the photo wire service, but from February this will drop to 40 per cent with the other 60 per cent staying with the company.
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This followed an earlier cut from 60 per cent to 50 per cent in 2010, and what the National Union of Journalists called “detrimental” changes to terms and conditions for photographers in 2015.
Alamy chief executive James West (pictured below) published a Youtube video (also below) last week defending the change, saying he hoped contributors will eventually receive more money each year as a result.
“While I think in the short term this is bad news in terms of royalties and revenue to you as our contributing community I’m confident that over the three to five year timescale – and maybe we can beat that, who knows what happens next year – that this will have been a good move and we will be returning you a higher revenue sum at the end of each year than we will have done otherwise,” he said.
West added: “I don’t think this is something we’re going to need to do again – famous last words.”
He partly blamed the current “uncertainty about the UK’s relationship with its neighbours in the European Union” and uncertainty about the global economy in general.
“On the other hand there are a ton of things that we have identified that are worth investing in to grow Alamy perhaps in spite of this or certainly to come out of whatever downturn comes next stronger than we went in,” West added.
He also said that if it weren’t for the commission cut which took place in 2010, Alamy “would not have been able to invest” in things that led to strong financial results in the past three years.
In an open letter to West, the British Press Photographers’ Association said Alamy’s success “is built on its relationship with the people who have trusted you to handle their stock and live photography sales”.
“Relationships built on trust are destroyed very quickly when one party moves the goalposts and that’s exactly what you are planning to do,” it said.
The group, which said many of its members are Alamy contributors, added: “We know that many individual images fetch lower prices than they once did, that it is a complex and competitive market and that sales models have changed since 1999 [when Alamy was founded].
“We understand that the financial uncertainties of Brexit mean that you have to be cautious over the next 12 months or more. We understand that Alamy wants to improve and grow.
“We understand that you want to fund those goals from within your own revenues, but we don’t understand why you would do so at the expense of the contributors whose effort has been one of the key drivers of your rise to a turnover in excess of $30m.”
Noting the angry tone of comments under West’s Youtube video, the BPPA urged Alamy to continue to pay existing contributors 50 per cent of their sales and consider only applying a 60/40 split to new contributors.
Dan Callister, a Welsh editorial and commercial photographer based in New York, told Press Gazette: “I, like all other photographers, was disappointed to learn that Alamy were awarding themselves a pay rise at the expense of the photographer via a video that looked like it was shot in a broom cupboard.”
Callister added that after using Alamy as a general syndication agent for seven years, he has terminated his contract with the service as a direct result of the announcement.
Student journalist Benjamin Wareing told Press Gazette that although he is currently using Alamy on a student account, which gives him two years of 100 per cent commission while he completes his studies, if the contributor rate is still set at 40 per cent when this ends next year he will leave the agency.
He said: “I feel this is a significant step since I regularly produce high quality, and sometimes exclusive, photographs of events spanning royalty to politics to celebrity entertainment and more.
“As a student and a young person in this profession, I have a whole lifetime of photography and opportunities ahead of me.
“At current track, none of these future photographs or opportunities will be shared with Alamy, which is heartbreaking to say since I started with Alamy, but it’s the right move for me to make.”
Wareing, who has submitted more than 6,000 news photos to Alamy since November last year, added that he was “completely lost for words” by the announcement, which he described as “brazen” and “detached from reality”.
He added: “I’m all for businesses making profits and thriving – that’s what allows us photographers to sell in the first place – but I categorically stand against any decision that will negatively impact the livelihoods of my fellow photographers, and eventually myself, and I’m frankly shocked at Alamy’s decision here.
“It’s gross, demoralising, and demeaning to the hundreds of thousands of hardworking men and women who work hard day-in and day-out.”
Among the photographers voicing their outrage in the Youtube comments under West’s video was Brian Harris, chief photographer for the Independent between 1986 and 2000.
He said: “As a professional photographer of 50 years standing I feel insulted, hurt and just a tad hacked off with you showing yet another example of indifferent corporate greed…
“Alamy has been a great stock outlet for all of us, don’t spoil it now.”
Natasha Hirst, chair of the NUJ Photographers’ Council, also urged Alamy to reconsider its plan, saying it seems “unsustainable” to cut commissions each time it wants to invest.
She said: “Many photographers rely on stock images as a form of pension and to supplement income in an increasingly precarious industry.
“It is already hard for our members to gain a fair price for their work and this latest move from Alamy is making creators rethink whether producing stock remains viable.”
Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, added: “Photographers are already having a tough time making a living and this is yet another hit they will have to take.
“The union is very disappointed that Alamy has made this decision.
“James West has blamed Brexit and the present economic situation and said he hopes to ‘return to a higher revenue to contributors’. For the sake of our photographer members, this needs to be sooner rather than later.”
A spokesperson for Alamy said it had no further comment beyond West’s video at this time.
Picture: Reuters/Suzanne Plunkett