Marketing Strategies: Subscription

Posted on 5/14/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

It is difficult to estimate the number of image licensed annually using this model due to the lack of solid statistical information, which is more easily available with other licensing models. Nevertheless, I estimate the units licensed by subscription at 20% of the worldwide total. It could be higher. If so, the corresponding percentage that microstock makes up would be lower.

Subscription: advantages


1 – Less expensive for volume users than rights-managed, traditional royalty-free or even microstock.



2 – Gives customers virtually unlimited access to a very large collection.

3 – Enables customers to easily manage their photography budgets, because they pay a fixed monthly fee for all the images they need, regardless of their number or how they will be used.

4 – Photographers are not required to only sell their images via subscription. As a result, customers cannot purchase exclusive rights to an image.

5 – Customers can also purchase rights to use a single image without having a subscription.

6 – The number of subscription customers and units licensed is increasing.



7 – Because photographers are paid when an image is downloaded rather than when it is used, they may receive substantial payments for images that are never used. Because there is virtually no limit on the number of images downloaded, customers tend to download a lot of images they never use.

8 – Subscription sellers will accept more images from a given shoot than any other stock distributors.

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

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

12 – 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.

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

14 – Subscription 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.

15 – Subscription sites offer weekly newsletter advisories.

Subscription: disadvantages


1 – Photographer royalties are the lowest of all stock-licensing models.

2 – Subscription sites provide volume users who had previously purchased significant quantities of imagery at traditional prices with a significant portion of the images they need at substantially lower prices. This is very good for the customers, but not good for image producers as a whole. Some new entrants are likely to see significant revenue growth, while traditional sellers to this segment of the market are likely to see significant revenue declines.

3 – Since customers tend to download lots of images that they will never use, photographers tend to benefit more from feeding a volume of images into the system on a steady basis than from producing images that will actually be used.

4 – Subscription sellers may cannibalize traditional rights-managed licensing to a greater extent than they do royalty-free imagery.

5 – Images are made available to commercial users for substantially less than they can afford to pay or would have paid elsewhere.

6 – There is no good way to understand which images are actually being used and the types of uses.

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

8 – Photographers typically have no idea what percentage of the distributor’s total revenue they receive under a subscription scheme.

9 – As with microstock, some say that the images that sell best through subscriptions 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.

10 – Broad use is allowed when an image is downloaded with a standard license. If even broader uses are required, it is necessary to purchase an extended license.


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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  

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