Surfing the Stock Photography Revolution

Posted on 9/9/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Jonathan Ross, one of today's leading stock photographers and a devotee of exploring all the options--rights-managed, royalty-free, microstock and recently video--has released an online video, "Surfing the Stock Photography Revolution." The 48-minute video covers the presentation Ross made at the April meeting of the Picture Archive Council of America and offers interesting insights into where the business is today and where Ross believes it is headed.

Ross' strategy for producing microstock images that will sell in enough volume to justify the expense of production is clearly detailed the "Macro vs. Micro" segment, which starts about 14 minutes into the video. One of the most interesting parts of this presentation is a three-minute time-lapse sequence that covers an eight-hour microstock shoot in the studio. After the shoot, the video shows 50 of the 200 selects that came from the session. Ross argues that to be successful in microstock, people and lifestyle shooters must be able to generate at least 200 select images from a day's shoot.

In December 2008, Ross uploaded 1,800 images to five major microstock sites. In the first eight months, he has earned almost $40,000 from these images and more than covered all of his production costs. Sales continue to grow. One thing that contributes to this revenue growth is an improved acceptance rate at iStock, now approaching 100%--up from about 66% when he first started submitting.

Despite this degree of success, Ross says: "My images are making good money in micro, but I am not a convert. I am not excited about shooting it, and at this point in my career, I am trying to have more fun. That is a big part of why we are shooting all our work on the Red One (video) now. We have a great film crew and have produced about 300 clips for Getty Images in the last couple of months. We are also pulling stills from the Red, so we get twice the production from our efforts."

In looking to the future of stock, Ross makes three points.

First, he says a photographer should spread his proverbial eggs among as many baskets as possible: try to sell images in all areas of the market, from traditional rights-managed and royalty-free stock to microstock and subscription offerings. Ross believes that a different type of imagery is needed in each of these market segments, and that photographers must plan productions differently for each.

Second, Ross opposes exclusive contracts that limit a photographer's ability to market images through other sources. Increasingly, such contracts are being offered by microstock distributors. Ross likens these contracts to work-for-hire arrangements and says they are all you can get. Actually, work-for-hire contracts are more favorable to the photographer, because these usually pay something upfront. With exclusive microstock contracts, the photographer is guaranteed nothing but a higher royalty if the images ever sell. Ross cautions photographers to look closely before signing any such agreements.

Finally, Ross contends that pricing based on file size is inappropriate in today's market, and that a new pricing system should be developed. He is particularly concerned about the low prices for the smallest file sizes, which happen to be the file sizes most used. He said a new pricing system is needed that makes it possible to "purchase the right image at the right price," but did not detail in any way how such a system would work.

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:  


  • Jonathan Ross Posted Sep 9, 2009
    Thank you for the post Jim,

    I would say the best answer to the last part of this presentation was the removal of the smaller web sized images to increase lowest price point. I have spoke with some smart people in Micro that believe this will remove the opportunity for a large portion of Micro buyers and actually hurt the business model.
    I have to say more than anything I am trying to listen to these people that approach stock from a business stand point and learn from them as much as I can in every market. Creating the need to stay very fluid in todays stock industry.
    In the end what I analyze today might not be the correct direction next year so we make sure to do lots of R&D in these new markets before committing any real time and money.

    Jonathan Ross

  • Yuri Arcurs Posted Sep 10, 2009
    I'm impressed you can produce 1800 images for less then 40K. That is good business! With such numbers you could easily do well in microstock. Impressive! Your red video Rocked!

  • Jonathan Ross Posted Sep 11, 2009
    That is a big compliment coming from the man that lead they way into Micro for many of us.

    Thank you Yuri.


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