Tag Archives: iStock

Letter to Mark Getty from an iStock Contributor

I have been reading in Petapixel that Getty Images to be Fully Controlled by the Getty Family Once Again. According to that article the Getty family have taken a majority stake in the business, and will take full control. Mark Getty led the negotiation and purchase on behalf of the Getty family. I know very little about the broader Getty Images business, but I have been a contributor to iStock since 2008. I used to love iStock and the high volume, low price business model. With major changes to iStock over recent years it no longer looks like the site I joined in 2008. With this post, it’s time to write a letter to Mark Getty from an iStock contributor outlining the issues and to make suggestions to make iStock great again. 

“G’day Mark,


My name is Craig Dingle. I live in Melbourne, Australia and have been an iStock contributor since 2008. I’ve been reading in Petapixel that the Getty family has taken a majority stake and full control of the Getty Images business. I’m sure you are doing that as you see potential for a good investment. In the stock photography side of the business, and specifically iStock, I see considerable potential but not on the current trajectory. I’ve outlined the issues and potential solutions from a contributors point of view.

Background

When I first joined iStock it was a vibrant community made up of photographers from around the world. iStock was known as the micro stock industry leader, and for the high quality content on the site. It was a badge of honor to be an exclusive iStock contributor. There was a dynamic contributor forum, and contributors who were submitting strong content were making a considerable income. That’s not the case today.

money

Up until 2012/13 contributors could make a significant income in microstock

Where it All Changed

Many things have changed about iStock since 2008.

Where the fundamental shift occurred was when iStock stopped selling licences to contributors images – and starting selling subscriptions. At this point, the most important change in iStock history happened. The interests of iStock and contributors were no longer aligned.

iStock is interested in selling subscriptions. I can see why. With a subscription iStock’s monthly income will fluctuate much less than if it were based on a percentage of image sales revenue.

Where is the misalignment? The contributor is still receiving a percentage of the amount to licence their image.

In my case, I was exclusive and on a 35% royalty. I decided to drop exclusivity last year and now receive 15% royalty as an independent contributor. That means I see many royalties of less than USD$0.20 per download. The lowest royalty I have received for a download is US$0.02. (Some contributors report seeing royalties of US$0.01 but I haven’t had one of these – yet!)

Contributor Royalty Rates Versus other Microstock Libraries

So, one issue is the misalignment of Getty Images interests with contributors interests. The second issue is how the royalties are structured and what it means in royalty per download for your contributors.

Contributors are sometimes receiving US$0.02 royalty when a customer licences one of their images via iStock. Let’s let that settle in for a moment. It’s worth repeating. Contributors are sometimes receiving US$0.02 royalty when a customer licences one of their images via iStock.

iStock’s major competitors overcome this by offering minimum royalties. I now contribute to Shutterstock. My minimum royalty there is US$0.33. It’s not much per download, but it is 16 times higher than iStock is paying on some downloads. iStock is paying contributors much lower royalties per download than the other major microstock agencies.

What’s the Implication of Paying Contributors so Little?

At the level of an individual contributor – the implication for me is that it no longer makes financial sense to contribute images to iStock which have any cost of production. That means I only contribute content that has cost me nothing to produce.

All my other content goes to other agencies where there is a greater financial reward for the contributor.

Again, let’s pause and let that settle in.

Melbourne lifestyle

My stock photography has focused on lifestyle content in the last 3 years. I don’t upload it to iStock as the financial returns are not there.

Other contributors will be in the same boat. I expect that iStock – previously the market leader in microstock – is becoming a dumping ground for contributors of low cost of production images. That’s not likely to make any difference to the iStock collection or business in the short term. But in the long term, iStock risks being the low quality, low price image library. I presume you’ll need to do massive volumes to make that business model work.

Contributor Reporting

An outcome of the royalty structure is that iStock contributors see a major delay in reporting. We get visibility of what content has been licensed at what prices on the 20th of the following month. So for August sales, I see reports on the 20th of September.

Mark, I imagine Getty Images has a monthly board meeting in the middle of each month. I imagine financial results are tabled at that meeting plus management commentary for the previous month. Can you see the irony here?

While Getty Images reviews the previous month’s financial results, contributors are still waiting for their financial reports.

To compound the issue for iStock – your competitors are miles ahead in this area. Each time one of my files is licensed on Shutterstock I get instant notification on my smart phone. It tells me which image was downloaded, what my royalty was, and the total amount Shutterstock now owe me.

The process I take to receive the same information on iStock is – wait until the 20th of the following month to receive data. Then, I download a text file. I save it to my computer desktop. Then I upload it to Qhero stats function to see what has sold for what amounts.

Shutterstock is leaving iStock behind by making it easier for contributors to run their business.

New Content Visibility

When I look at the Qhero stats functionality I see it is mainly my old files which customers are licensing. I’m not getting a return on recent files, which is a major disincentive to upload new content. You can read more about that in this post iStock Shutterstock Comparison.

iStock has identified issues with ‘search freshness’ but there is no evidence that it is taking action. The lack of sales of recent content is a further disincentive for contributors to add fresh material.

Melbourne lifestyle

My new stock content is going to other stock libraries, not iStock

Priorities to Make iStock Great Again

I have more than 10,000 files on iStock so I have a vested interest in seeing that business succeed. As the Getty family take majority ownership and full control, these are my suggestions for priorities to make iStock great again.

Priority 1 – Align the Interests of Contributors with iStock. When a customer licences an image (who’s copyright belongs to the contributor) there must be a financial benefit to the contributor as well as to Getty / iStock. Please don’t suggest that US$0.02 is a fair financial benefit to the contributor.

Priority 2 – Get Serious about Reporting for Contributors. Ironically, iStock doesn’t have a business without contributors content. We are partners. iStock need my content, and I need iStock’s distribution strength. If you want me to produce current, fresh content, you are going to need to build reporting which supports that.

Priority 3 – Find Ways to Reward High Quality Content. The first 2 priorities are the necessary first steps. Priority 3 must be finding ways to reward high quality content. I can tell you directly that I won’t invest in paying models, hiring venues, and paying assistants to receive US$0.02 per download. If the iStock team think back to the high quality collections of the past (Vetta and Signature+) these were real incentives for contributors to excel.

Priority 4 – Clarify the Business Model. iStock is getting confused as to whether it is an image library for royalty free content, or a broker of contract work between customers and contributors. The Custom Content initiative would not be happening if the core stock photography model worked better for contributors and customers. I see this as a distraction from iStock’s core business.

Conclusion

Mark, I genuinely want the iStock business to be successful – and much more successful than it is now. I would love to be proudly telling people I’m an iStock contributor. That’s not the case today, and I fear that the current trajectory means poor outcomes for contributors in the short term, and for the iStock business model in the medium term.

I hope the Getty family taking majority ownership and full control is an opportunity to steer the ship on a new course.

Kind regards,

Craig Dingle”

Note, I don’t really expect Mark to read this content, nor to respond. But I hope that it is helpful for photographers considering stock photography options to understand the current market and make decisions appropriate for their goals. Thanks for reading this letter to Mark Getty from an iStock contributor.

How to Ruin Potential Sales

Lately I seem to be particularly sensitive to poorly targeted promotions which leave me feeling like a number rather than a client or partner. I’ve called this post ‘how to ruin potential sales’ as the people who send me these promotions are ruining their chance of me buying from them.

So What Are We Talking About?

Yesterday I received an email promotion from qHero. If you aren’t familiar with qHero – they are a business which offer services for stock photographers. I have been using qHero to upload stock images to iStockphoto since early 2017. More recently they started offering a stats feature and a retouching service. You can read about that in this post – qHero Stats Feature.

Flinders Street

I shoot a lot of Melbourne lifestyle stock content, so am a potential customer to qHero retouching service

What Was the Content?

Taken directly from the email, here is the offer from qHero.

“Retouching Special – 50% Off

With the summer over us, we feel that at least you should get to enjoy the sun. We know how much time and effort retouching takes, and it seems even longer during the summer. Whether the time is spent on managing retouchers inhouse or outsourced, or even worse doing the retouching yourself, it is guaranteed to keep you out of the sun.

We offer you 50% off on up to 200 files in retouching.

Convert the time saved from retouching, into time in the sun, makes it an easy choice. We are happy because we get to show you how awesomely easy it is to manage retouching directly in the tool you use already for uploading.

All you have to do is to use the promo code XXXXXXXX when ordering. This promo is valid until August 31st 2018, and as always we would love to hear what you think after trying our retouching service.”

Why is This Going to Ruin Potential Sales

This is going to ruin potential sales as it is poorly targeted!

I live in Melbourne, Australia where it is currently mid winter. It’s dark, cold and wet. At this time of year we spend more time indoors, and I spend some of that time doing post production work.

The idea of “convert time saved from retouching into time in the sun” is a nice idea, but would require me to book airline tickets and head to the airport! Hello Queensland or Fiji!

weather Melbourne

Today was a maximum of 12 degrees celsius in Melbourne. It’s not exactly summery right now!

What’s My Take Out from the qHero Email

I understand that the bulk of qHero customers will be in the northern hemisphere where it is currently summer. However, as they’ve sent me a summer promotion in the middle of winter it leaves me to think:

  • they don’t care about customers in the southern hemisphere
  • qHero don’t want customers in the southern hemisphere
  • they don’t have much attention to detail. (It would be ironic not have much attention to detail for a retouching service!)
  • although I have 10,000+ images at iStock and have uploaded more than 300 batches of images through qHero, I am just another ‘anonymous user’ to them

So, unfortunately qHero have ruined the chance of a sale by sending me a poorly targeted email promotion.

What Can We Learn

I am a believer that every business, big and small, can learn from experiences like this. I run a one person photography business, and many of the readers of Beyond Here are also running one person creative businesses. We have an advantage over big businesses because all of our customers are local. There’s no chance of me sending a summer promotion to a customer in mid winter (unless they have moved overseas without me knowing!) While it’s not likely that local businesses can make this ‘mistake’ there are lessons to learn.

Female tram traveller

Right now it’s cold in Melbourne. People are wearing coats and hats. Not quite the right time for a summer promotion email

Key Take Outs

I see three key take outs from this experience.

Number 1 – Personalize offers where possible. Being offered a summer promotion in the middle of winter tells me this is a mass mailing to a large number of people. Immediately I know that it is not targeted to me. Small business owners who really know their customers won’t make this mistake.

Number 2 – Know your customer. In this case, it seems qHero haven’t taken the time to really know their customer. I can’t remember whether I provided location information when I signed up for their upload service. I expect I didn’t. But I have uploaded more than 300 batches of images to iStock through qHero ….. and more than 290 of those batches would have the keyword “Australia”. A similar number would have the keywords “Melbourne” and “Victoria”. It would be fair to assume that I live in Australia based on those numbers. And right now in Melbourne it’s definitely not summer.

Number 3 – Don’t treat everyone the same. This point is similar to point 1 where we can learn to personalize offers. I wonder if qHero segmented their users based on how often they upload through qHero? or how many batches they upload? It feels to me like they didn’t, and that reinforces the lesson – don’t treat everyone the same.

The Wrap Up

I hope there are some key messages in here which will help your business and will make sure you don’t ruin potential sales. If you have had a similar experience, please share it in the comments. And finally, if the good people at qHero ever read this post, I think your upload and stats services are great. In your promotions I’m much more likely to buy something if you make me feel like a client or a partner. Thanks for reading ‘How to Ruin Potential Sales’.

Would You Give Your Images Away for Free

Every once in a while I receive an email asking to use one of my images for free. This happened earlier this week. The email was from a conservation organisation doing work to protect endangered species of animals. The request was to use one of my tree kangaroo images. I wonder, would you give your images away for free?

Here’s what happened

The email request provided me a link to the organisations website. I’m interested in issues around conservation so I took time to check out their site. They seem to be doing good work, and certainly had a very functional and well presented website.

tree kangaroo

This is a Goodfellows Tree Kangaroo. I don’t know if this is the image they were referring to.

There were 2 interesting things about this request:

  1. All my requests for free use of images come from animal welfare and conservation organisations. That may be because I have a lot of animal images available through image libraries. Or it may be that they have found that asking for ‘free use’ often gets a positive response, and they can save money this way. Who knows?
  2. They didn’t attach the image they wanted to use. Most requests do include the image they have found and want to use. I’m not sure if I’m too cynical, but this makes me suspicious. I do wonder whether this was a genuine request from an organisation doing good work, or was a copy and paste effort sent to hundreds of photographers?

So, my dilemma was what to do. Would you give your images away for free?

My Views

I have come across this situation before, and my opening stance is not to give images away for free. It’s not in my interests, and it’s not in the interests of other photographers. I have made exceptions in the past, but my opening position is that the user should be paying for images.

My Response

Here is my email response:

“Hi XXXXXX,

Thanks very much for your email. I checked out your website – congratulations on the fantastic work you are doing.

It’s good to hear you are going to feature the Goodfellows Tree Kangaroo. I follow the conservation efforts for them, particularly the work XXXXXX are doing with communities in Papua New Guinea.

In terms of images – I’m glad to hear you like one of mine. I hope you’ll understand that as a professional photographer I rely on royalties from licencing images to support my family, so I can’t provide it for free.

That said, I have many tree kangaroo images available to licence very inexpensively on iStockphoto. This link will take you there XXXXXXXXX

It should display prices in the local currency where ever you are. In Australian dollars it costs $13 for an individual image. If you need multiple images look at the one month subscription which lets you download 10 images for $40 (you can cancel after one month if you don’t have ongoing image needs).

I hope this helps.

Very best wishes for your work. I’ve signed up for the email updates and will look forward to the piece on Goodfellows Tree Kangaroos.

Regards

Craig”

money theme

Subscription programs make stock images affordable. I felt I did the right thing introducing this organisation to an image library where they can licence images cost effectively.

How would you handle this situation?

I feel like I’ve done the right thing by myself and other photographers. I also hope the organisation feel I’ve done the right thing by them – by introducing them to a cost effective way to licence images. The final piece of this story is just to add that my reply was sent 5 days ago. I haven’t had any response.

What do you think? Would you give your images away for free?

iStock Shutterstock Comparison

Regular readers of Beyond Here will know I have been a long time contributor to microstock. How long exactly? Well, this month takes me past 10 years of selling through microstock sites. For many of those years I was an exclusive contributor at iStock. I moved away from iStock exclusivity 6 months ago as I explained in this post Why I Dropped iStock Exclusivity. Since then I have primarily been building the Melbourne Stock Photos content. I’ve also been submitting my generic content to iStock and Shutterstock and that leads to this iStock Shutterstock Comparison.

