Recently, Alamy's blog has been filled with negative comments relative to Alamy's Novel Use Scheme introduced last month. Alamy's CEO James West recently told the British Journal of Photography, "People are saying that we introduced microstock but gave it another name. My definition of microstock is royalty-free images at a low price. Â ... These users would never have the money to spend on more expensive images. We chose 60p because it represents one dollar in the U.S."
The concept of selling pictures for low prices is difficult for traditional stock photographers to accept, particularly because an increasing number of their customers are using microstock images for commercial projects. The fees microstock charges for such uses range from 1/10th to 1/50th and less of the fees normally charged to use an RM image. Clearly, there are market realities photographers selling into the traditional market must accept.
1. The number of images needed by the traditional print market is declining, for reasons that have nothing to do with microstock. Â To a large extent, the decline is occurring simply because the Internet exists, and former print customers are finding more ways to use digital instead of print.
2. The number of images available for a declining number of customers to choose from is growing at a rapid pace. There is no way to stop growth. This, coupled with the decline in demand, reduces the odds that any image, no matter how high the quality, will be licensed for a print project.
3. Â Looking ahead, it appears likely that more ways will be found to use digital and the Internet for communication and marketing and that there will be a continuing decline in the need for print.
The only solution for photographers is to make every effort to find new markets, while protect their existing market, given the limits of microstock sellers. The problem with microstock is that it sells images for textbooks, magazines, brochures, print ads and billboards for these same low prices. Alamy's low prices are only for blogs, social networking sites and certain educational uses. All other uses are still priced at Alamy's regular prices.
The good news is that there are new markets out there. There are huge volumes of customers who want pictures, but they can't afford to pay much. This is much more a "consumer market" than a commercial one, but this consumer market may have the potential to be even larger, in actual dollars spent, than the existing commercial one.
Some of these new markets will not develop into anything. Some will take much longer to develop than others. Photographers cannot ignore new ideas and new markets.
Let's get back to Novel Use. It is designed to protect existing commercial markets, while exploring new consumer ones to see if they can add significant revenue on top of the commercial revenue already coming in. It won't be easy because Alamy will be reaching out to a new customer base. The micropayment sites already have a tremendous lead in this category. But the micropayment sites have also proved that there is a growing consumer base who will only buy images at very low prices.
Consider that iStockphoto sold 17,550,000 images in 2007, while GettyImages sold 500,000. And iStock's customer base is growing rapidly; Getty's is declining. The average sale price of an iStock image was $4.10. Thirty-five times that number would be $143.50, not equivalent to Getty's average price of $500 per sale, but climbing. Alamy's average price for an editorial use last quarter was $126.00.