Marketing Strategies: Microstock

Posted on 5/13/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In terms of number of images licensed, microstock has been taking the industry by storm in the last few years. About 71% of images currently sold annually are licensed using the microstock model.

Microstock: advantages

1 – Less expensive than traditional rights-managed and royalty-free pricing.

2 – Microstock prices are increasing.

3 – Buyers do not require image exclusivity.

4 – The number of customers and units licensed is increasing.

5 – One of the biggest advantages of microstock over traditional licensing models is that it reaches a whole new base of customers. Traditional sellers have never been able to address these customers, primarily because such sellers refuse to sell images at prices these customers can afford.

6 – Many small businesses that either could not afford to do print promotions or had to hire design firms to do this work now do it themselves, thanks to improved software. These buyers usually cannot afford to pay traditional image prices, so they go to microstock.

7 – At the same time, the number of traditional rights-managed and royalty-free customers is declining due to market changes. While microstock sells to these same customers, the model does not depend on them. Its principal customer base is users with very limited budgets, and this customer group seems to be growing rapidly.

8 – The process for determining a price is simpler than in the rights-managed model but not always simpler than with traditional royalty-free licensing. The rules for extended or enhanced licenses are often complex and usually differ from one Web site to another.

9 – The search procedures are more user friendly for the customers:

  • Options to organize the search-return order reflect the customer’s needs.

  • Customers can easily view a photographer’s portfolio. It is easy to learn more about the creator of a specific image or style.

  • Customers can easily determine which images have been popular with other buyers and which ones have never sold.

10 – Photographers are likely to get more images accepted from a given shoot than is the case with traditional licensing models.

11 – Photographer sales information is instantly available. More sales data is available than is the case with any traditional agency.

12 – Photographer royalty payments can be requested at any time once the accumulated total exceeds $100.

13 – Photographers can easily view portfolios of others and determine which subjects sell and which have been overdone. Similarly, it is possible to pick a particular category to see which images have been selling and how many times. These are very useful tools for planning future shoots.

14 – Microstock Web sites provide photographers with online portfolios that can also be used to promote assignment work.

15 – Microstock sites offer a venue for creators to network with one another. However, there are some complaints that these discussions are closed when the mood turns negative to the microstock company’s business strategy.

Microstock: disadvantages

1 – Photographer royalty per image is extremely low. Huge volumes must be licensed to earn significant revenue.

2 – Pricing is based on file size, a factor that has nothing whatsoever to do with the value the customer receives.

3 – Microstock reaches all customer segments, but when it comes to servicing commercial users—who receive great value from image uses and can afford to pay substantially more—microstock provides images to them for the same low price as it charges other customers.

4 – There is no good way to understand how customers use the images they purchase. This knowledge is extremely important if all customers are to be treated fairly and equitably in relation to the value they receive from using an image.

5 – Because prices to some customers are so low, photographers are not being fairly and adequately compensated for their creation.

6 – Some say that the images that sell best as microstock are simple and very direct in their message. For photographers, this type of shooting may not be as satisfying or challenging as producing the edgy creative images commonly found in rights-managed archives.

7 – Broad use is allowed when an image is downloaded with a standard license, but if even broader uses are required, it is necessary to purchase an extended license. The rules for extended licenses are often confusing, yet there are indications that a significant percentage of current purchases are for extended licenses.

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:  


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