The Midstock Pricing Fallacy

Posted on 7/21/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

AGE is the latest traditional agency to introduce a midstock price offering in an attempt to defend against microstock's steady cannibalization of traditional RF sales. AGE's offering is called easyFotostock. Corbis has SnapVillage; Getty, Valueline; a21, Media Magnet and Moodboard has Moodboard+, Premium, Micro as well as MoodboardUnlimited.

Unfortunately, we can't measure how these various efforts are faring, nor are we likely to get any good stats. However, all are based on the flawed theory that "quality" of an image can be defined, and that the price charged should be less when the image is of lesser quality.

Quality Standard

The problem, of course, is that it is impossible to define "quality" in the abstract without knowing anything about the buyer or understanding how he intends to use the image.

Therefore, instead of making all images available to all buyers and charging based on use, the sellers begin by making arbitrary decisions as to which images are best and which are of second and third quality. Then different price ranges are assigned to each quality level totally ignoring the needs and budgets of individual buyers.

Buyers want the "right" image for their project. They don't want to be told they must use a junky image just because their project doesn't justify a big budget. Worse, the right image for some big budget buyers will often be one arbitrarily assigned to a low-priced category. When that happens, the buyer gets a huge discount, below what he would have been willing to pay.

AGE and others have defined lower quality images as ones that have been in the database for two or three years without any sales. While it makes sense to push images that have made no sales to the back of the search return order, it doesn't mean images that haven't sold will sell better if you discount the price.

Lack of sales suggests there are other images in the original collection that better fulfill customer needs.

In essence, AGE is says that its new site is filled with images that have been available on for 2.5 years. And customers have gone elsewhere. Now, the company is offering to sell those images at a less rate than its better ones.  The caveat: There are microsites that will sell their best images for much lower prices than AGE's discount prices.

Microstock Rising to MidStock

While the above strategy of defining quality has little chance of significantly growing revenue for traditional agencies, it may work better for microstock agencies. Fotolia and other microstock sites are including some higher-priced images ("Infinite" collection) side-by-side in the search-return-results with images priced at regular microstock prices. Their argument for charging more is that the images are of "better quality." But this strategy also has problems. If an image priced at the Infinite level were to generate 11 sales at the basic microstock price for each Infinite sale, the photographer would make more money selling at the lower price.

While this strategy can work with a microstock offering, where the majority of images are priced low with an occasional higher priced image mixed in, it would not work the other way around. If you had a site with most images priced at traditional RF levels and the occasional image priced very low, the customer would be tempted to chose the less-priced image if it would arguable serve the same purpose.

File Size vs. Use

It really gets down to the question of File Size pricing vs. Use pricing. Those basing their prices on file size are at a tremendous disadvantage. The fees charged often have little relation to the value each customer receives. For some, the prices are too high, while many get tremendous discounts considering how they intend to use the images. To correct this imbalance, RF sellers have added more file size variations in an effort to charge commercial user more. But for the most part, all this has accomplished is to make the whole RF pricing system more complex. It won't be long until RF pricing is more complicated and confusing than RM.

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, 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:  


  • Jagdish Agarwal Posted Jul 22, 2008
    A simple pricing model of US$1 per MB might work better for microstock sellers.

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