Microstock: Abundance, Client Viewpoints Drive Prices

Posted on 10/2/2009 by Leslie Hughes | Printable Version | Comments (2)

We all can agree with Kelly Thompson’s sentiment that technology and new business models have a huge impact on this industry. Microstock, however, is not really a new technology but a new way to sell royalty-free images cheaper—a repackaging of sorts. 

This is not a judgment; I am a firm believer in market dynamics and customers driving the business. The market has been polarized and has moved both upstream and down.  Microstock was a reaction to an abundant amount of available content, much of used in such a way that many images were replaceable in the opinion of the clients. That is the main driver of low prices. 

Stock photography itself was a disruptive model when it originally hit the market and drove pricing down. There were those that did not like it.  

Thompson’s comments focused on what photographers must do to help themselves in placing images with a microstock agency. The strategies he suggested would work with almost any agency—microstock or not.  The problem is, Thompson failed to mention some very critical issues.

For example, one of the challenges now facing microstock is that this new low-priced royalty-free package is flooded with millions of images.  Getty has a substantial lead that can probably sustain them.  Microstock is still royalty-free imagery, easily replaceable in the mind of the client. The model is defined, in part, by the abundance of non-exclusive images sold everywhere—which means increasing price pressure. The greatest thing that some competitors have going for them is the time pressure clients are under. Clients will go where they believe they have the highest chance for success in finding an image that will work for them. So technology does matter in terms of search and access, speed and data. Marketing from your agency is key, as is the client’s belief in what they do, what they provide and their technology. Have you searched their site like a client would?  Ask questions, and if they do not answer, it should give you pause. 

The latest information I saw on iStock said it was on track to sell over 25 million downloads in 2008. We do not know the number of single images this represents. iStock’s cost of selling an image is pretty low, but for a contributor to make money, you are likely to need a lot of images in the system just to be found. And you likely need to have been there a while, because of how the search system works. 

Consider your costs to become a microstock contributor. It is a high-volume, low-priced market. You need to feed the beast and keep feeding it to maintain. 

It is also probably true that you will need to have more than one distributor.  It is a non-exclusive market—so why limit your distribution?

In the early days, stock was a low-priced alternative that actually moved upstream by adding value in the form of access to research services, elite shooters that would draw clients in and the ability to buy restrictions. Many of these things have now lost their value. For many years, the industry has focused on how digital technologies have allowed us to bring efficiencies into the business to improve distribution, make images accessible. These things are not bad, but this focus has also driven image price down.

Copyright © 2009 Leslie Hughes. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


  • Roger Ressmeyer Posted Oct 2, 2009
    Brilliant Commentary. There's still a lucrative space for the highest-end, costly-to-produce, unique and exclusive imagery, where it's sold for top dollar. But Leslie's dead on regarding the images that are appropriate for Microstock distribution.

    Roger Ressmeyer
    Science Faction Images

  • Jonathan Ross Posted Oct 2, 2009
    Vert well put. I have to agree on all you stated. Thank you for putting it so clearly. I hope others can embrace your viewpoint.

    Jonathan Ross

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