Selling Same Photos At Different Prices

Posted on 2/6/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Recently, Lee Torrens of Microstock Diaries asked several well-known photographers, agents and industry analysts: “What do you think about photographers selling the same stock photos at different prices?”

Respondents included:

My response follows, but others’ comments on Microstock Diaries are well worth reading. You may find many of the positions surprising.

I have always been a strong advocate of selling the same images at multiple price points.
This is the way rights-managed licensing has always worked. Under the royalty-free model, the same image also sells at various price points (based on file size delivered), but royalty-free prices do not vary as much as rights-managed.

Given the high volume of images on all microstock sites and the variations in search-return order, there is no guarantee an image that comes up among the first on one site will even be seen on the next. This is due to editing and the design of the search-engine algorithm for delivering images.

Not all customers search all possible collections. Some use traditional, some microstock, some both, and their choices of which to search first vary. The best way for a photographer to maximize image sales is to make every image available on as many sites as possible, including both traditional and microstock outlets. In theory, this strategy offers more customers the opportunity to see the image. (For more on this point, see Modified Rights Ready Pricing.)

When a customer finds an image that works and is within his budget on one site, he will not spend more time checking other sites just to see if the same image is available a little cheaper. That idea is ridiculous. Of course, there are exceptions, but the more people see a photographer’s work, the more money the photographer is likely to earn.

Most customers do not have time to do exhaustive searches. If all images had the opportunity to be considered by all site operators, the distinctions separating one site from another would be editing, position in the search-return order, search efficiency, customer service and price. These are more than enough ways in which portals can compete without having to also say, “We have exclusive images you will find nowhere else.” Photographers that license non-exclusive rights to images should not be prevented from attempting to maximize their sales through multiple sites marketing to a wide range of users at varying price points.

Most portal operators do not like this, because it benefits image suppliers, not portal operators. Portal operators tend to look after their own self-interest, not the interests of the creators they represent.

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, 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:  


  • Bill Brooks Posted Feb 6, 2009
    Jim you are right on all counts. Buying decisions are mainly about the image, sometimes about the price, and hardly ever about exclusivity. As you indicate, portal image exclusivity seems to be mainly about one portal trying to tie up images in order to gain an advantage over another portal. In the case of photographer interests, it is interesting that the microstock portals provide their photographers with more pertinent transparent business information than the exclusive rights managed portals. Alamy is probably the only exception on the non microstock side. It is a real eye opener to look at the statistics of client reactions to your images, for each Alamy search in which your images appeared.

  • Serban Enache Posted Feb 9, 2009
    Jim, with all due respect, especially as I know your perspective on this, we believe it's wrong to ask a customer to pay more just because he affords a higher price. That is because the cost of creating an image should dictate its initial price AND the demand over the time on that image (which makes it more or less special). Ideally, the agency and/or the photographer could say if the image is special, but history tells us they're not objective, they will always be biased (and that's self-critique too).

    While each perspective on this subject has its own pros and cons, your last paragraph ("Most portal operators do not like this, because it benefits image suppliers, not portal operators. Portal operators tend to look after their own self-interest, not the interests of the creators they represent.") is completely biased.

    Because a percentage based royalty is in place, the agency will make the same money as the photographers (with us it's 50-60%) no matter the price. The only difference could be that the revenue would be divided between more parties (the content providers). Delivering the revenue to several individuals instead of one, is one of the best attributes of microstock. Time shows that competition is good for content delivery, at least for our business model. While it is correct that it puts a pressure on pricing, history shows that our prices continue to go up while contributors continue to improve their skills and content.

  • Leslie Hughes Posted Feb 9, 2009
    Pricing is determined in the end by how the market value's an image. The challenge in this business has been and will always be that the client values images differently than the photographer or creator would. The value of the image itself is subjective and therefore the client more often will value the image based to a degree on how they intend to "use" the image rather than how it was created. This has not changed. What has changed is the mix of images and the media. Assuming, of course, that they all will want good quality. The more important their usage, the more value they will place on things like information. The more important speed or refresh rate is, the more importance they will place on renewal and ease of access. The more important budget is, the more importance they will place on price. The balance of each of these things changes a bit with each use. As internet use has grown so dramatically and is taking share of marketing budgets, it should be no surprise that ease of access and licensing models like microstock and subscriptions have grown. That does not diminish the value of the licensing models that offer information and data around images for use in the smaller number that are still used for brand image and iconic marketing. As to relating price to production, sales teams have long tried (and still should with RM) to relate production value with pricing and in some cases can but the driver for clients will be use. If the image is truly unreplaceable and the production value can drive the price up, then a good sales person can drive the price up and should know how to do this but we have all seen clouds and grass go for a lot of money and highly produced images go for a little... The drivers of microstock and RF are ease of access and frequency. The use is predominantly internet driven and where refresh rate is higher. Then access and price will be the primary drivers for purchase.

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