Melbourne tourism

My Melbourne content is being uploaded to Melbourne Stock Photos

iStock Shutterstock Comparison 1 – Ease of Upload

I upload to iStock through qHero, and to Shutterstock through the Shutterstock contributor website. Both are intuitive, well designed processes which are straightforward to use. I like the keywording tools that both provide, and overall they are both easy to use. Well done iStock and Shutterstock. For me, one is not better than the other, they are just slightly different.

iStock Shutterstock Comparison 2 – Review Times

Ok. Review times is where we start to see a signficant difference. This week I uploaded the exact same content to both sites. (I find it interesting to see how the same content performs on the respective sites).

Keep in mind this is not an exhaustive, well researched comparison. This is just what I experienced this week. So what has happened? Shutterstock have reviewed my content within 4 hours for each of my uploads this week. iStock has been variable. The fastest has been 3 days, and the longest is still waiting to be reviewed after 5 days.

While it’s not likely to have a significant bearing on the long terms performance of those files, it is nice to see work being reviewed promptly. Well done Shutterstock.

iStock Shutterstock Comparison 3 – Getting New Content Live

Comparison point 3 leads on from point 2. Reviewing files promptly is important, but getting them live on the database and making sales is what really counts.

This is an area where Shutterstock seem to excel. Last night I had 4 files reviewed within 2 hours, and a sale made 1 hour later. I was surprised, as the content was not ‘news worthy’ but just solid stock material. This is not the first time this has happened, and Shutterstock appear to be excellent at getting new content in front of buyers. Well done Shutterstock.

Woman on horse

I am uploading my generic stock images to both iStock and Shutterstock

iStock Shutterstock Comparison 4 – Minimum Download Royalties

Today I received my monthly sales report from iStock. It was reasonably depressing reading with a minimum royalty received of USD$0.14. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so down beat, as I’ve received royalties as low as $0.06 in recent months from iStock.

At Shutterstock my minimum royalty per download comes from their subscription program and sits at USD$0.33 This is still a very low amount and I am going to have to have a lot of downloads to make any meaningful returns, but it is a long way ahead of what I am receiving from iStock.

Well done again Shutterstock. (If this post makes it through to Shutterstock head quarters – how about raising that minimum amount? Not just once, but year after year. Photographers would love you for it. You heard it here, you heard if first from one bloke down at the bottom of the world in Melbourne, Australia!)

iStock Shutterstock Comparison 5 – Sales Reporting

If you are a current iStock contributor you’ll have been seeing little progress with iStock’s sales reporting. Today I received my monthly sales report in text file format. Thankfully I can now upload the file to qHero to turn the data into something more meaningful. Unfortunately that ‘something more meaningful’ highlights to me the issues iStock have in getting new material in front of buyers. My old content continues to sell well, while my content from the last 12 months leaves me scratching my head and wondering if I will ever recoup the money invested in those shoots.

Shutterstock on the other hand have excellent reporting.

When a sale is made I receive notification on my smart phone. This shows me which file was sold, how much the royalty will be, and the current balance which Shutterstock are due to pay me. Excellent and immediate reporting. Well done Shutterstock.

It’s been very interesting for me to experience the Shutterstock process after nearly 8 years as an iStock exclusive contributor. The ultimate comparison will be which site has stronger sales and highest total royalty income. When I compare the tools available to contributors and my experience this week, Shutterstock is shining.

Thanks for reading iStock Shutterstock Comparison. Happy shooting!

Sneak Preview New Stock Photography Site

Happy 2018 to all Beyond Here readers! I hope you’ve had an enjoyable time over Christmas and New Year and are ready for the photography year ahead. Let’s start 2018 with a sneak preview of a new stock photography site.

What’s this all about?

Regular readers of Beyond Here will know I am a big fan of the stock photography model. A well planned and executed shoot can generate the photographer an income for many years into the future (read Why I Shoot Stock to catch up on some of this thinking). But stock photography has changed. I was an exclusive contributor with iStockphoto for nearly 8 years before deciding that the exclusive model was not working for me (see Why I Dropped iStock Exclusivity). I was investing more into each shoot, and seeing lower royalties per download. That’s not a recipe for success unless your download numbers are growing very strongly.

Woman and tram

Melbourne Stock Photos is a niche site providing specific content

So Where to From Here?

As part of my decision to drop iStock exclusivity I considered where iStock seemed to be heading. Quality standards have dropped. Large numbers of files are coming in. High quality images are getting lost among thousands of low quality images.

That strikes me as providing a great opportunity for an image library that goes in the opposite direction, swims against the tide of low quality images, and instead maintains high quality standards. (It makes me think of the success that Stocksy is having with a high quality model.)

What does the current state mean for microstock photography customers?

Microstock customers are spending a long time searching through thousands of images to find the ones they need. They are swamped with low quality images. Image buyers are spending more time looking for what seems like the needle in the haystack. They can’t be sure the image is of good quality or even in focus.

So what about the new stock photography site?

The points above have prompted me to build an image library.

We’ve been working on it for the last quarter and will launch in the next few weeks. You can find it at Melbourne Stock Photos. It is a niche site specializing in lifestyle images of Melbourne, Australia. We are aiming for it to be the high quality source of Melbourne lifestyle images. It will save customers time searching through thousands of images at microstock sites.

Customers will be able to request specific content. In a radical, old fashioned way, they can email or call with content requests. They can have a relationship with Melbourne Stock Photos and not just a transaction. We’re going to partner with our customers to provide the content they need, and save them hours hunting around on microstock sites.

Our launch content has a small number of images. We have a small team of photographers shooting new material and will build our content month by month. Melbourne Stock Photos will never compete on scale or breadth with the large stock photo sites, but it will provide a specialist site with high quality content.

Melbourne is a fabulous city and it should have a fabulous image library to help promote it to the world. Melbourne Stock Photos is aiming to be that library.

Thanks

Thanks to Nicola, Tim, Teri, Julie, CK, and Greg for the skills and experience they’ve brought to this adventure already. Special thanks to Alison for leading the IT work – she’s been critical to getting us this far!

Your Sneak Preview

We will be launching the site in the next few weeks. I wanted to give Beyond Here readers a sneak preview of the new stock photography site. Go ahead and check out Melbourne Stock Photos. I’d welcome any comments, feedback, or suggestions. Here’s to a great 2018!

5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018

As 2017 draws to a close I have been giving thought to what the new year will bring in the fast changing world of stock photography. Stock photography makes up a considerable portion of my business, and it’s a part of the industry which has changed significantly in the last 5 years. It’s now possible to shoot stock images on your phone and upload them to your image library immediately. There’s options to shoot news worthy current events and upload them while the event is still happening. And there’s the inevitable decline of studio shots on a plain white background (thank goodness!). I’ve wrapped up my thoughts into 5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018 and outlined what we, as photographers, can do to make the most of these trends.

Prediction #1. The Major Image Libraries are going to Continue to Compete on Scale and Price.

When I say the major image libraries, I’m referring to the big microstock players like iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime and Adobe. Their business models are built around offering a huge number of files in one place.

SelfieFor customers, this can be good as they can get all of their image needs in one place. For photographers, it can be very difficult to make your images show up in this vast sea of high volume and low quality images.

Photographers who want to compete using the major microstock libraries to distribute their images will need to keep production costs low and volumes very high. (That sounds like a path to hard work and limited creativity to me).

Prediction #2. Subscription Programs are Going to Continue to Drive Prices Down.

Subscriptions have major benefits for image libraries. With the customer paying the same amount per month, the image library can accurately predict their income in future months. And of course if the customer doesn’t use all of their subscription for the month, most libraries are keeping the customers money and not having to pay a royalty to photographers for that month. That can make it a profitable business for the image libraries.

Subscriptions are very attractive to image libraries and they compete aggressively, particularly to win large clients. Unfortunately subscriptions have also driven down the royalty received per download by photographers.

For the photographer to do well financially in this model – again they will need to keep production costs down and volumes very high. Urrrggghhh.

Prediction #3. Customers are Going to Demand a Better Solution

Predictions #1 and #2 are an extension of the current trends in the stock photography market. It is leading to an influx of ‘low production value’ images. And that influx is in high volumes. Photographers are adding more images in the hope of making up for the reduced royalty per download.

santa hat

Customers are no longer looking for generic images

So where’s this all heading? It is making it harder and harder for customers to find the type of image they need in a short time period. They are getting frustrated with the amount of time it takes to find the image to meet their needs. It’s only going to get worse as the large libraries pass 15 million, then 20 million, then 25 million files.

I’m predicting we will see continued frustration for customers, leading to them looking for alternative solutions.

Prediction #4. There Will be Growing Demand for Authentic Stock Images

What do I mean by ‘authentic stock images’? Several years ago there was a time when a ‘generic’ stock image was enough for a buyer. A generic image would help tell their story. We are seeing those days rapidly pass, with much less demand for studio shots on a white background. What are we seeing instead? We are seeing demand for ‘real life’ settings and ‘real life’ people. We are talking about much less of ‘beautiful models in studios’ and much more ‘everyday people in everyday situations’. I recently heard a saying which sums up this trend – less perfection, more authenticity.

What can photographers do to capitalize on this? Shoot images which communicate ‘less perfection, more authenticity’ and you’ll see your downloads grow.

Prediction #5. The Rise of the Niche Image Library

Prediction #3 says customers are going to look for alternative solutions to their image buying needs. They no longer want to wade through thousands of images to find the one they need. And unfortunately, the major libraries have a lot invested in their current solutions. I predict we are going to see customers, in growing numbers, rejecting those solutions and looking elsewhere.

And where will that be? It will be with niche image libraries. Libraries which don’t offer every image type – but they do offer high quality, relevant images for their niche.

What type of niche am I talking about? It could be anything. It could be country specific. I have started uploading my own files to a library which specializes in Australian content – you can read more about my rationale for moving away from the microstock sites here. It could be industry specific (like tradespeople, or mining, or healthcare). It could be content specific (like wildlife photography).

And these libraries will charge higher prices than the large microstock players do.

Coffee shop

Less perfection, more authenticity. Real people in real situations.

