Ron Chapple And Microstock

Posted on 10/12/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

For 25 years Ron Chapple has been one of the world's leading stock photographers, always on the cutting edge of the next trend. In the 1990s, he was the top seller of RM imagery for FPG, a major stock photo agency of that period. After Getty Images purchased FPG, Ron established Thinkstock, an RF production company. In 2004, he sold Thinkstock to Jupitermedia for more than $4 million. While still producing RM and traditional RF, he recently became an aggressive producer of microstock.

In 2006, he put a few images on a subscription site and others on a free exchange site as a test. In 10 months, five free images were downloaded 26,000 times. However, downloads weren't the only goal. There is now a list of over 4,000 unique visitors who may be interested in other products beyond stock images, such as books or education.

In February 2007 Chapple created iofoto and started uploading 5,000 images to microstock. Today, the collection has 12,000 images, with expectations of 15,000 before 2008 arrives. iofoto images represented on Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, Stockxpert, Lucky Oliver, SnapVillage, 123RF, and Crestock have had more than 130,000 downloads in eight months. Over 90% of Chapple's accepted microstock images have been licensed at least once. The company is in the process of adding yet-to-be-announced sites.

Notably absent from the above list is iStockphoto. iophoto has a few images on iStock, but that company limits uploads for consideration to 15 images per week and has no facility for bulk uploading, making it difficult for professionals to build collections. Chapple believes iStock's current policies are actually increasing competitor's collections.

Chapple is enthusiastic about the emergence of photographer-controlled pricing on sites like Lucky Oliver and Snap Village. "Some of the prices we've set far exceed traditional RF. These images haven't sold, but they will as the buyer pool grows," he says.

When asked to name the company with the best acceptance rate, Chapple said his acceptance rates range from 50% to 99% but "there's no rhyme or reason to what's accepted or rejected. It depends on the reviewer, the specific needs of that collection and the color of the sky that day. What one site rejects becomes a best seller on the next site - seriously!"

Like traditional editing, microstock editing is getting tighter in an attempt to limit collection sizes.

iofoto was not created as an e-commerce site, but as a resource for designers and photographers. All iofoto images are not available on this site. For a more comprehensive collection of iofoto images, do an advanced search on Dreamstime, put "iofoto" in the Photographer box and add your choice of keywords. Chapple says, "We're perfectly happy pointing the licensing business to top-shelf distributors."

Since the iofoto images are licensed as RF, the same image can go on both microstock and traditional RF sites. Chapple puts some iofoto images on Alamy and a few on other traditional RF sites. Revenue from traditional sales equals micro, but with many fewer downloads. Chapple feels distributors will need to differentiate themselves with service, search and other features, rather than being exclusive representative of particular images.

He still shoots traditional RF and RM. His studio has a team of 12, including one other photographer, six digital artists and a financial manager. His goal is to have everyone in the studio creating content within a few months. Two of his team members have launched a line of illustrations. Everyone works on RM as much as they work on traditional RF or microstock. He says, "We're all artists. The goal is to streamline technical and logistical aspects so that we can have some fun!"

Chapple has found that to a degree the microstock market looks for a different style of imagery than the traditional market. "We're seeing good success with what most editors would call Stock 101: happy faces, bright colors, positive lifestyle themes. Today very few such images are allowed through the gates at the major agencies. Microstock has picked up the slack," he notes. "That's not to say our usual funky stuff doesn't sell as well. Rights-managed images have a place for clients needing assurance of non-competing usage. We're seeing ‘commodity' images find their place at the lower end of the pricing spectrum."

Oleg Tscheltzoff of Fotolia has said his company is growing at 10% per month and he expects that growth rate to continue for quite a long time. Asked about future market growth, Chapple says, "I'm not really sure. Traditional image-selling paradigms are undergoing major shifts. We're nowhere near knowing how the business will settle out. Microstock has become the poster child for change, but there are deeper reasons for the shifts related to customer buying habits, Internet usage, bandwidth and growth of the creative class." He feels that, "within a year 100% of potential customers will have at least considered a microstock image solution, especially for basic or time-limited needs."

iofoto's microstock collection is not profitable yet. But Chapple points out that Thinkstock didn't become profitable until its third year, and when he started in rights-managed 25 years ago, the same was true. That said, he hopes to be closer to break even for microstock by this time next year.

Copyright © 2007 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:  


  • Jim Pickerell Posted Oct 16, 2007
    Ron's comments about istock are very interesting. His observations are entirely true. Any agency with upload limits is in some way displaying a failure in the logistics involved in handling the image material supplied by their contributors. iStocks inspectors were working for free about a year ago; the only earning was a community status as "inspector - admin" on their profile and appearing in the forums. I do not know if this is still the case today, but it seems like it.

    I can understand and somewhat appreciate low levels of approval and the necessity for a tight acceptance ratio, but having upload limits is the same as saying: "we cannot accommodate the growth of microstock material available". Other agencies "can" accommodate and are gaining from iStock's lack of inspectors. I estimate that agencies like Fotolia and Shutterstock have close to 400,000 pictures that are "exclusive" with these agencies because the contributors have been unable to offer them for iStock's consideration due to the upload limit. This is ironic considering the emphasis iStock puts on being exclusive with it alone and not submitting anywhere else.

    Why would they do this? It is like suddenly saying, "sorry you already bought two books this month, you have to wait till next month to buy more."

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