Tag Archives: microstock photography

Highs and Lows of Microstock Photography Royalties

This week I received my latest monthly royalty report from leading microstock agency – iStock. It highlighted to me the highs and lows of microstock photography royalties.

So What do I Mean?

Let’s start with the highs. One of my royalties was USD$145 for a single download of one of my images. That’s good news. Especially as the image was shot about 5 years ago and continues to sell. Based on today’s exchange rate, that’s about AUD$200 for a single sale. This type of royalty is uncommon, unfortunately! But when it does happen it is a very nice boost to the overall royalties for the month.


Australian dollars

Occasional big royalties make a significant difference

Now for the lows. One of my downloads generated a royalty of just USD$0.02. I’m really not sure how Getty Images and iStock justify such low royalties. This month I’m glad these small royalties were offset by several large ones.

What Should You Learn from Your Royalties?

I’d suggest not reading too much into individual month royalty amounts. Based on a few large sales, your monthly royalty income can vary significantly from month to month. Making any assumptions based on just one month, or even a small collection of months would be unwise.

So How Should You Assess Progress?

If you are looking for measures which reflect your progress I’d suggest 2 measures are worth looking at.

First is the total number of downloads from month to month. While royalties can vary significantly from month to month, your total download numbers are likely to be much less volatile. There will be seasonal differences in what is downloaded, but the variation in download numbers will not be as dramatic as the variation in royalty amounts.

money

Growing the size and diversity of your portfolio is the only sure way to increase royalties

Second is the total number of files in your portfolio. If you are serious about stock photography you’ll be adding new content regularly. Your number of future downloads – and hence your royalty income – will be determined by the size and diversity of your portfolio. If you want a number you can directly control, measure the number of files in your portfolio and make sure it’s increasing!

What’s the Wrap?

Be happy when the larger royalties come your way. Don’t be too unhappy when they don’t. Keep building your portfolio so that it is large and varied.

Thanks for reading the Highs and Lows of Microstock Photography Royalties. Happy shooting.

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.

What to Expect Starting in Stock Photography

This month I had the opportunity to meet with a new stock photographer. He is excited about the possibilities stock photography presents, and we had a great discussion over nearly 3 hours. It reminded me that stock photography can be overwhelming at first. That’s prompted me to help new stock photographers by outlining what to expect starting in stock photography.

Concept for pay day

Your first pay day from stock photography will take time. Be patient. Keep learning. Keep going.

Beginning in stock photography is straight forward. You get online, open an account, and start uploading. I outlined some of my experiences in this post. If you haven’t already, go ahead and open an account with a micro stock site now. There is a link to shutterstock in the margins of this blog.

Once the account is open, that’s when many photographers let their doubts takeover.

Here are 5 things to expect starting in stock photography and how to deal with them.

Each Micro Stock Sites Upload and Review Process Seems Confusing.

While some are simpler than others, most new stock photographers deal with a level of frustration with the upload and review process. If you expect some frustration and be patient as you learn the process, you will succeed. Remember that thousands of people are uploading to these sites every day. If they can learn how, you can too. Be patient. Persevere. If you need help, ask other contributors to that micro stock site. They have gone through the confusion you are dealing with.

There Will Be Highs and Lows in Your First Year.

Highs and lows might continue well beyond your first year (!) but they are almost guaranteed when you are starting out. There is usually a period of great excitement and optimism when a photographer begins, followed by the realization that stock photography is not ‘easy money’. When the inevitable lows hit, just keep going. Persevere. (There’s that word again!) Don’t let the lows knock out the optimism of the highs. Push forward. Stock photography can provide great rewards, but it does take time and consistent effort.

Other Photographers Work Seems Better Than Your Own.

There is good and bad to looking at other photographers work. The good is that you can be inspired and it can motivate you to shoot better and better stock images. The bad is that you feel like your work is not good enough. Try not to let the negative comparisons overcome you. If the quality of your work keeps improving you will succeed in stock photography.

Sales Will Take Time.

