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Stock photos, also known as photo libraries, are run by stock photo agencies all over the world. Before the advent of digital photography, many photographers, both amateur and professional, made a regular income from supplying stock photo agencies with a wide variety of images, which would then be hired out to newspapers, magazines, advertising agencies etc. The respective picture editors would sift through stock photographs, searching for the right image to accompany a text in their specific publication. The image would be hired for a limited period and then returned for further use by other publishers. The hire charge would be split between the photographer and the stock photo agency.
Since digital photography really took hold, pictures have swamped the Internet. There are countless pictures and countless agencies, some of the largest offering anything up to fifteen million stock photographs and illustrations, with thousands being added daily. Most of these images are royalty free and there are various ways of accessing them. For example, a frequent user of stock photos may take out a subscription entitling him to download perhaps 750 high resolution images each month, whilst the occasional user may subscribe to download just 25 photos per annum, or simply pay as required. Royalty-free means that an image is paid for only once but can be used over and over again with a few restrictions.
Since the spread of the Internet, the world has become more visually orientated and never has the old adage, “A picture says more than a thousand words” been more meaningful. Today, high resolution digital photos are available for use in newspapers and magazines, books, postcards, greeting cards, flyers, websites, fine-art prints… the list is endless.
Photo libraries and agencies have changed since the pre-digital days. They no longer need to physically send an image to a customer in the hope that it will be returned intact. Virtually everything is now done via Internet. And whilst competition has intensified, not least through free stock photo providers who rely on income from advertising, the volume of images used today has also greatly increased and this trend is likely to continue; not only with still photography but also with videos.

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