Do Book Publishers Use Microstock?

Posted on 4/6/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Only a couple years ago, a researcher for a major book publisher said the company would never use microstock for a textbook, because of the “difficulty of securing rights.” That was puzzling, because virtually all microstock images had solid releases. In fact, microstock sellers are such sticklers for releases that they often reject the more candid editorial images that many book publishers tend to favor.

Most of the microstock sites have print run limits of 500,000 for their standard price and could have been a problem for the publishers that want the rights to print 1 million books or more. Of course, the publisher could purchase an extended license for a small additional fee.

Anyway, I came away from that conversation believing that maybe the textbook market was a last bastion of hope for photographers trying to license images at rights-managed prices. But I recently discovered things have changed after asking photographers on Linkedin about publisher use of microstock.

Alan Myers suggested that I do a keyword search on for the names of microstock sites that might be listed in the credits. I found 385 books with Shutterstock images, 317 with iStockphoto, 122 with Dreamstime and 84 with Fotolia. Many of these books looked more like tradebooks rather than textbooks, but obviously there are a lot of books using microstock. Also, there may have been a significant number of images in each of these books.

if you are a photographer who has a collection of some niche subject that simply can’t be shot today, there is a chance you’ll make a sale. Otherwise, things are not looking too good.

Betsy Hern said that the Dreamstime forum features frequent postings about images being found in books, and that occasionally self-publishers post image requests for their book projects. She added, “Those requests are usually jumped at. I cannot believe the interest in doing a custom shoot for microstock prices, but there are plenty of photographers on those (microstock) sites that will do just that. I have not noticed requests from major publishers though, perhaps just a matter of time.”

Nathan Griffith pointed out that, given the royalties he receives for book use after his agents take their cut, he might as well be selling his images as microstock.

Chris Barton asked: “Has it changed, Jim? Big time. Many book publishers will go to microstock as their first port of call, particularly for lower print-run publications. They will to fill as many spots as they can with microstock, and then source the hard-to-find subjects from more traditional stock.

“There is also an issue with publishers outsourcing ‘book packaging’, and the work seems to end up in India, with inexperienced researchers who do not really understand what they are researching and do not understand the whole stock photography industry, image rights, copyright, and model and property releases, among other things.

“These outsourced projects will be with a set budget, so the method of research will be ‘find what you can on microstock or for free, and find it now!’ Add with the ‘for free’ stuff they don’t seem to put too much effort into checking rights.

“I know ‘outsourcing’ companies that do this, and I know reputable publishers who have been burned by this, and have hopefully learned their lesson.

“You may think it unfair that I am picking specifically on India, but I have had consistent problems with both ‘research’ companies that operate there and also with ‘photographers’ there who seem to have high-quality collections of images, which it later turns out, aren’t actually... theirs...

“I suspect researchers are keeping hold of high-res images and then deciding to try to sell them on when the right opportunity comes up. There is a clear lack of understanding and respect for copyright in a lot of emerging economies like India.”

Finally, Chris Bain, photography director at Barnes & Noble, said: “Do publishers use microstock? In a word, yes. For us though (Barnes & Noble, via Sterling Publishing) it is where designers often turn when they are assembling collages for covers. A spooky castle here, a spider there, some strange pattern to overlay into the sky, and presto an Irish Ghost Stories book cover for less than $50. I don’t love it, I don’t hate it, and no one can stop it of course.

“More and more publishers are having designers and/or editors do the photo research for their projects, and given the dismal economy of book publishing, every dollar saved helps. For all our calendars though, and all the meaty books which often require hundreds of photographs on scores of niche topics such as Ellis Island, baseball stadiums, Bruce Springsteen, or even the Definitive Illustrated History of the U.S. Army (Fall 2011), my staff and freelance photo editors still rely almost 100% on [rights-managed images] from all the usual suspects, large and small, including a great many individual photographers.”

So, if you’re a photographer who has a collection of some niche subject that simply can’t be shot today, there is a chance you’ll make a sale. Otherwise, things are not looking too good.

Copyright © 2010 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:  


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