Erickson Stock has been a staple in our industry of high end imagery for a long time. Michael Masterson caught up with Producer Jesse Hughes to get some insight into their staying power in an industry that is up and down to say the least:
Jesse Hughes has been on the sales side of the commercial photography and TV/video production business since 1996. After departing from TV for print in 2001, he was agent to over 70 of the world’s finest commercial photographers. In early 2006, Jesse partnered up with Jim Erickson, moved to Petaluma, CA, and together they have been growing Erickson Productions, Inc and Ericksonstock.com into a healthy photo and video production company, as well as a premier source of commercial stock video and still photography.
Michael Masterson: Jim Erickson has been a top commercial photographer for over 30 years and Erickson Stock is one of the only agencies that features the work of a single contributor: Jim. Tell us about how he got into stock.
Jesse Hughes: Jim has always been a forward thinker and a good listener. He was a very early adopter of high-end retouching and Photoshop. With the onset of digital cameras, he was a pioneer of library shoots, using multiple photographers and adding video even when the only option was shooting on DV tape. When his agents were complaining that they were losing assignment projects to stock licensing solutions in the 1990s, he thought, “Well, I’ll just get into stock myself.” So he hired a top shop in San Francisco (Eleven, Inc.) to design his stock site in the year 2000. From there, it was about adding high quality imagery to this newfound channel to provide emotional and compelling content to brands worldwide.
Michael: Erickson Stock was always a rights-managed collection, but recently you’ve converted some of your library to royalty-free. What was behind that move and how are you licensing it?
Jesse: Yes, we have held on to the RM model well past most other content providers. Jim and I have been against the idea of RF because we wanted to always have complete control over our exclusive collection. And until recently (say the last 18 months), our average customer was willing and able to afford content at RM price points. While we still have many customers who want exclusive and unique imagery that they can be assured no one else or few others are using, the number is dwindling and running a company of 10 people becomes more and more difficult. So as of this week, we now offer roughly half of our collection as RF750. That means a one-time payment of $750 per image gets you unlimited use, unlimited time for 1 client.
Michael: You have over 10,000 video clips, all directed by Jim, in your library now. How does motion figure into your revenue stream and are you putting any of it into royalty-free?
Jesse: We are very proud of our video collection and we are sure that it is a growth area for this business. Currently, we are keeping all video clips in the RM licensing model. We think more and more broadcast departments are looking at stock video as an option as the quality increases AND the fact that more and more video is being consumed online via desktop and mobile devices. Over the past few years, video licensing revenue has grown to 5%, 10% and now 15% of our overall revenue.
Michael: Many clients now want stills shot at the same time as motion. How do you handle that?
Jesse: Since we get asked to shoot both all the time, we go one of two ways: Either we have 2nd shooters getting stills “over the shoulder” of the DP and during breaks on the video portion, or better yet, we have multiple sets where Jim can go back and forth directing and shooting from set to set. The way Jim directs talent for video vs. stills is completely different, so to get those authentic looking moments, the actors need to reset when switching between the different media.
Michael: What distributors handle Erickson Stock imagery and do you expect that group to expand with your new RF offering?
Jesse: We have had various distribution partners around the world over the years. Given time zone and language differences, it makes sense to do this and partnering with the right distributors is key. We are represented in Japan, South Korea, China, India, Europe, and South America. Those partners can only license to companies and content users within those territories. In terms of the new RF750 collection, I am sorting out those details in the next few weeks, but generally I am getting a positive response about licensing RF at the $750 price point.
Michael: Is Jim still doing commercial assignments?
Jesse: Absolutely. As we all know, our business has its ups and downs. Some years Jim is shooting 2-3 major campaigns per month, and other years it could fall to maybe 1 a month. But in general, Jim is still regarded as a top-tier solution to shoot stills and/or video, from brand campaigns to library shoots. I encourage you to check out our new portfolio site at jimerickson.com
Michael: Finally, I understand Jim uses team members in shoots sometimes. Have you licensed yourself or your family?
Jesse: Haha – for sure! We often do stock shoots where employees and freelance crew (and often times their pets!) step in as talent. My wife Channon and I have a young son named Chuck who has been talent for Wells Fargo and AMEX as well as numerous stock shoots – he is a total comedian with eyelashes to die for.