Lightrocket: Marketing Opportunity And More

Posted on 12/18/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Over time royalty rates have declined. Usage fees have dropped dramatically in the last few years. And the huge oversupply of images is making it less likely that any images will ever be licensed. Faced with these facts many photographers have pulled back on new production of stock images, if not dropped out of the stock photo business entirely.

Before dropping out photographers might want to explore Lightrocket (, a Singapore based company with an online search engine that gives photographers and small stock agencies the opportunity to inexpensively expand the reach of their marketing. Lightrocket enables the image creator to talk directly to the  customers interested in using their images and only license use when the fee offered is fair. In addition the photographer keeps 100% of any fee negotiated. LightRocket takes no service fees or commission on photographer sales via its site.
With a Launch Special Lightrocket is offering 20GB of storage for $39 per year for a Standard membership or $49 per year for Premium membership.

The service is the brainchild of photographers Peter Charlesworth and Yvan Cohen, co-founders of OnAsia Images, an online photo agency created over a decade ago representing a select group of professional photographers covering the Asian region.

Although offering similar features as competing players such as PhotoShelter and Smugmug, including personalized photo websites, secure cloud storage, archive management and secure file delivery, LightRocket differentiates itself by promoting its archive and its members’ work directly to its client base of around 6,000 professional picture buyers.

LightRocket also differentiates itself from others in this sector by placing emphasis on maintaining a curated site which more editors seem to be looking for today. The site’s founders have always focused on the editorial side of the business. As a result they send out pitches to between 2000-3000 clients per week and expect to see that volume rise as activity on the site expands.

It’s a strategy that seems to be working. “We had editors from National Geographic in Washington get right back to a couple of photographers in response to stories we sent out. The photographers were thrilled and it demonstrated editors are willing to go direct to the photographer when they find a picture they like,“ said Yvan Cohen.

Despite its editorial focus, the site also has a significant collection of commercially oriented, more generic images and is looking to expand into this segment of the market.

The company’s founders recognize the challenges faced by photographers today. “The market is experiencing massive over supply,” said LightRocket CEO Peter Charlesworth. “When the number of buyers doesn’t increase at the same pace as supply, the laws of economics determine that prices will fall and opportunities for sales will get harder. This is why we are seeking to find a balance between providing online services as well as opportunities for sales – ensuring our users get all round value.”

Customers can only download watermarked previews without permission. If a customer is interested in an image or a story they can click the 'contact' icon (the silhouette of a bust) and this will enable them to drop a note directly to the photographer and start the enquiry/negotiation process.

If an agreement is reached with a prospective client, the photographer has three options for delivery:
    1. FTP Push whereby the photographer selects the images to be delivered and then browses to 'FTP Push' in the 'Actions' drop down in gray tool bar above the panel of thumbnails in the archive. The files are delivered straight to an FTP address but there is no record of the download.

    2. Setting access and granting download rights: Using this method, a photographer can grant download rights to a registered user who has been added to their 'contacts'. In this instance, once download rights have been granted the user can download any files for which access has been given. A record of the download is displayed on the member's download activity page. The user can then follow up with the client regarding usage and record specific usages in the download record for that file.

    3. Sharing files with links: This is a very quick and convenient means of sharing files regardless of whether the files have been 'published' to the archive and regardless of whether the recipient is registered on LightRocket. All you need to do is select a file in the archive and click 'share' in the drop down list of 'actions'. A pop up box appears with options to grant 'view only' access or 'view + download' access. Other options include re-sizing, limiting the number of downloads per email and setting an expiry date for the permissions. The user can also edit the covering email.

Distribution Through Getty Images

Many editorial photographers believe it is important to make their images available through Getty Images. Lightrocket has recently announced a distribution partnership ( with Getty that allows LightRocket premium annual members to apply to become Getty contributors via LightRocket. The agreement is unusual in that accepted LightRocket Getty contributors enjoy a non-exclusive submissions policy, allowing the same files that are accepted by Getty’s editors to be distributed elsewhere.

Once accepted by Getty their editors will choose the files they want to represent. There is no guarantee they will represent all the photographer’s work.

Participating with Getty is entirely voluntary. Photographers who place their images on Lightrocket and not required to allow Getty to represent their work.

Many photographers feel that Getty is massively under pricing many of the images it licenses. Thus, not only does the photographer get a small royalty, but the price Getty charges may be significantly less than the photographer could have obtained if he negotiated the license himself. Thus, many photographers will undoubtedly choose not to exercise the Getty option.

Copyright © 2013 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:  


  • Paul Smith Posted Dec 18, 2013
    Their business model just doesn't add up. They don't take any commission on sales and they don't charge buyers any fees to browse etc. So, apart from any deal they may have with Getty, their income is from the subscriptions paid by their contributors.

    Currently, they list almost 300 contributors. Even assuming that each contributor is paying the premium annual rate of $49, that only totals just under $15,000 annual income for the business. Even if you doubles or trebled that figure it doesn't make any business sense.

    This reminds me of Digital Railroad.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Dec 18, 2013
    Doesn't make any sense to me either. How is the company making $$$.... advertising on the side of the pictures?? More needed here, Jim.

    Seems like the main problem in the business is the constant lowering of fees PERIOD! As I have called it often "The Race To The Bottom"

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Dec 20, 2013
    There certainly is some similarity to Digital Railroad and to PhotoShelter. They make their money off the monthly and annual fees. They also have an advantage over the other two in that they have the images from their "On Asia" site on Lightrocket and I presume they are still getting royalties from licensing those images.

    Thus, they have simply taken a going business and added on an additional feature that should generate more revenue for them.

    They may not be able to make it work, but PhotoShelter has built a pretty successful business offering web sites and cloud storage for photographers.

    The big advantage is that photographers get to set the price for their work and keep 100% of any sales they make.

    Bill, if you think fees are constantly being lowered wouldn't it be better to keep 100% of whatever fee you could get rather than giving 50% to 80% of it away to a distributor? And maybe you could even get a little higher fee if you were doing the negotiating rather than your distributors.

    The big question is whether they can get enough customers to actually use the site and go directly to the photographer rather than to one of his distributors. That may not work, but it costs very little to test it out.

    Everyone is complaining that fees and royalties are too low. Here's someone that is offering a solution that might -- and I stress might -- turn that around.

    The Getty deal is optional and it seems to me that if RM sellers have any hope of surviving they have to find a way to start dealing directly with customers and forget about dealing through distributors like Getty.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Dec 21, 2013
    Good comments, Jim. But here are my points:

    1. I don't think enough photographers are going to sign up ..... making not enough $ for the company, first.
    2. Since not enough sign up, that will make the site not very useful to satisfy the customers who buy images to use that site. Won't be enough good content for them to keep coming back to find images.
    3. I would hope it would do well for photographers to keep 100%, but how are they going to market the site to buyers with so few photographers "kicking in" fees?

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