Stipple Launches Revenue Sharing System For Photo Agencies

Posted on 5/3/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Stipple, a San Francisco-based technology company, has released a suite of products that will turn editorial images into e-commerce storefronts for consumers.

The principle behind this new development is that consumers often want to purchase something that is pictured in an editorial image. It might be a T-shirt, a dress or the jeans a celebrity is wearing; or a purse; or shoes; an electronic gadget; or golf clubs – you get the idea. How does the consumer find the brand name of product pictured and where to buy it?

Stipple has developed a system that will help brands and retailers sell more products and publishers and photo agencies earn some additional revenue from the pictures they publish and produce.

Brands and retailers can locate their products in pictures that are published on the web and provide the Stipple database with details about their products and where they can be purchased. Information about prices and special discounts will also be available. As an example, consider a picture published on the People web site. Whenever a viewer of the People site “mouses over” an image that has been coded in the Stipple database small dots will appear over those aspects of the image where additional information is available. The user may click on any of these dots to reveal additional advertising and promotional information about the product. For a better understanding of how it works check out
Stipple Suite

There are four aspects to the Stipple Suite of products – Lens, Pipeline, Network and Want.

With Stipple Lens photo rights holders (Stock agencies) submit images to the Stipple database to be tagged. Agencies are asked to submit the same size image files (8x10 at 300dpi) and the same caption and keyword information that they offer their regular clients. No additional work is required to prepare images for a Stipple submission.

Initially, Stipple has chosen to concentrate on celebrity pictures, but eventually it will expand its offering to all types of products and services that might appear in pictures, for example sports equipment, travel, architecture, home appliances, hair color, hair styles, etc.

Stipple currently has approximately 100,000 images from top photo agencies in its database. The agencies include: Abaca USA, Admedia, Buzz Foto, PictureGroup, Sipa, Starmax, Startraks and Zuma. Currently, Stipple is adding more than 100,000 new editorial images per month, but expects that number to grow substantially as they add more agencies in the near future. Getty, AP and Reuters have shown interest in the technology, but as yet none of them have signed on.

Stipple Pipeline enables brands and retailers to search the images in the database, identify those with their products and code them with the information they want to present to consumers. Once an image has been coded Stipple uses fingerprinting software to identify all similars in the database are automatically code them with the same information. This is important because editorial shooters tend to upload a dozen or more images with slight variations of the same situation. If three photographers from three different agencies are standing side-by-side on a red carpet shoot, and someone from a brand codes any one of those pictures the same code will be inserted on all the similar images taken by the other photographers. However, if one particular picture is used by People, and the customer eventually finds that picture on the People web site, only the photographer and agency that produced that image will get credit for the revenue generated by that image. Brands can essentially turn any editorial image containing their products into e-commerce storefronts.

More than 50 brands including AAFA’s recent Brand of the Year awardee William Rast, Vivitar, Local Celebrity, Swag Like Us, Silly Bandz, Signorelli, Hazel, Jaloux, Radii, Domino and Teruo Artistry are already using Stipple.

Today, more than 1,300 publishers are a part of the Stipple Network. Some of the images published on the online sites of these publishers are coded either as a result of the coding pipeline customers have done in the database, or coding the publishers themselves have provided. Publishers may code images for their paid advertisers. When a publisher in the network posts an image on its site the site automatically checks the Stipple database to see if that image is there and has codes. All activity is then tracked for the benefit of the brand, publisher and the agency.

Stipple Want enables consumers to, shop and create a ‘wish-list’ of products contained in the Stippled images. Consumers can indicate that then “like” or “want” a particular product. In some cases they will be able to see the local area locations where the product is available and compare different price points. In addition, consumers may indicate a lower price at which they would be interested in purchasing the product if it were available at that price. If enough consumers indicate that they might purchase the product at a lower than list price the seller may decide to email those people a special discount offer on the product. The system lets sellers track specific customers with interest in their products and understand their level of interest.

Additionally, shoppers are able to bookmark specific products within an image. Stipple Want is a user-initiated experience and is activated only when a consumer mouses over a Stipple’d item.


Agencies, and by extension the photographers they represent, will receive a small percentage of the gross revenue from sales generated through the site. For example, a movie star may be wearing a watch in a photo. The manufacturer or retailer goes on Pipeline and offers the watch for sale for $100 to those who either buy the watch online or present a coupon at their local retailer. As a result they sell 100 watches. Gross revenue is $10,000. By contract the seller has agreed to give a certain percentage of gross sales to Stipple. In some cases it may be necessary to provide the celebrity who was pictured a certain percentage of Stipple’s share of the revenue. By contract Stipple agrees to pay a certain percentage of what is left to the agency. The agency will then pay the photographer a percentage of what it receives.

While the photographer’s share of total revenue paid for the products is likely to be small, it is important to note that this is all add-on revenue. This revenue stream will not affect, in any way, the normal fees the photographer receives for print or online use of his or her images.

Future Potential

Initially, Stipple has decided to focus its efforts on dealing with celebrity agencies. At present they are not accepting images from individual photographers although it is very likely they will do so in the future. One obvious advantage for photographers in dealing directly with Stipple is that they cut out one middleman percentage. In addition there are a number of editorial photographers whose pictures appear in magazines and on online sites, but who do not deal through agencies.

One of Stipple’s reasons for dealing with agencies rather than photographers is that they have more confidence that captioning and keywording will be accurate and complete. Photographers who hope to deal directly with Stipple will need to deal with this issue.

As Stipple searches become more popular it seems likely that customers will be allowed to search the Stipple Lens database directly and see all the images available rather than being limited to only those publishers chose to use. This could benefit photographers because some images never chosen for licensing in print publications will generate some revenue. Brands and the retailers will push for this because it could generate more sales for them.

If consumers show an interest in accessing the Stipple site directly it also seems likely that certain brands will start to post their own wholly-owned images in the database. This would enable then to show products that don’t happen to be used in consumer publications or on web sites. It would also make it possible for the brand to offer better discounts because they wouldn’t have to share any part of the revenue with publishers, stock agencies or photographers. The only people who would get a percentage of the gross sale would be Stipple.

Another development that would make sense is for a group of manufacturers to go together to produce images specifically for Stipple. Each image might have several products in it. In such a case if anyone searches for any one of the items in a picture they see them all. The consumer may be drawn to purchase something other than the product they searched for originally.

Copyright © 2011 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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