Ubiquitous Use Debate Misses Mark

Posted on 4/5/2010 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Chris Barton, a photographer and the managing director of Photographers Direct, has written an article highlighting multiple uses of the same microstock image and asking why a reputable company would do this to itself.

Barton’s company represents what he believes to be “fair trade photography.” It keeps only 20% of the licensing revenue, connects buyer and seller in a direct negotiation and typically averages $200 per license. Photographers Direct offers non-exclusive representation with one exception: the same images cannot be made available through microstock sites, which the company views as “the antithesis of fair trade.”

Barton recently took a look at the use of a microstock photo in Web sites ranging from a German consulting firm to a keyword-spamming plastic surgery domain. The photographer describes the photo as a “perfect-people perfect-world lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter pile-them-high sell-them-cheap image” and asks: “Why would a reputable company want to be associated with those words?”

There are numerous answers, and most are so mind-bogglingly simple as to make anyone wonder why stock-industry insiders are still having this meaningless debate.

The image—probably shot by Yuri Arcurs, if one were to guess by the style—is quite far from the crap with which Barton equates it. Unfortunately, the esteemed photographer has let his philosophical bias affect his judgment. This photo is so widely used because it meets all the criteria for a top stock seller: it is technically flawless, beautifully composed and topically in demand from the model and situation perspective. To an image buyer without Barton’s unique personal experience and insight, this photo says “business success”—or numerous other similarly positive concepts. [April 6: With apologies to Lise Gagne.]

Further, nobody looking for a loan is going to plug the header image of a financing Web site into TinEye to see if the loan company is reputable, or if its competitor is using the same photo. Nobody cares. The use of an image by one business does not, in any practical way, change the effectiveness of the same image to advertise a non-competitive business.

There have also been plenty of competitors who opted for the same rights-managed image without paying for exclusivity. While it makes for a terrific industry anecdote and may have gotten an ad agency fired now and then, it has probably had little impact on the normal course of business of the end client.

As has been pointed out before, buyers tend to find comfort in the fact that others used the same images. The fact that an image is widely used is apparently a positive to buyers, whether or not photographers like it.

And to be completely skeptical, many photographers tend to view multiple uses of the same image as a negative only when the image is by another photographer. Everyone welcomes multiple uses of their own shots and the accompanying revenue.

It is not that Barton is wrong, per se. In fact, most everything he writes is on the money—but it does not matter. Barton and many of today’s photographers make a critical error in judgment by expecting buyers to see the world from a photographer’s perspective. Buyers live in an entirely different world. To earn a living, photographers need to understand and cater to buyer motivations, because endeavoring to change their views has historically failed at every instance.

Copyright © 2010 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


  • Chris Allen Posted Apr 6, 2010

  • John Harris Posted Apr 6, 2010
    Hi Jim. You are right in that most smaller businesses won't care that they are using the same image - though the bigger ones will. Of course some customers do want something other than the ubiquitous, generalisable, generic image with its' endless positivism and want specific, real pictures of the social world "warts n'all" as Cromwell put it. We need to further develop and maintain a differentiated market that makes these "hard to do" pictures possible.

    John Harris reportdigital.co.uk

  • Peter Dazeley Posted Apr 8, 2010
    Chris Barton, a photographer and the managing director of Photographers Direct, has written an article highlighting multiple uses of the same microstock image and asking why a reputable company would do this to itself.


    many thanks, Sarah @ Peter Dazeley

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff