Who Is Yuri Arcurs?

Posted on 3/17/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (5)

Anyone who has heard the term microstock has probably heard of Yuri Arcurs. He is recognized as the worlds most successful microstock photographer but is much more than just a photographer.

He is a brilliant businessman adept at marketing, self-promotion and managing a large staff. He runs a production company with a full-time staff of about 30 and another 20 part-timers who work at least 10 hours a week. Included as part of his staff are four or five other photographers who actively shoot and whose work is marketed under the Yuri Arcurs brand.

Currently, Yuri Arcurs Media Inc. has about 34,000 unique microstock images marketed through many Web sites. His team is adding about 11,000 new images to his microstock collection annually. About 1,300 of the team’s images are downloaded (licensed) from iStockphoto every business day, and a total of about 5,000 per day are downloaded from all the microstock sites that represent his work. Gross annual revenue of this company is in excess of $1.5 million.

Rather than wanting something new and different—what most photographers would like to see sold—most customers are happy to use the same pictures others have used.

The team operates out of a huge studio (see guided tour) in Arhus, Denmark, and is building a second studio. Arcurs is also setting up a small operation in Miami and may expand the production operation to Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011.

This fall, he plans to launch the Yuri Arcurs Image Collection to sell images by subscription directly to customers on arcurs.com. The site will be focused entirely on images of people in business and lifestyle situation and will only have images that are produced and wholly owned by Yuri Arcurs Media. Pricing details are not fixed, but current thinking is that for approximately $100 a month subscribers will get access to the entire collection. The initial goal is to build a customer base of at least 1,000 within two years.

Arcurs also plans to expand heavily into video and audio and start mass production of these products in a few months. By early 2011, he expects to be able to offer customers 10,000 audio files, 50,000 subscription images and 5,000 video files directly from his site.

Target customers for his site are those loyal buyers who already use a large number of Yuri’s images. They will get images at a lower price than purchasing them through the other sites that represent his work. When they need something else, they will go to those other sites. “The whole idea is to provide customers with a solution that is slightly cheaper, but still not undermining my collection on other sites, and instead of getting $0.35 per image downloaded, keep the entire subscription fee,” Yuri said.

Despite his obvious success, Arcurs recently commented on Ellen Boughn’s blog that the return per image for “microstock non-exclusive has dropped from $9.80 per image per month two years ago to $4.50 today. I am expecting it to drop to less than $3.00 this year, at which point it does not make much sense to be producing. I could produce and make money if the return per image remains stable at $3.00, but not if it keeps going down. Right now, I have to produce 11,000 images per year to ‘maintain’ my income.”

On his blog, John Lund said: “That is, to me, a pretty stunning comment…and not a very uplifting one either.  Here is a photographer who is generally acknowledged as the premier microstock shooter in the world, and in my opinion is one of the world’s premier stock shooters of any business model, and he is anticipating his profit dipping to a point where it isn’t worth his time to produce! Yikes!”

In addition, Arcurs’ return per image is higher than what others are able to achieve. Only those producing images of people in business and lifestyle situations have a chance at his numbers, and the images must at least match the quality of Arcurs’ work. Another important factor is age of the collection: only those who have built a significant quantity of images early and have already achieved a high number of downloads have a chance at such sales. Arcurs estimates that 20% of his iStock sales come from images that are four years old.

Microstock sites give customers the option of searching by downloads, or the number of times an image has been purchased. According to Arcurs, 80% to 90% of the time, customers search by download. This brings the images that have been used most often to the top of the search return order, and these tend to be what the next customer buys. Customers have the option of organizing search returns in other ways. In fact, search by download is never the default, but customers do not seem to choose those other options. Rather than wanting something new and different—what most photographers would like to see them buy—most customers are happy to use the same pictures others have used.

Arcurs is also selling images at traditional royalty-free and rights-managed prices. He has about 6,000 images in Fotolia’s Infinite Collection. Uses of these images are priced 10 times higher than regular microstock based on file size. The default is to integrate some of the Infinite images into the normal search return order, or customers have the choice of restricting the search to the Infinite Collection alone. Despite the price tag, Arcurs says his average monthly return per image from the Infinite Collection is between $1 and $2, possibly less. Arcurs’ problem with this model is that the images are exclusive to the Infinite Collection and cannot be distributed through other traditional royalty-free outlets.

Arcurs expects to produce a sizable quantity of new images for traditional collections as a way of expanding and diversifying his income, but he finds it much harder to produce images for the rights-managed market. "[Agencies] want to do something more artistic and push their photographers to produce funky, branding images. Customers may like to look at such images for inspiration, but the kind of images they tend to buy are the simple, straightforward images found in microstock,” he explains.

