What a Release Matching Spreadsheet Can Do for Your Stock Photo Distribution

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As your stock photo production becomes more serious you’ll refine your workflow, grow your portfolio and expand your distribution. Eventually you’ll reach a point where it will become worthwhile to create a release matching spreadsheet.

So what is a release matching spreadsheet?

Put simply, it’s a spreadsheet which matches the file names of your photos with the file names of the model and property releases that relate to them. It’s used to automate the process of submitting your portfolio in bulk to new agencies.

The Benefits

From that description it sounds like a lot of work. So why is it in your interests to create a release matching spreadsheet?

First, the big benefit is that it removes the tedious task of manually assigning releases to photos via an agency website. You already do this manually for most microstock agencies. Unfortunately you’ll have to continue doing this for most microstock agencies for the foreseeable future, but the spreadsheet removes the need to do it when sending your portfolio to a new agency.

Another benefit is that a release matching spreadsheet becomes a powerful asset when negotiating with potential new distributors. Your portfolio is more attractive to the agency when the ingestion can be automated. Knowing they can get it all online quickly and easily, an agency can be more generous in other areas of the negotiation.

It also becomes a permanent record for you. Many stock photographers use different systems and methods for recording which releases relate to which photos. Some don’t even keep records, but instead rely on the release linking they did on microstock agencies closer to the shoot date! Needless to say, it’s more prudent to have your own permanent records, especially if it’s one that can be useful in other ways.

Who’s Using Them?

These spreadsheets have been common in the traditional stock photo market for many years. As a result, most traditional stock photo producers have had them integrated into their workflow for a long time. Ron Chapple has always encouraged contributors to maintain such a spreadsheet and has used his to distribute his iofoto microstock collection widely and easily.

Many top microstock contributors also use them having been taking advantage of wider distribution opportunities for years. It’s less common compared to traditional stock photographers, but rapidly becoming more so as distribution opens up to more and more people.

Which Agencies Can Use Them?

Don’t expect iStockphoto, Shutterstock or Fotolia to suddenly start accepting spreadsheets to do your release matching.   These agencies grew up in a different market and there’s little benefit for them to start working with spreadsheets now.

However, if you ever submit to a traditional stock photo agency you can expect a release matching spreadsheet to be welcome.

More and more ‘new’ microstock agencies are accepting them too. By automating a large part of the ingestion process, they reduce the time taken to build up the quantity of images available. More importantly, they drastically lower the risk for contributors to take a gamble on an un-proven agency, making it easier for the agency to attract contributors.

There is also a growing number of cross-distribution opportunities in the market, all of which are facilitated by a complete release matching spreadsheet.

How to Format the Spreadsheet

So once you decide you need a release matching spreadsheet, how do you know how to format it?

Spreadsheets are quite easy to reformat and convert, so there’s some tolerance in details such as fonts, headers, sheets and file formats.   However, it’s crucial that the data is presented complete and consistent.

The core requirement is to list the file name of each photo that requires a release in the first column. The file name of the release documents that relate to each image are then listed in subsequent columns as shown in this example:

Release Matching Spreadsheet example

The spreadsheets are fed into a system, so presenting the data in a human-readable manner doesn’t work. This means you can’t abbreviate file names, nor can you abbreviate lists by saying “photos 203 through to 245 need release XYZ”. Each photo must have its own row in the spreadsheet, though you don’t need to list photos which don’t require releases.

Most agencies will read any spreadsheet format, but you can simplify things and guarantee no file format issues by exporting your spreadsheet in the open standard CSV format. This format doesn’t support any fancy spreadsheet functions or intricate design elements, but there’s no need for any of that in a release matching spreadsheet anyway.

It’s preferable to have a single, big spreadsheet for your entire portfolio, but you can also use individual spreadsheets for each shoot or other grouping of photos. If you use separate spreadsheets, it’s crucial that the formatting is perfectly consistent across each one.

When does it Become Worthwhile?

When first told they need a release matching spreadsheet, most microstock photographers groan. With large portfolios full of shots with multiple models, it can represent a lot of work to create the spreadsheet retrospectively.

Without a doubt it makes a lot of sense to integrate such a spreadsheet into your current workflow so you have it for all your stock from this point on.

As for when it becomes worthwhile to do it for your existing portfolio, that depends on how well organized you are, how many photos you have and how the cost of creating the spreadsheet relates to the extra revenue opportunities greater distribution makes available.

With some of the market’s cross-distribution opportunities proving pleasingly lucrative for top microstock contributors, the cost is looking smaller and smaller.

A More Permanent Solution

Release metadata as seen in Adobe Lightroom 3The PLUS metadata standard enables you to embed the file names of releases in the metadata of a JPEG file. The standard is already supported in Adobe PhotosShop CS5 and Lightroom 3. Presumably Aperture and any others that don’t already support it will soon follow.

Despite support from Adobe in getting the metadata in, support from agencies in using the metadata is non-existent.   No microstock or traditional stock photo agencies have reported being able to extract the PLUS metadata and use it to automate the linking of releases.

It’s in our interests as stock photo producers to start using this metadata and embedding the release file names in each stock photo. If this practice becomes more popular, it will become worthwhile for agencies to start updating their systems to use the data.

There are clear benefits for agencies in doing this, but only if it’s widely used by photographers. So if the spreadsheet seems like a painful and antiquated way to facilitate distribution, there is something you can do about it.



Posted April 18th, 2011 by

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