How will niche libraries justify higher prices? By saving customers time in looking for the images they need. Customers will save time using multiple websites from niche libraries. They’d rather do that than spending hours wading through pages and pages of images with the large microstock players. And with higher prices come higher royalties for photographers. And with higher royalties comes more money to invest in shoots, which leads to greater creativity, which leads to better images.

Ultimately it will lead to niche libraries having unique and superior content to the big volume libraries.

How can photographers benefit from this prediction? I’m convinced that niche players and higher prices are the way forward. Photographers would do well to research who those niche libraries are and begin a relationship with them. If you shoot wildlife images, start looking at the niche wildlife libraries. If you shoot urban lifestyle images, look at niche libraries that specialize in this content. You get the idea.

As an aside – how might the major microstock players benefit from this trend? They could be the source of disruption to their own business! Rather than wait for a niche player to grow and get traction, the major players could start niche libraries themselves. Much like the major airlines launched ‘low-cost’ off shoots in the late 1980’s, the major image libraries have the expertise and resources to start the niche libraries themselves. (If you are a Getty Images executive reading this – remember you heard it here first! From one bloke down at the bottom of the world in Melbourne, Australia. Your choices are to watch others do this, or lead the change. Be bold. Disrupt your own business model).

2018 is going to be another challenging year in stock photography. Thanks for reading 5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018. We’ll check back in 12 months and see how accurate they were! Happy shooting.

 

Why I Dropped iStock Exclusivity

This year has been one of big change at leading microstock site iStockphoto. I’ve written about that in many posts. On my recent holiday, as I planned for the future of my business, I had to rethink my position with iStock. That has lead me to cancelling my exclusive contributor status. Here is why I dropped iStock exclusivity.

It is never just one thing which leads to a decision like this. Here are the 5 reasons, starting with number 5 and building to number 1.

palace

Next year will bring a new dawn in the stock photo side of my business

Reason 5 – iStock does not provide photographers with up to date, easy to use statistics.

What am I talking about? I’m really talking about live sales data so that photographers can see what is selling at the time it sells. It is frustrating to wait until the monthly sales report to see what is popular with buyers. If sales were growing strongly and I had faith this would improve, then this alone is not a big deal. But I don’t have that faith and it’s annoying not to have live data.

Reason 4 – it is harder and harder to get images into the Signature+ collection.

Getting images into S+ allows them to be mirrored onto the Getty Images site. Being on GI means your images are available to more potential buyers. Earlier this year I had a lot of files accepted into S+. In recent months, with similar quality content I have had none accepted. It feels like Getty have changed the requirements without informing photographers. It’s hard to justify spending money on shoots when there is no guideline for acceptance into S+. Fewer files in S+ means lower royalty income.

Reason 3 – iStock is almost giving photographers work away.

In my most recent sales month I had 450 downloads of my images. That sounds ok on the surface. Dig a little deeper and we see that for 200 of those downloads I received less than US$1 per download. This is connected to the rise of subscriptions for buyers. I’m not against subscriptions and have actually written about why subs might be good – but when I received US$0.12 in royalty for a download last month that was the final straw. iStock and Getty need to rethink their approach to subs so that the image copyright owner (the photographer) might get some benefit. Currently all the benefit is with the client and the image library.

umbrellas

My personal outlook for iStock exclusive contributors remains gloomy

Reason 2 – new files are buried.

iStock recently introduced some enhanced reporting. I wrote about that in this post, iStock Contributor Statistics Progress. What the reporting does show me is that new files are not getting seen by buyers. It is very clear that the 1700+ new files I have added this year are not getting in front of buyers. iStock have recognized this by looking at issues around ‘search freshness’. This is ongoing. I’m not confident this will improve outcomes for new files as the collection is already so large. With little value coming from newer files, that makes it hard to invest in new shoots.

Reason 1 – the big one – monthly royalty income continues to fall.

Today I have over 10,300 files on iStock. In 2012, I had 4,000 files. Wonder how my royalty income compares? Today, my monthly royalty is roughly half what it was in 2012. Yes, with two and a half times more files, my royalty income is half. Income falling, new images not getting in front of buyers, and no useful stats to understand performance – I think you can see why I dropped iStock exclusivity.

So where does this leave iStock?

I don’t imagine my move to drop exclusivity will make any difference at iStock. But if my experience is replicated by others, eventually iStock will have less and less exclusive content. With less exclusive content they will only have 2 areas to compete on – price and website functionality. I expect price will be the main driver. That will be good for buyers and very bad for photographers. That’s a risky strategy for iStock and only time will tell whether they ‘win’ by selling the same content that is on other sites at low prices.

What else?

It is interesting to see other photographers making similar decisions. When I started contributing to iStock in 2008 one of my ‘heroes’ was Nicole Young. She had a great range and quality of images in her portfolio. This blog post she wrote back in 2014 sums up many of my own views – I just wish I’d come to the decision back in 2014 when she did! See Nicole’s post  Why I Canceled Exclusivity with iStock.

So, iStock contributors they are the reasons why I dropped iStock exclusivity. What is your experience? How does your monthly income compare to previous years?

 

Six Great Reminders from this Stock Photo Shoot

Regular readers of Beyond Here will know I have been shooting an extended series on Melbourne lifestyle for my stock photo portfolio with iStockphoto and Getty Images. This winter I’ve stepped up my effort in this series and am building a wide range of material. Of course, not all shoots go fantastically well – but last weekend’s was excellent and has prompted me to write about the six great reminders from this stock photo shoot.

Before I take you through the six great reminders from this stock photo shoot you may like to check out other posts related to this series. You can find them at City Stock Photo Shoot Explained and Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional.

So, let me tell you about this shoot. It was conducted early on a Saturday morning. We met at 8am on a cold but sunny winter day. First of all, we completed the model release, made payment to the model and then sat and discussed the shoot. From there we walked (and talked!) and shot various concepts around Melbourne city. And here are the six great reminders from this stock photo shoot.

Woman in Melbourne

Alicia arrived wearing a hat and scarf which communicate a strong winter theme

Great Reminder 1. Wardrobe is Really Important to Communicate a Message. For most of the shoots in this series I’ve encouraged the models to dress like they were going for a day in the city with friends. When Alicia arrived wearing a scarf and beanie it immediately communicated a winter theme. I like that it anchors these images to winter. Here in Melbourne we don’t think it gets very cold in winter, but the rest of Australia think we freeze. The wardrobe in these images help to communicate the message that it does get cold in winter, and it is still possible to have an active, vibrant outdoor life at this time of year. Nice work on wardrobe Alicia!

Great Reminder 2. Facial Expressions Can Really Make or Break Stock Images. Some models struggle to communicate a message with their facial expression. Others, like Alicia, really get this concept and can pull off a wide range of different facial expressions. This provides great variety in the images, and allows the photographer to shoot different themes with different messages. Another great job Alicia!

Melbourne laneways

Location helps communicate the essence of the city. Here we explore Melbourne laneways.

Great Reminder 3. Location Helps Capture the Essence. Melbourne is well known for its lane ways which are often full of shops, bars and cafes. Taking time to shoot in these locations helps to really capture the essence of the city. In this case, shooting in the small backstreets on a Saturday morning meant we could shoot a range of images which show Alicia exploring this part of the city. Because it was early morning there were not many people around which makes it easier to capture images without people in the background.

Great Reminder 4. Don’t Shoot All Images with the Model Smiling. Alicia has a great smile, and I encouraged her to smile more. But, some of the strongest images in this shoot came when she was looking thoughtful or pensive or bored! For those shooting stock, keep in mind that the broader range of messages you can incorporate into your images, the more likely your images are to be purchased. Encourage your model to express how they feel, but don’t shoot all your images with the model smiling.

Serious

Happy, smiley images have their place. Expand your potential market by also shooting different facial expressions.

Great Reminder 5. Exploring and Shooting Your Own City is Cool. I know the Melbourne CBD area quite well and enjoy walking around creating images which capture the essence of the city. In this shoot we walked around some areas I know well, and it is fun and challenging to find new ways to shoot in familiar areas. Don’t be afraid to explore new parts of your city, but equally, don’t be afraid to revisit familiar areas and shoot them in a different way.

Great Reminder 6. Shooting Stock Images Can be a lot of Fun. Within 20 minutes of starting this shoot, experience told me that this was going to be a successful range of images. Alicia is a very natural model. She also took interest in the images we were creating, and where we hadn’t got it quite right she was happy to re-shoot that image before we moved on. This shoot lasted 2 hours where we walked a lot, talked a lot, shot a lot, rode on the tram, and before I knew it the 2 hours was up. It was a very fun 2 hours, with a very capable model, and I now have a wide range of Melbourne lifestyle images to add to my stock portfolio.

Thanks for reading six great reminders from this stock photo shoot. I hope it is helpful for your own shoots. Best wishes.

Five Months After iStock Unification

The end of this month marks 5 months since the iStock unification with Getty Images (you can read more about that process here). Where I live in Melbourne, Australia the end of this month also marks the end of the financial year which is a good time to assess the changes at iStock. So here it is – a review, five months after iStock unification.

I’ve divided this up to consider key elements of being an iStock contributor.

Element 1 – The File Upload Process. Prior to February 2017 there were 2 main ways to upload – either directly through the iStock site or via an application called DeepMeta. I had always uploaded directly to the iStock site. Since unification with Getty Images there are now three main ways to upload – via DeepMeta, via qHero or directly into the Getty Images ESP site. I have been using qHero and find it a very easy and efficient way to submit files. I consider the upload process an improvement on the old way.

happy

qHero is an easy and efficient uploading tool

Element 2 – Key wording. Key wording your stock images can be an arduous process. I find keywording batches of files in qHero very easy and again would consider this an improvement.

Element 3 – Inspection Times. The time taken to review files have been a major step forward since the unification. As an exclusive contributor my files are often reviewed within minutes of being uploaded. In the last 5 months I can’t recall any file taking more than 12 hours to review. This is an improvement. So have these 3 elements have been an improvement – good job Getty Images and iStock! Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends.