Please don’t expect sales to begin on day 1 and continue every hour. While in theory that is possible, you are likely to experience no sales to begin with. Check that you are applying appropriate keywords, but then remind yourself that it is the image libraries job to make sales. The photographers job is to shoot and upload relevant content. There’s an old stock photographer’s saying which might help you – in good and bad times, shoot, upload, repeat.

You Will Doubt that the Effort is Worth the Reward.

There will come a time when you wonder whether the time and effort is worth the reward. Stock photography is not like a job. You don’t get paid based on the hours you put in. You get paid based on how much useful content you are generating. When that doubt gets to you, remember that all successful stock photographers started in the same way as you – uploading and key wording one image at a time. The more images you upload the more likely you are to have financial success.

letter blocks

Don’t let the doubts get to you. Keep learning, keep working, and success in stock photography will come to you too.

Thanks for reading what to expect starting in stock photography. The first year in stock will be challenging. Keep going. Shoot better and better content. Enjoy the process. Best wishes.

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!

7 Early Lessons Building an Image Library

Over the last 6 months I’ve had a dramatic change in my approach to stock photography. I had been an exclusive contributor to iStock since 2010 and had a portfolio of over 10,000 images producing a steady income. The problem was, the income was steady but not growing in line with my portfolio. I wrote about some of those issues in Why I Dropped iStock Exclusivity. At that time most of my stock photography friends were expecting me to spread my portfolio among the other major stock sites. I saw that being a very similar road to being with iStock, and instead focused on building an image library.

I can probably fill many posts with things I’ve learned on the journey so far – but for this post I have limited it to 7 Early Lessons Building an Image Library.

Lesson 1 – It Can be Done!

The most important point first – it can be done! Selling images via microstock sites is not the only option. Building an image library is an option and can be done.

Encourage

Building an image library can be done!

I went from committing to building it, to having a working website in 10 weeks. I’ve learned a lot on the way and could do it faster and more effectively if I was doing it again. But, coming back to lesson 1, if you are considering an alternative to microstock – building an image library can be done.

Lesson 2 – You Don’t Have to Build from Scratch

When I started seriously considering building an image library I had assumed I would have to build the website functionality from scratch. I assumed I would need to write a brief and have a web developer write the code. Good news, I was wrong!

There are several places where you can buy pre-existing capability which is proven in running other image libraries. So it was not a case of wondering if it would work, but buying the capability and tailoring it to my image library.

It was a big short cut and time saver to find that purchasing existing capability was going to be cheaper and easier than starting from scratch.

Lesson 3 – Knowledge of Hosting and Servers will Help

I had assumed that with some common sense and patience I’d be able to work out what was needed regarding servers and hosting for the new site.

On reflection I would say that is true. I also believe I caused myself unnecessary anxiety and worry by not talking to an expert before I started! My recommendation is to find an expert in this space. They will advise what you need.

Time saver

Getting expert help on the technical side will ultimately save you time and help you sleep better!

Save yourself some sleepless nights by asking an expert about hosting and servers.

Lesson 4 – There’s Value in Taking Time to Set Up Correctly

I decided to create a new company to keep the image library business separate from my photography business. If you haven’t done this before, setting up a new company is a relatively straight forward process which an accountant can help with.

Where’s the lesson here? In my desire to get moving I bought the domain name and registered it under my photography company (not the image library company). My speed in doing that then managed to slow me down. I had to subsequently transfer the web address to the new company, and wait several days for that to happen.

In hindsight it was not a big deal. But next time I would establish the new company first and then purchase the web address.

Lesson 5 – Things Take Time

In lesson 1 I outlined that I went from concept to working website in 10 weeks. Some might think 10 weeks is fast, and others will think it is slow. During this process I have learned that things which I assumed would move very quickly can take time.

Specifically I was surprised that setting up payment functionality through the bank would take time. There was plenty of paperwork involved, followed by review from the bank. There must be processes in the background for a bank to make sure everything is legitimate, but I hadn’t expected it to take several weeks. That’s worth knowing if you are setting up payment functionality on your own website or image library.

