Everyone talks about the need for a simple pricing structure, but is it simple for customers to find the right image at a price they can afford?
In a recent story, Paul Banwell, director of photographer relations for Getty Images, told of a friend who concluded that the cheapest image she could find on Getty would be $500. She couldn't afford that, and she ended up at iStockphoto.
Banwell said, "She could have purchased a cheaper image at Getty, but she wasn't aware of that." I'd add the cheaper one may not have been the image she wanted; plus, iStock wasn't her first choice.
Are any of the current systems really making it simple for customers to find affordable images? Consider what happens when a new customer does a default search at Getty. The customer is looking for picture to use Â¼ page, inside in a brochure with 500,000 circulation. Ideally, the customer wants the best picture that fits her specific needs. But the customer and any agency editor may define "best" quite differently in every situation. If the first picture she happens to like is from Stone+, the price is $1,250; if it's from Stockbyte, it is $104.99; from Taxi, $980; from any RR brand, $700; from DV, $324.99 or from Photodisc, $229.99. If the customer only wants to print 5,000 copies, Stone+ comes down to $720 and Taxi to $565, while the rest stay the same. When doing a default search at Getty, the customer can only tell whether the images is RM, RR or RF, not the brands within RM and RF. Each may have different prices. Finding the right images at an acceptable price is not easy, even on the RF side of the business.
In the specific case described above, Getty lost a sale. All of the brands and individual photographers on Getty lost a chance to make a sale. iStock could probably have charged more for the image she chose. And, since the customer found what she needed on iStock, she'll probably do repeat business.
This is not just a problem for Getty. It is a problem for every distributor that offers both RM and RF, and it is particularly a problem on the RF side. If the customer does a search for an RF image, each image may only have five or six prices depending on file size, but the prices vary depending on brand. Only the heavy users will understand which brands are priced lower than others.
Microstock sellers may think they have the answer because they price all images the same, depending on file size delivered. But each distributor has a different strategy for establishing prices for file sizes. Some charge more based on the number of times an image has been downloaded. Some allow their photographers to set their own price on an image-by-image basis. Some make the images available through subscriptions. And the vast majority of images being marketed as microstock are being offered through many distributors. Thus, if a customer is diligent and understands the system, she can find the same image on many different sites at many different price points.
Volume users can get images at greatly discounted prices through subscriptions. Some microstock sites offer subscriptions and single image prices. Others just offer subscriptions, or only license images on a single images basis. Some high-priced subscriptions give customers unlimited download all the RM, RR or RF images as they need for a flat monthly fee.
Image pricing often has nothing to do with what the customer would be willing to pay or the value received. Many commercial users, like Banwell's friend, often find the right image at greatly discounted prices compared to what they can afford to pay. But the process of finding the right image at the right price is chaotic. For a significant portion of sellers, the current systems are likely to lead to a decline in revenue. Microstock may see a rise in revenue, but given their cost of doing business, not a rise in profits, and certainly not profits for the image suppliers.
Somehow, we need to find a way to make all images available to all buyers at prices each can afford without giving images away to those who can justify paying more. A usage based Modified Rights Ready structure for all images offers one possible solution. Moodboard offers another, which at least makes images at all price points available on one site. At the very least, it is important to recognize that continuing with the current hodgepodge of systems is not satisfactory. It is time for major modifications.