Photographs that are rented for the purpose of editorial illustration or advertisement.
Publishers access stock either through CD bundles (Corel will sell you a little grey suitcase with 100 PhotoCDs chock full of pictures, organized by subjects: Native American, Birds, France, Airplanes ...) or through an agency.

An agency will root in its vast files (we are talking about millions of slides here) and rent (more precisely license) an image for a certain purpose.
The price always varies with the type of publication and with the estimated circulation.

Using photo stock is usually cheaper than setting up a photo shoot. It leads to a certain uniformity of vision, though. Of course, for some applications using stock is the only viable option: if you want to illustrate an article on water scarcity on the Cowlick Illustrated Chronicle, you don't have the money to dispatch one photographer to Namibia, one to Mexico City, one to Mongolia etc.

Photo stock catalogs positively brim with images of pensive businessmen, happy couples (in various colors and races and sexes), jocks, cute babies, happy families and generic poses like "reading a book", "meditating", "looking at a computer screen".

Photo stock (aka stock photography) is a two-edged sword.

In the short run it's great for designers, art directors and other consumers of imagery. Tons of beautiful, compelling photographs on almost every conceivable subject at your fingertips. (Corel's is of the lowest quality, though. Try FPG, Photodisc, Image Bank or Stock Market first.)

But it's bad news for photographers. In fact, both my friends who are professional photographers consider the explosion of stock to be the death of freelance photography. Before stock, people who needed images would hire photographers to take pictures of what they wanted. Now they just buy a CD or go to a website. For an independent photographer, that increasingly means that either you sell your work as fine art, or you sell to a stock agency, or you have a long row to hoe.

Good luck with fine art as a living. And to sell to a stock agency you need to produce dozens if not hundreds of new images every month. As with every other endeavor that the Internet has converted from a local market to a global one, now only the very best are in demand. The Joel Meyerowitzes and Anne Geddes do very well indeed but the pool gets smaller, and a great deal of talent never gets a chance to get noticed.

In the long run, that's as bad for the consumers of imagery as it is for the producers.

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