All posts tagged: microstock
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It’s been a long journey since producing my first stock image back in early 2006. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve seen the business grow at an amazing rate. Microstock is a hugely profitable business that is here to stay – no doubt about that.

However, I’m sensing trouble on the horizon for not only the contributors, but the agencies as well. It’s a complicated theory, but the gist of it is this: back in the early days of 2005-06, the average portfolio size of any agency was just a few hundred thousand images. In those early years, those agencies were in a race to have the biggest stock photo collection over any competitor, therefore accepting pretty much any upload from each and every one of it’s contributors. It was really easy to get images accepted, and the money was good too – it almost seemed illegal at times. Business was booming.

Fast forward to 2011. Business is still booming. The average collection size of each major agency has skyrocketed to over 10 million images (and growing). Because the collections are so large, they can afford to be more selective in their upload requirements. Contributors are now required to produce high end photos and illustrations which far exceed the quality required for full rights managed agencies just a few years ago – for pennies on the dollar.

Royalties per image when I first started uploading were around 50%. Today, it has shrunk down to about 15-20% on average across the board. At the same time, image quality requirements are astronomically higher which automatically weeds out the mid to low level amateurs. In addition, competition is growing immensely fierce amongst the contributors, which means that only the truly stellar images have any hope of selling these days. This is no longer a business for noobs, and the only real chance of success is from seasoned professionals (or the hardcore amateurs). But my question is this: if only the professional contributors remain, can they afford to work for 15-20% commissions? Some may argue that it’s of no matter to the agencies, as they are still turning away more contributors than they accept. In other words, if one contributor leaves, there will be 10 to take his place.

But think about it: what kind of amateur will spend hours upon hours struggling to produce high quality imagery that will only net them a few cents a piece? If the competition between contributors gets to be so intense that it becomes impossible to sell anything at all, do you really think that there will be anybody left who will still do it? I don’t know about you, but the only reason I’m doing this is for the money – sure I love design and illustration, but the fact of the matter is that I gag at the thought of being a slave to a website or agency that doesn’t compensate me for my time.

With that said, there have been many unfavorable changes (for the contributors) at the major agencies over the past 24 months. Here are my specific thoughts about each of them at this moment in time:

Dreamstime
Dreamstime continues to be a solid agency for me. I don’t have any real complaints, as they provide me with reliable sales at a comfortable commission. Sales for the last 8 weeks or so have been very weak though, which I have to admit isn’t very encouraging. The admin staff is stellar – they are very helpful and friendly.

shutterstock.com
Ah, what to say about shutterstock. If you would have asked me 3 years ago what I thought of them, I wouldn’t have been able to shut up about how great of an agency they are. But now….meh. My sales have been dropped more than 40% since 2008-09, and I guess that I’m coming to the conclusion that my style of work just doesn’t sell there as much as others. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

bigstockphoto.com
I like bigstock, especially since this is the only agency in which my sales have been increasing instead of decreasing. I don’t know what it is, but I seem to do much better over there than others (who often complain about the lack of sales). The staff is great too – the kindest group of folks in all of microstock, without a doubt. My only hope is that shutterstock doesn’t kill them off…

stockfresh.com
Can’t really comment on this one yet – it is still a new agency and they haven’t even begun marketing it yet. Hope it goes well.

123royaltyfree.com
Just like shutterstock, this is a nut that I just can’t crack. Some people claim to have great sales here month after month, but I’m not doing as well.

canstockphoto.com
The fastest approval process in the business – no doubt about that. Sales were very strong when I started uploading there last year, but have slowed down significantly since then.

istockphoto
I thought it would have been impossible to hate an agency more than I hate Fotolia – but istockphoto’s actions of late have left me with an extremely bad taste in my mouth. First, they cut the majority of each contributors royalties down to 15-16% last fall. I can actually feel my blood pressure start to rise when I type that. It’s just plain greedy, especially given the amount of time that we the contributors put into creating our work. I could write paragraphs on my thoughts on this subject, but I don’t need the stress! Anyway – the second thing that really ticked me off was the announcement from a few days ago in which they informed the contributors of a major image theft problem, thereby resulting in the retraction of earned royalties. Some contributors lost thousands of dollars. I mean, that’s just more greed – in what other business is credit card loss/theft cost passed onto the suppliers – especially for a product that has no physical value? I can feel my blood pressure starting to rise again…

The bottom line is this: I am no longer submitting my illustrations to istockphoto.