Within the next 6 to 8 months, Arcurs expects to produce about 10,000 new images for the traditional royalty-free Cultura and Tetra collections as a way of expanding and diversifying his income. He also has some 40 to 50 images in the Getty Images rights-managed offering and has made one $1,200 sale but says it is too early to determine if this will be a productive way to market his images.

Arcurs says he finds it much harder to produce images that sell well in the higher priced rights-managed category than in royalty-free. “Traditional agencies keep asking for something unique, different, not stylistically clean for their rights-managed collections. They want to do something more artistic and push their photographers to produce funky, branding images. Customers may like to look at such images for inspiration, but the kind of images they tend to buy are the simple, straightforward images found in microstock,” he explains.

Many photographers say they just do not want to shoot microstock-style imagery. That is their choice, but they should not get upset if they cannot make a living doing what they want to do because customers want something different from what photographers are willing to deliver.

In an article where Arcurs discusses what is in demand for macro, he says: “The return per image in the higher priced collections is about the same as in a micro-priced collection, but if you misunderstand what to send where, it will be much lower.”

Recently, Shutterstock announced that since it began operations in 2003, it had licensed rights to more than 125 million images. In excess of 2% of these, or more than 2.5 million downloads, were of Arcurs’ images.

Arcurs reminds me of Jerry Kennelly, the former owner of Stockbyte, whom I first met at a CEPIC conference about a decade ago. Kennelly’s company was already successful, but he told me how much his royalty-free business was going to grow, and I just could not believe it. Every time I saw him after that, his business had grown more than what he had predicted, and his new predictions grew even wilder. In 2006, Jerry sold Stockbyte to Getty Images for $135 million—two months after Getty purchased iStockphoto and just before microstock started to cannibalize traditional royalty-free licensing. Arcurs seems to have the same gifts and to be at the right place at the right time.

Copyright © 2010 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.  


  • Tim Mcguire Posted Mar 17, 2010
    Hey Jim,

    I'd like to know how Yuri got his business started. Was he always in Microstock? It seems like it would take a lot of up front investment to start from zero and get to where Yuri is today. How long has he been in the microstock business? His business is impressive for it's sheer volume and he seems to have big plans going forward but how did he build his business and get to where he is today? I'd find that very interesting and informative.

    Tim McGuire

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Mar 17, 2010
    Glad you wrote this about Yuri. I have not met him, but we are two of the top in the world and will have to get together for a beer sometime.

    You recently wrote about me in Selling Stock, Jim, (see archives) and you know that Yuri and I gross close to the same amount and I have for many years. But we are different in two very distinct things: First, Yuri believes (or did believe until now he realizes he can't make it work with falling price per image) he could support his big studio making $0.35 per download with a huge staff of 40 some people (ie, PAYROLL!) and I do not. He sells Microstock and I do not.

    Secondly, I get to KEEP most of my gross because I have a staff of only three! But we sell Rights Managed all over the world only... and we get many many sales of $1200 that he finally had one (plus many one image sales over $10,000 each year) in the RM mode.

    I like Yuri's work a lot and will tell him so when we meet. But he is finding that mass producing with a huge staff and selling only Microstock is not giving HIM much of an income after he pays for all his studio & staff. He even now realizes that he can not continue to produce imagery as Microstock prices per image cut away most of his profit. I get to keep most of my sales money and that is the nicest part!

    So again, Jim, even the top seller in the Microstock world is seeing that the model no longer works for him. How can you EVER suggest a new person (or an experienced person) rush into Microstock?? Once you put an image in Microstock, you can never pull it out and sell it RM.

    Why not encourage shooters to go RM where the prices are worthy and you don't need to "mass produce" with a staff to sell and make $0.35 per sale?

    Tell Yuri that I would like to meet, as two top shooters, and have a beer in Europe or Florida.

    I support what you do, Jim, but my books and lectures always tell people the truth about the hard choices to make in stock shooting. And one is that you CAN NOT make a living giving your work away! You can make "beer money" but not a living... People need to read my newest book or attend my ASMP lectures.


  • Yuri Arcurs Posted Mar 17, 2010
    Hi Tim.
    I did not have a cent when I started 5 years ago. I got my first earnings from micro sales and I have basically expanded my business re-investing every cent since then. My overhead might be big, but it is in place to server future plans and nurture production levels in two-three years from now. Training, streamlining, management....take time. If I want to scale, I need to be one step ahead, also internally and that is not cheap.

  • Tim Mcguire Posted Mar 17, 2010
    Hi Yuri and thanks. I find it hard to believe but if it's true you deserve all the business accolades you get. You obviously have many business building and entrepreneurial skills many wish they had.

    Why do you think so many others with much more than a cent to invest and with just as much drive and motivation have not been able to do what you have done?

    How much of what you've achieved as a businessman do you attribute to being in the right place at the right time?

  • Rahul Pathak Posted Mar 18, 2010

    This is impressive stuff. Congratulations on always looking to the future and having the capability to create the one you want for yourself.


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