Microstock Images Get Multiple Uses

Posted on 3/15/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Chris Barton, managing director of Photographers Direct has written a humorous article on the multiple use of microstock images that shows five young people—three women and two men—promoting the products and services of a dozen different companies, with copy that would lead the reader to believe that these people were employees of all these companies. Every rights-managed photographer will enjoy this piece.

An interesting thing not mentioned in Barton’s article is that the photo is exclusively represented by iStockphoto and was taken by Lise Gagne, who first became an iStock photographer in April 2003 and has 6,984 images on the site. In her career with iStock, Gagne’s photos have been licensed more than 970,000 times, and she will easily top the million mark later this year. She is iStock’s number one seller, although because she has cut back on her production in the last few years, three other photographers represented by iStock licensed rights to more images in 2009 than she did.

The image in question was first posted on iStock on December 4, 2007 and in a little over two years, it has been licensed more than 6,500 times. Nevertheless, if you do a search for “business,” “woman” and “man” and sort by the number of downloads, Gagne’s is only the 8th most popular image. The most popular has been downloaded more than 8,800 times.

Barton argues: “Designers who use microstock images and do this to their clients are letting them down.” But it may not be all the doing of the designers. I know many designers who have tried to convince their client to use more unique images, but the client says: “I don’t care if other people have used the same image, just give me the cheapest thing you can find that looks good.” Photographers may pray for a change of attitude among the end clients, but realistically it seems unlikely.

Copyright © 2010 Jim Pickerell. 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

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Ellen Boughn Posted Mar 15, 2010
    Ahh...but it happens in rights managed too. Remember unless a user purchases 'protection' or exclusivity they get no more protection from competitors using the same image than users of microstock. Some control is excercised by some companies without the extra fee for protection but many don't especially now in the era of online licensing. I remember a photo that appeared on two magazine covers in the same month and both magazines had the same demographic.

  • Ralph Clevenger Posted Mar 15, 2010
    Isn't this what a good stock image does. Get licensed by multiple users, over and over again. The ability to make an image useful to as many clients as possible is how stock images make money. I think you said it once Jim, only about 2% of what a photographer shoots is licensed and that 2% has to sell enough times to pay for the other 98 images. So I want my stock images to be as timeless and generic as possible. Otherwise it's called an assignment.

  • Fred Voetsch Posted Mar 15, 2010
    Not impressed. Sorry, but this has been the case since stock photography came along. It's just more pervasive now.

    But honestly, these are the same types of photos that used to sell for hundreds of dollars, now at least the buyers are not paying so much for what is quite honestly, a commodity.

  • Sheron Resnick Posted Mar 16, 2010
    And this has been going on in RM for as long as it's been around. 20 years ago I received one of those "multi-coupon mailers". Inside was a coupon for a home remodeling company showing a picture of a home with a happy couple in front of it. Three coupons down was a different home remodeling company with the same picture! The picture was from FPG.

    Don Resnick

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