Fotolia
Beyond the fact that they have just announced an insulting royalty fee structure similar to that of istockphoto, I have no words for this (I’ve said all I need to say here).

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It’s been a while since I have been so excited about a new up-and-coming microstock site, but Stockfresh.com has my full attention. It was created by Peter Hamza, the guy who created the highly successful hxu.com and stockxpert.com (RIP). Yes, he knows exactly what it takes to build a successful microstock site and I am fully confident that he can do it again with Stockfresh. His websites are clean and organized, easy to navigate, and fresh (no pun intended) – the best part is that (as a photographer / artist himself) he appreciates each and every one of his contributors and offers high royalties on every sale. If stockxpert.com was any indication of what the Stockfresh experience is going to be like, I’m jumping in with both feet.

Last week I started to upload my full portfolio, and since I’m only uploading 50 images a day, I expect it to take about 60 days before it’s fully online.

To be honest, I’m not sure I would have even given the site any attention if it wasn’t for the drastic changes over at iStockphoto that were announced last week. That whole situation made it very clear that iStock has no appreciation for us (the contributors), even though they wouldn’t have anything to sell if we didn’t work so hard for them. It’s mind boggling to think about, and the popular opinion floating around now is that Getty is preparing iStock for a public offering. Getty has a history of these kinds of profit-based actions, and it’s obvious they want to control the market and pocket as much money as they can without any regard to those of us who built their catalog. With that said, I’m stopping all uploads to iStock effective immediately, and I’m pulling down all links to their site. As well, I’m trying to reach out to any buyers that I can to convince them to drop iStock and start making their purchased at websites such as Stockfresh.com who actually care about the contributor.

I wish Peter and the entire team over at Stockfresh success. I know they have a tough road ahead of them, as it’s not going to be easy to launch a microstock site from scratch with the plethora of other established sites out there all clamoring for the same business. But based on his track record of building successful stock photo websites in the past, my confidence is high. I am going to support his new project 100%.

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Most of you probably know that I am an active contributor to istockphoto.com, and I have been uploading selected images from my portfolio there since early 2008. I have always considered them to be fair and honest, and I like how strict they are with their image approval process. They know exactly what they want, and they won’t accept any image that doesn’t fall in line with their “house style”. Many contributors don’t like that, but some (like me) do – it keeps things fresh and clean, without a lot of crap images flooding the site.

All has been good up until yesterday, when I received an email from them containing this announcement:

iStockphoto is making changes that affect all contributing artists.

Beginning in January 2011 our royalty structure is changing. Every year all iStock contributors will now qualify for their royalty level based on the total number of credits used from clients to download your files from the previous year, as opposed to a lifetime download total.

Later in September we are introducing a new premium content collection called the Agency Collection. We are also making changes to Vetta prices and royalties.

Please take the time to read the complete announcement here

If you click on that link and read all the gory details, you will quickly realize that as a result of this change, 99% of their contributors (myself included) will have their royalties reduced to an average of $0.15 per sale. That is downright insulting. To me, that’s damn near close to giving my images away for free and I’m not going to continue to jump through their approval process hoops for such a small reward. If I am reduced to selling my images for that minuscule of an amount, I am not interested in selling my images anymore. Thanks a lot, istock. Not only are you making your suppliers angry (not a good thing when they have other places to upload), you are fueling the fire that is driving me to focus 100% of my energy on my own site. Sure – I give my images away for free on norebbo.com, but if I’m going to be giving my work away for nothing I’d rather do it on my own terms. And I’m willing to bet there are thousands of other photographers and artists with that same idea…

I’m getting sick and tired of being yanked around by these greedy stock photo agencies. It just amazes me how these organizations continue to reduce contributor royalties to insulting levels while their earnings continue to grow and grow each year. Without us (the contributors), these agencies would have nothing – and it’s starting to leave a bad taste in my mouth.

The only way to fix this is for individual contributors to stand up for themselves and not allow to be treated like this. My form of protest is with the development of norebbo.com – where I can have the satisfaction of distributing my images exactly how I want to do it without answering to anyone. If the agencies don’t want to pay me for my work (*cough* istock *cough*), then I want no part in helping them build their business.