Microstock Representation: Choices Get More Complex

Posted on 7/16/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

iStockphoto’s move to segment its microstock collection into standard-priced images and the premium Vetta collection, priced 10 times higher, complicates the choices of contributors when trying to determine where to place images in order to maximize return. Should photographers enter into exclusive agreements with iStock in hopes that some of their images will be selected for the Vetta collection, or continue to distribute their images through multiple microstock sites?

The first step to making such a decision is to compare revenue received from all the other sites that currently represent their images with that received from iStock. If total microstock royalties received from all sources are $1,000 a month, and $500 or more of that comes from iStock, the decision is easy. By going exclusive with iStock, the contributor would instantly get double the royalty per image licensed and should continue to earn at least $1,000 a month. In addition, less work would be required to post images to multiple sites, and newly exclusive images will probably appear earlier in the search-return order, giving them a better chance of selling.

However, most photographers find that they earn more from the combined total of sales on multiple other sites than they do from iStock alone. In such cases, the photographer has to bet that, as a result of being exclusive:

  • A better search position will result in enough additional sales to make up for the revenue lost from other companies.

  • A significant number of images will be selected for the Vetta collection. (There is no guarantee. Selection is entirely dependent on the editors.)

  • Customers will actually choose to buy the more expensive images in quantities that make up for the lost of sales to all those customers who cannot justify paying 10 times what they would have to pay for a standard image in the same file size.

One of the things photographers need to estimate is the percentage of total units licensed by larger commercial organizations, compared to those licensed for smaller projects where there are budgetary issues. Unfortunately, microstock sites—the only ones who have such data—are not providing any insights to this number.

My guess is that 90% or more of the images licensed are used by people who really cannot justify paying much more than the standard microstock price for the images they use. No matter how much they might like a Vetta image, it is priced prohibitively, particularly when there are other standard image choices that illustrate the same concept equally well. Thus, the person who is lucky enough to get an image selected for the Vetta collection is probably writing off any chance to sell that image to a huge percentage of iStock customers.

So, then we look at the buyers of that other 10% of the images (it may be a lot less than 10%). These customers have money; price will not scare them off. They may also say, “I trust the iStock editors, so I’m going to use advanced search and look at the Vetta collection first. If I don’t find what I want, I’ll do a standard search and see what else is available.” These people are a gold mine for photographers with Vetta images. Their images will not have to compete against the standard collection and will have a much better chance of being seen than images in that collection. The big question is how many customers with money will use this search strategy. iStock and Fotolia, which also offers the upmarket Infinite Collection, are not telling.

Using such a search strategy could result in tremendous time savings for customers that normally agree with the choices of iStock editors. It dramatically reduces the number of images they must look through to find one that works for them.

But even if the contributor believes that a large number of the moneyed customers will use this strategy, he must ask himself if he is likely to make more sales to this small group of customers at 10 times the normal price than he could make by offering the image to all customers at the regular price. This is highly likely is a close call based on the actual percentage of customers who can afford Vetta images, and the number who will do a Vetta-only search first.

In addition, when comparing some of the images in the Vetta or Infinite collections with some of the great images that are still being offered at standard prices, sometimes you have to ask yourself, “Why did the editor pick that image?” In that case, customers with money may decide that it is better to just start with the standard search.

Note to traditional agencies

The existence of these offerings suggests a way traditional agencies might improve the service they offer their customers. They could ask experienced editors (many of them their customers) to explore their offering using particular keywords and choose the best 200 or 300 to be part of a “premium edit.” When customers use the premium edit function first, and find an image that works for their purposes within that group, they are charged an extra 10% or 20% premium over the base price for images found using a standard search. The premium is justified because the customer’s overall search time is reduced. That money is then paid to the editor as a royalty.

Alamy tried something similar to this a few years ago, but never got it off the ground. However, with all the experienced editors out of work these days, and the need for those still working to raise their efficiency levels, it might be a good time to reconsider the strategy.

Copyright © 2009 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.  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff