Prime.500px: Is It A Place To License Images?

Posted on 9/8/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Is a viable market for stock photographers? It advertises itself as offering “Inspirational Royalty Free Photos” and certainly there are some beautiful images in the collection.

The parent site,, has almost 50 million photos from about 4 million users that range from novice to high-end master photographers. Most contributors show relatively small collections of their best work and seem to be more interested in the social aspects of likes, views and followers rather than actually licensing their work. Many are just happy to share, inspire, be inspired and receive recognition.

A large percentage of the work on 500px seems to come from portrait photographers. It is unlikely that they have the right to license commercial uses to the images they show. There also seems to be a large volume of landscape and scenic work, but the maximum number of images shown in any keyword or category search is 20,000 so it is hard to tell how many images might really be keyworded landscape.

About 4 million of the photos from about 250,000 participating photographers are immediately available for purchase as wall art. These photographers have uploaded high-res versions for sale and explicitly enabled wall art sales in their store settings. Photographers can opt-out of licensing by not enabling their store as well as opting out of even receiving requests to license their content.

The Prime Collection

The Prime section of the site is specifically designed for image licensing. Most of the Prime contributors are licensing content for the first time. To date about 60,000 contributors have signed up to participate on Prime but many have not enabled their collections  

Nuno Silva, Director of Content says that his team has cleared about 500,000 photos for licensing and continues to clear thousands per day (checking releases, legal issues, categorizing as Editorial or Commercial, etc.).

However, the majority of that 500,000 seem to be very poorly keyworded. I did a few searches and here are some of the results.

Keyword Prime   Keyword Prime   Keyword Prime
  Returns     Returns     Returns
Landscapes 21,255   Water 15,130   Animals 12,688
People 6,820   Food 1,581   Wildlife 9,387
Women 3,263   Children 1,122   Birds 8,530
People Babies 575   Computer 44   Office 89
Finance 111   New York 1,053   China 856
London 652   UK 1,653   Germany 1,611
Japan 1,350   Agriculture 916   Energy 439

It is hard to imagine that there are so few images of subjects of commercial interest in a 500,000 image collection. This could be an opportunity for photographers with well keyworded collections to get exposure.

Silva says, “We've negotiated Rights-Managed and Exclusive Buy-outs as well as the standard Royalty-free and Web/Social licenses we offer on Prime.” It is unclear how many uses they might have actually licensed.

Pricing Strategy

On the other hand we have to wonder why so few photographer have “enabled” their collections. It could be because they find the pricing structure of $50 for web use and $250 for unlimited use in all other ways unsatisfactory or unrealistic.

I’m sure many contributors of the best images are saying, “I don’t want someone using one of my great images for a major magazine ad for only $250,” and with the licensing agreement that’s possible.

On the other hand for the vast majority of uses today $250 is way too high. Most customers have a budget range that is relatively fixed, and only a very minute percentage of today’s uses fall into the $250 of higher range. No matter how great the image the customers are not going to pay $250 because they can always find something that will work almost as well for their project for a lot less money.

Thus, in reality what happens is that with this fixed price only a very small fraction of the market is being addressed. Within that fraction there are many customers who could pay a lot more for their planned use, but they get the image for a maximum of $250 because that’s all that is being asked. So if you’re lucky enough to make a sale you’re probably not going to make very many and licensing in this manner may not be worth the trouble.

The web use price of $50 is also way out of line with the current market. Many creators believe $50 is a very reasonable price. But, with the average cost to purchase a single image on Shutterstock at around $10, and iStock now matching this price, and most other microstock distributors licensing web uses for quite a bit less than $10, and with Getty and Alamy often making RM and RF images available to volume web users for less than $10 a $50 price point is in the stratosphere.

Since started out with no sales any sales at all represent growth. But in the long run the single price strategy, no matter what the price, cannot be successful. Granted that the customers want simplicity, but it can be taken way too far. There is a point where it is no longer economic to produce.

The simple fact is that all images are not – and can never be – equal. Some show much more creativity than others. Some cost much more to produce than others and there is no way to reduce those costs to nothing. Maybe all the world needs are images created by people who are expressing their “creativity” and expect nothing of real value in return except the ability to show their images to others and adulation. But, I don’t think so. And even if that were the case, now, in addition to creating a great image, the creator has to spend a huge amount of time in the mundane activities of keywording, uploading and trying to figure out how to get the image high enough in the search return order for it to ever to be seen. Creation of the art is becoming a minor part of the process.

For more on why a single price strategy is a bad idea see my story on the new iStock strategy.

Copyright © 2014 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, 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:  


  • lisa curesky Posted Sep 16, 2014

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