David Sherry and Allie Lehman are not out to kill anything. But when they named their growing photo agency Death to Stock, they were sending out a pretty strong signal. Not with malice toward this segment of the photo industry, but a tongue-in-cheek invitation to any person who has ever had to create something using expensive, mediocre photography from a stock agency.
The name as well as the pictures they produce have caught the eye of more than 230,000 subscribers since Sherry and Lehman started the agency in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013.
The value of the company, Sherry said, is growing fast — in large part because they distribute the work free of charge.
Bloggers, designers and other creative types who use photographs in their work are invited to sign up for the Death to Stock email list. Once a month, subscribers receive 10 photos focusing on a theme that can be used any way they see fit, providing they follow a few simple usage rules set forth on the agency’s website. The theme can be as concrete as music or coffee, or can be a conceptual idea, like “feel alive” or “step out of the expected.”
An undisclosed percentage of those subscribers have signed up for a premium package, paying $10 a month for access to Death to Stock’s library of images. They add as many as 10,000 new subscribers each month, Sherry said.
There a number of places online to find free photos. Unsplash sends 10 free photos every 10 days; Little Visuals, seven photos every seven days; and PicJumbo, a picture each day (this service also offers a premium membership at $6 per month).
“Art and payment is a fascinating topic, in that for an artist, I believe you share your work to be generous,” Sherry said. “It’s a gift you create to share with the world to see if you’re able to change someone. Over time, after you’ve built a real connection with an audience, when you do ask for payment in return, they gladly give it to you.”
There are enough premium subscribers for Death to Stock to travel for shoots to grow their library. They even fund independent photo projects with the agreement that photos can be stored in the agency’s library.
Death to Stock also crowd-funds extended road trips to big cities and beautiful places. Those who chip in get a package of 100 photos from the trip.
In a way, it’s an accidental business. Sherry and Lehman, both self-taught photographers, had a treasure trove of photos and were not sure what to do with them. They began giving the photos away to friends in other creative fields and from there, the idea of Death to Stock blossomed.
“We’re helping people create who don’t have a budget,” he said. “We are always reviewing what our customers are using and that sparks ideas for deciding on the themes we shoot for. It’s not the stock way of doing things.”
Jimmy Daly, who edits a blog for email marketing software firm Vero, said he struggled at first to make his posts visual. He worked with a graphic designer to create illustrations but found this to be a cumbersome process.
He has used Death to Stock photos for six months and credits a growing number of pageviews to the new look the photos bring to the site.
“The pictures give our blog a premium look,” he said. “I may use a picture that is not related but it sort of parallels a story and builds a narrative. I like the look and feel.
“I feel like what they have done is built this community around the product. So many people are interested in what they are doing.”
As freelance budgets dwindle and photographers struggle to make a living, some photogs are quick to chide a colleague who charges too little or gives the work away for free. But Sherry and Lehman find their opportunities in the collective, which they believe knocks down barriers for all people in creative fields.
They are making a living, funding new projects and finding creative freedom, Sherry said.