UGCX Conference Reviewed

Posted on 2/27/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Thriving New York photographer, prolific stock shooter and Stock Artists Alliance president Shannon Fagan attended the first User Generated Content Conference and Expo in San Jose earlier this month. Fagan provided Selling Stock with some of his key take-aways, offered here with additional commentary.

Kelly Thompson, COO of iStockphoto sees no resistance to raising microstock prices. He said, “If the image is less than a latte, it doesn’t matter if the image is another $0.50.”

Selling Stock: A $0.50 increase on a $3.50 latte is a 14% increase, while microstock prices have been rising much faster. At the beginning of 2006, you could buy an iStock image for $1; by the end of 2008, the average price was $6.50. That is a 550% increase. At that rate, the average price will be $35.75 by the end of 2010. While $6.50 now may not be so bad, it’s hard to imagine that low-end microstock users will accept another 550% increase in the next two years.

Yuri Arcurs, the world’s most successful microstock photographer, pointed out that since his October 2005 entry, he has found that images have a relatively long useful life. Earnings on new images tend to peak after three months but still earn half the peak amount two years later. Arcurs’ early images are still generating about a quarter of what their peak earnings. However, much of this comes as a result of significant price increases, not from a rise in the number of units licensed.

In terms of the number of times an image is licensed, its the useful life is much shorter. Based on Arcurs’ experience, six months after an image is uploaded, the number of times it is licensed per month drops to half what it was at three months.

Arcurs also told the UGCX audience that his average return per image per month, from the combined total of all sites that represent his images, has dropped from $8 to $6 in the last few months—or an average annual drop from $96 to $72 per image. “While prices are still going up, the increases are not enough to counter the massive drop in sales that micro is experiencing right now,” he said.

Selling Stock: iStockcharts data suggests a 12% decline in iStockphoto sales from January to February. A February holiday could make up some of the difference. In addition, available iStockcharts data makes it difficult to tell whether this decline is a seasonal blip or the beginning of a trend—but if iStockcharts statistics are indeed representative, this is certainly a big difference from iStock’s estimated 40% growth in downloads in all of 2008 compared with 2007.

Most macro shooters in attendance tended to believe that the only people earning significant money in microstock are those that have been uploading for a long time. Several of the top earners pointed out that if they were to start submitting to microstock today, their earnings would be significantly less due to search by download and search order preferences that weigh in the favor of veterans on microstock sites.

Selling Stock: Ron Chapple (iofoto) started contributing to microstock in February 2007 and is currently 179th from the top of a list of over 60,000 iStock photographers. Chapple has 1,207 iStock images that have had 49,541 total downloads. His best-selling iStock image has sold 2,237 times, and 75 other images sold more than 100 times each. Since Chapple is not exclusive with iStock, he has the same images and many more on several other sites: 15,451 on Dreamstime, 14,460 on Shutterstock, 14,399 on Stockxpert and 10,006 on Fotolia. On Dreamstime, Chapple has had 63,274 downloads; numbers for the other sites are not available.

Based on conversations Fagan had at the conference, he came away with the feeling that the industry will not see much crossover between macro and micro sellers in 2009. The few micro sellers who have tested producing images for the macro market have been generally disappointed with sales in comparison with micro. There is a general belief that the macro market is looking for a different style of images than those generally provided at micro price points, and those photographers have found it difficult to adapt profitably to this arena for subjects and concepts when it comes to producing for macro.

On the other side, there are plenty of prolific macro stock shooters who have investigated micro’s possibilities in 2008 and earlier. They are finding it similarly difficult to adapt to the micro style of shooting and the very different agency standards for image acceptance. With micro, it is necessary to produce a much higher volume than is the case with macro. Macro photographers are also overwhelmed with micro’s administrative overhead, including uploading separately to multiple portals, keywording differently for each site and maintaining a consistent production schedule. Too much time is required in terms of labor compared to macro.

Both camps seem to have decided to continue to invigorate and improve their core offerings rather than make serious efforts at addressing the other model’s customers. Agencies and portals are showing little or no interest in adopting any of the ideas from the other’s model.

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 Feb 27, 2009
    Excellent letter and effort from Shannon Fagan. Thank you for sharing the information from those of us that couldn't make the expo. After exploring the Micro side of stock for the past year and being in Macro for some time I feel the information offered in Shannon's presentation to be very relevant. Good reading Jim, please keep it coming.

    Jonathan Ross

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