Prediction: RF Images Sold Via Microstock Portals

Posted on 8/30/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

In light of Getty Images' latest moves, I predict that very soon (certainly in less than a year) virtually every company producing RF images will try to sell their images through as many microstock portals as possible, as well as traditional portals.

Getty's Valueline prices leave these companies little alternative. If Getty is at all successful in upselling microstock customers, the rest of the RF industry will have to compete. Just lowering prices to match, or slightly undercut, Getty's will not do the job. It is highly unlikely that any traditional seller of RF would gain enough new customers to offset revenue losses resulting from its existing customers purchasing images at one-fifth or less of the existing prices.

And it's pointless to ignore Valueline in the hopes that only a few of traditional RF's current customers will switch to the much-lower priced products. In the best case scenario, these sellers will lose some customers and revenue.

The only way traditional RF producers have a chance of upselling to the millions of microstock buyers, is by participating in the microstock market. As many as an estimated 85% of microstock buyers will never search traditional stock photo sites because they believe they cannot afford the images.

The risk, of course, in moving to a microstock strategy is that traditional buyers will start purchasing RF images from microstock sites. To some extent that will happen, but hopefully, enough customers will continue to go to portals they have used in the past that offer both RF and RM so the traditional market won't disappear entirely.

There are some advantages for those who choose to join microstock portals. First, they will benefit from sales to that 85% of buyers who only use microstock portals, and who will only pay $1 or $2 for the images they purchase. This may not represent enough revenue to offset the loss revenue on the other side, but it is something. The losses can't be avoided. Added to the revenue that can be gained by upselling to a small percentage of microstock customers may be the best option in a difficult situation.

Second, the image quality of a traditional RF producer may be high enough, compared to the average microstock image; meaning, such images will get a disproportionate share of downloads. Thus, traditional RF producers could earn much more per image than the typical microstock supplier.

Microstock companies could make their sites more customer-friendly and attractive to traditional sellers, by allowing customers to narrow their image searches to only those that are 50mb in size and fully model-released. Also, raise the level of microstock offerings by bringing in more professionally shot images. That would generate more revenue for the microstock company. And it would give customers the same level of confidence they have when searching for Valueline images or on traditional Web sites.

The biggest losers will be traditional distributors who don't own content. If they don't lower prices, they will lose customers. But if they match Getty's prices, it is highly unlikely they will gain enough new customers to offset the lower price.

The Valueline prices of $19 and $49 may seem low, but sources indicate that this may only be an opening gambit for Getty. Many in the company seem to believe that after competitors try to undercut and customers get used to the offering, price points will settle out at about $9 and $29.

Copyright © 2007 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 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, 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:  


  • Tim Mcguire Posted Aug 31, 2007

    If your predictions come true it seems a good stategy for the independent photographer considering the current revenue splits with most RF and Micro distributors and their bargain basement pricing would be to cut out the middle man (all the major distributors, getty, istock, corbis, and jupiter). This could be done by joining technology platform services like IPN, Digitalrailroad and Photoshelter and license their work through those outlets where the photographer gets a much higher percentage (80% +) of the gross licensing fees with just a service fee and the monthly fees paid to the technology providers. That would mean these technology platforms would have to offer the types of licensing that clients are looking for so photographers could be competitive with the old distribution outlets.

    I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. What about any of the traditional distribution systems is still working in the long term interests of the independent photographers? Not much IMO.

    Tim McGuire

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