Element 4 – Downloads. Yes, this is what we are submitting files to microstock sites for – to have users download our images and to generate an income. My total number of uploads has increased thanks to the easy to use upload process using qHero. My download numbers have remained static. That’s a little disappointing but I’m trusting that those downloads will come. My experience is one of not improving or declining since unification.

Element 5 – Download Statistics. iStock used to offer real time reporting of downloads and royalties and the ability to request payment once per week. This was great for contributors but is unfortunately a thing of the past. Today we get payment once per month, and the reporting is vastly inferior to what was offered 5 years ago. Unfortunately whatever money was saved in the unification process has not yet been funneled into better reporting for contributors. iStock continue to advise that this is being worked on as a matter of high priority, but as at today, this remains a point of frustration for contributors. Currently this is inferior to what was offered before unification.

Market

Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne

Element 6 – Royalty Income for Contributors. This refers to my own income only, which is down on last year. That means that despite the improvements for contributors and buyers on the iStock website, my income from iStock is below where it was before unification. That might be driven by changes in the market for stock images, or more likely by the prices being charged to buyers and the corresponding royalty received by contributors. Unfortunately at this point for me, the royalty I’m achieving is below what I was achieving before unification. Many other exclusive contributors are having the same experience. I’m hopeful this situation will reverse and am focusing on contributing more unique content. Time will tell.

Are you an iStock contributor? What is your experience?

Thanks for reading Five Months After iStock Unification.

Thoughts on iStock Exclusivity in 2017

Last week I was asked by a photographer who is new to iStock what my thoughts were on becoming an exclusive photographer. Regular readers of Beyond Here would know that I have been contributing to iStock since 2008, and have been an exclusive photographer since 2010. A lot has changed in stock photography since 2010, and his question forced me to reconsider the issue. Here are my thoughts on iStock exclusivity in 2017.

Firstly, what is iStock? iStock is one of the leading microstock photography agencies. A photographer can submit images, and will receive a royalty each time one of their images is downloaded.

Money

Stock photography can generate a significant ongoing income

So, what is exclusivity on iStock? As a contributor you can choose whether you only upload your images to iStock (this is called being an Exclusive Contributor), or to submit your images to a range of different stock agencies (this is called being an Independent Contributor). Back in 2010 there were minimum criteria to meet before you could become exclusive, but today there are no minimum criteria. It’s just a matter of choosing exclusive or independent.

Why would you choose to be exclusive? For iStock, being able to promote that they have content which is only available on their site is a major selling point. To make that attractive to photographers, iStock offers a high royalty payment if your content is exclusive. For the photographer who asked me the question, he had just been approved as a contributor and so would earn 15% as an independent contributor. If he chose to become an Exclusive Contributor his royalty rate would increase to 25%. (Higher percentages are available as you become more successful up to a maximum of 45%).

Why wouldn’t you choose the higher royalty rate? You wouldn’t choose to become exclusive and earn the higher royalty rate if you were prepared to upload your content to a range of microstock sites, and if you felt this would produce a better financial outcome. While I have chosen to be an exclusive contributor at iStock, thousands of photographers choose to remain independent and submit their content to other sites as well. iStock is not the only game in town.

strategy

I suggested he upload to several sites and rethink his strategy in 6-12 months

After some deliberation, my suggestion to this photographer was that he remain independent and contribute to three other sites in the short term.

Why did I make this suggestion?

  • iStock was a dominant player in the market back in the early 2000’s. It had first mover advantage and rode the success from a large group of loyal contributors many of whom were also buyers. Since iStock was sold to Getty Images there have been numerous changes to the site and the people running iStock. While some changes are for the better, the army of loyal contributors has reduced in size. The roar of the crowd has become more of a whimper, and when the voices do rise in unison it is more often to raise concerns than to cheer for team iStock. While I don’t have market information, I expect iStock is not the major player it was 10 or more years ago.
  • Using different sites will enable him to judge what is best for him. Without knowing exactly what content he was planning to upload, I suggested he remain independent and upload to other sites too. This would enable him to figure out what is going to be the best path for him. He could reassess exclusivity in 6-12 months based on facts from his own performance on different sites.
  • One of the major benefits of iStock exclusivity in years gone by was the preferential treatment exclusive files were given in the search results. The iStock site and back end systems have gone through major changes in 2017 and it appears that exclusive content no longer gets as well placed. That reduces the benefit of being exclusive, and is reflected in my own earnings which are down from recent years.
plan

Many iStock exclusive contributors have had to rethink their plan

While my current year earnings are down, for now I’m choosing to remain an exclusive contributor at iStock. Why? It’s partly my loyalty to iStock after nearly 10 years as a contributor, and it’s definitely because I remain hopeful that iStock and Getty Images will not only realise that exclusive content is the key to their success but that they will also deliver benefits for exclusive contributors. They are my thoughts on iStock exclusivity in 2017. I hope I’m right and iStock can return to its leadership position on the back of the success of it’s exclusive contributors.

I hope “My Thoughts on iStock Exclusivity in 2017” has been useful to you. Best wishes with your stock photography journey.