Microstock Exclusivity Does Not Benefit Image Owner

Posted on 12/5/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

The first thing a photographer must consider when pondering microstock exclusivity is why any distributor needs exclusive representation of a royalty-free image—which, but its very nature, is a non-exclusive product.

Any customer who buys a royalty-free image knows that hundreds of people—maybe even the customer’s direct competitors—may use the image simultaneously. This is not a major concern for most customers and is one of the reasons why the royalty-free licensing model is so successful.

In 2007, well over 50 million royalty-free images were licensed worldwide. Something in the range of 2 to 3 million rights-managed images were licensed during the same year. Even when customers buy rights-managed images, they do so not because they want to restrict usage by others, but because the image itself happens to better fit their particular need than the royalty-free alternatives they could find.

If customers are not clamoring for more exclusive images, why do some marketers of royalty-free stock images want exclusive rights to the images in their collections? They clearly do not need such rights to better serve their customers. Equally clearly, it is in the best interest of image producers to have their images distributed as widely as possible, thus reaching a greater variety and number of customers, some of whom will always choose one distributor over another.

The only reason a distributor—be it an agency or a portal—wants or needs exclusive rights is to try to lock in their monopoly position in the industry and destroy competitors. Rather than focusing on better service to customers or suppliers, better pricing or ease of search, such distributors emphasize limiting customers’ access to the product—to the detriment of many image suppliers.

Those asking for exclusives tend to offer incentives to the suppliers who agree. In some cases, these incentives can be very attractive. However, suppliers need to carefully consider the limits such exclusives place on their future options and the potential disadvantage of being totally dependent on the whims of the exclusive representative. Another natural disadvantage to exclusives is that they set up a system of haves and have-nots, rather than attempting to give every supplier an equal chance to compete—which, in theory, was one of the founding principles of microstock. Most importantly, image producers need to recognize that exclusive agreements are not designed to benefit them.

Copyright © 2008 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.  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Dec 5, 2008
    To knowingly sign up for Microstock in the first place questions a photographer's intelligence and lack of any business knowledge.

    To also agree to make it exclusively in Microstock proves it... without a doubt that the upstairs is lit, but no one is home! Stupid, stupid...

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

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