Goodbye Masterfile… no payment, no pictures

Photos that used to be with Masterfile.

I am retired. A few years ago while I was still working I got the idea of supplementing my retirement income by submitting my photos to stock photo agencies. The thought being that like putting money away in the bank or investing, photo sales later on would supplement my retirement income.

The very first agency that I applied to, Getty Images asked me to submit a sample of my photography and I got my first rejection. The second agency, was called First Light and happily they accepted my early images and it was off to the races. I photographed what I always had, landscapes and submitted them.

A few years into that agreement I was looking to one of the more successful and larger stock photo agencies in the world that was also headquartered here in Canada, Masterfile.

I applied to Masterfile and to my delight I was accepted. Wow, I thought at the time. Shortly after I was sent a box of professional looking business cards with theirs and my name on it. It seemed all very professional to me.

I still kept my older images with the first agency, I continued to get royalty payments and had no reason to withdraw them. My newer images were all sent to the new agency.

For a few years all was going great. I received almost monthly royalty payments from Masterfile to the point where my accountant said that I should probably start keeping track of my expenses related to photography as I was earning more money from my hobby than I counted on, so I did.

Slowly over a time the stock photo business changed. Before, only real professionals were with stock agencies. The expenses were high, film, processing, travel, etc. Now with high quality and cheap digital cameras, many new photographers were jumping on board. As in all economies, supply and demand dictate price. There was suddenly a flooding of new digital images on the market.

Getty Images was one of the first stock agencies to notice this and quickly moved to promoting royalty free images, i.e., you buy it once and can forever use it which ever way you want. Translation, the photographer gets paid once.

All of my photos with both agencies were with the old royalty program where they would sell for one time use and the agency and I would retain the rights to that image continually. Clients were guaranteed that the image they bought had a trackable history of where it had been used and could be guaranteed uniqueness in the market.

Getty was pushing really on the rights free model and prices continued to plummet.

The squeeze was on other stock photo agencies and some went under, others barely survived which is where we are in the story with Masterfile.

My first missed payment with Masterfile was in October of 2014, then November, 2014, then December 2014 and again in January of 2015.  That is four months of royalty payments that almost two years later I have still not been paid.

I was told that Masterfile was working things out and that I could expect my money sometime so I continued to to remain with them in good faith.

Long story short, over the following two years I was alternately paid and not paid for photos of mine that were sold to companies around the world. Yes, you read that right, my photos were being sold, used by a client and I was NOT receiving royalty payment however I still stuck with them in good faith hoping that things would turn for the better.

Earlier this year at the end of summer I had more sales but no royalty payments. Again the promise of money coming. And again more sales and no payment. And again.

I had enough with Masterfile. I had my photos pulled from their system a few weeks ago and now only have my images with Firstlight/Designpics which manages somehow to pay me in this bad market but more and more I find I am generating better income from the sale of prints through Fineartamerica.com

Things change. Jobs change. The market changes.

I do believe that there is a time to say enough is enough and cut my losses. Why continue to keep my photos with Masterfile when it looks to me like I will have more sales in the future and the chance of NOT being paid for them. A win for them but a loss for me.

If you are reading this it means that Masterfile still owes me royalty payments. The day that I receive all the money that I have earned from them, I will delete this post.

If you are interested in purchasing my photos you can contact me through my website or through Firstlight.com but I am no longer associated with Masterfile. No money. No photos.

Happy shooting,

Dan

Edit: It’s been almost a month since I posted this and have yet to see a penny from Masterfile.

My advice is to stay away from them if you are a buyer or a seller. There are other agencies around that will respect the suppliers and make sure that they get paid for the value that they have contributed to the agency.

Any updates to this will be posted here.

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~ by Dan Jurak on December 2, 2016.

12 Responses to “Goodbye Masterfile… no payment, no pictures”

  1. Dan … you are a very patient man – if they file bankruptcy can you claim these back payments as a supplier or do they typically just close up shop and move down south

  2. Hi Ray,
    I tried to be patient with Masterfile but these last missed payments were the last straw for me. We’ll see how this all plays out.

    Dan

  3. You gave them longer than I would have, I guess because of the long standing relationship. In the U.S. you can write those nonpayments off your taxes as a bad debt. Not the same as getting paid, but if you think you’ll never see payment, it helps.

    The stock footage scene sure has changed, as you illustrated.

  4. Hi Frank,

    Things in the stock world have hugely changed. Getty Images has had a large part in the change and it is ironic that as a former contributor from Flickr that I get the odd email from them. The last two emails were about Google and how they wanted us to petition Google to “help stop its anti-competitive scraping of imagery created by contributors like yourself.” LOL The irony being that I believe Getty was a major factor in driving DOWN stock photo prices. I have no sympathy for Getty here.

    Change is inevitable. We adjust. We adapt. We then flourish.

    Dan

  5. I also on early retirement. Thanks for the interesting article. I wish you good health and beautiful photographs.

  6. Hi Vlado and thank you for your well wishes and kind words.

    Dan

  7. Frankly , it sucks. I explored a couple of companies Superstock was one, which I believe is associated with Getty and mostly got rejections but it was a learning experience.i was supposed to sign a waiver for income tax purposes but never got that far.

  8. Jane the stock photo business has changed drastically over the past ten years. Agencies have been able to squeeze more out of photographers for less and finally it has caught up to the agencies. I call it karma.

    Happily I was never into this for money or fame. If making money from photography was a concern I would be spamming the internet with ads/promos for my photo workshops. That is another area that has is becoming abused. I am on a mailing list of one of the premier landscape photographers in North America and more and more there are cancellations of his photo tours and “last minute” openings. He has even resorted to adding Photoshop workshops to his repertoire all in the name of making a living. Nothing wrong with that but photography for me has always been about “taking” photos.
    Dan

  9. Thanks Dan for reminding me why I get outside and take photos in the first place. When making money becomes the main reason for taking photos or painting scenery, all the fun disappears.I have well-meaning friends that start barraging me with business plans but I firmly set boundaries because their plans are not mine and I know I would hate it.

  10. Sad about your experience with Masterfile’s none payment of royalties, because in the old days they paid on time and never ever missed a payment.

  11. Hi Bill,
    My experience was the same as yours. Years ago Masterfile could be counted on like clockwork to make payment.

    These past few years they have become worse at doing that. Payments either are late or non-existent.

    I used to point customers their way. Today there is no way that I could recommend them to either photographers or buyers of photos.

    Dan

  12. Thanks for sharing this background. Eye opening!

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