The second area which took longer than I expected was the legal agreements. The main ones I needed were a licence agreement for the image buyer, and a photographer agreement for contributing photographers. While from a legal point of view this is fairly straightforward, lawyers are not just waiting around for customers like me. They have a range of (mostly larger) projects on the go, and mine was not the A priority. In future I’ll allow more time for the legals to be completed.

Lesson 6 – User Experience of the Website is Key

I made a mistake in launching too soon without properly considering the user experience on the website. I was anxious to move from “build phase” to “proof of concept” on my business plan, and went live as soon as possible.

Puzzle

User experience is a very important piece of the puzzle

I’ve learned that having a working website is one thing. And having a website which is appealing and intuitive to customers is another. Unfortunately that meant that the first 1000 visitors to the site had a “less than ideal” experience.

Both the look of the site and the functionality are now much improved. This will be something we continue to develop. My recommendation is don’t be too anxious to launch. Invest time in making sure your site looks great and is intuitive for your user.

Lesson 7 –  Find a Web Developer You Trust

I have complete trust and faith in my web developer. It is so reassuring to know that the person on the other end of many emails and text messages is completely trust worthy and working to make the website a success. Nothing seems to have been too much of a problem despite there being lots of things to work on some weeks, and nothing to work on in others (thanks Alison!). Having a web expert you completely trust is great for peace of mind.

I have lots more lessons learned on this journey already which I will save for other posts. Thanks for reading 7 Early Lessons Building an Image Library. If you’d like to check out progress, please head over to Melbourne Stock Photos.

 

qHero Stats Feature

Since early 2017 I have been using qHero to upload images to iStockphoto. It is a very easy to use application (and it also makes the key wording process straight forward). In February 2018 they have announced 2 enhanced features. The first is that they now offer a retouching service. To me, that was interesting but it is not a service I plan to use. And this week they have announced a qHero stats feature.

Now the qHero stats feature is very interesting! Regular readers of Beyond Here and iStock contributors will know that providing good reporting has been lacking on iStock for several years now. (It seems strange that 10 years ago when I first started contributing to iStock you could tell in real time what was selling. 10 years on and now the contributor only finds out at the end of each month what has sold.) That’s not a great experience for a contributor and is one of the reasons why I dropped iStock exclusivity.

help

The qHero stats feature is a big help in analyzing the performance of my iStock files

The qHero stats feature doesn’t provide real time stats, but it is very easy to use and does provide useful information.

How to set up the qHero stats feature?

  • Step 1 – you need to be a qHero user. If you aren’t already, set up your free account on qHero.
  • Step 2 – at the top right of the screen is an option to choose stats, profile or logout. Click on the stats options.
  • Step 3 – you are now in the qHero stats feature. In the top left is a button to “upload sales reports”. These are the reports which you first need to download from Getty Images ESP site. It is a very simple process to download the text file from ESP (under My Performance / Royalties / Export). Save it somewhere on your PC, and then upload the text file to qHero. It is that simple – it took me less than 5 minutes to do that for all data since beginning of 2017.
  • Step 4 – you are now set up with your sales data in the qHero stats feature. Easy.
Woman

If I upload my shoots in batches I can tell at a glance how each is performing using qHero stats feature

What does the qHero stats feature tell me?

The qHero stats feature immediately calculates from your data – the number of downloads, and then provides analysis for each batch you’ve uploaded. That includes the $ return per batch, return per file, and return per download. Reports are available for ‘all time’, ‘last month’, ‘this year’, and you can also create custom reports.

At a glance the data tells me immediately:

  • What is selling and what isn’t
  • How much I’ve earned from an individual batch
  • Which batch is earning higher or lower amounts

And that insight immediately helps me to focus on producing the type of content which is producing the best returns. Nice!

service

qHero stats feature is a step forward in service for it’s users

Any weaknesses of the qHero stats feature?

I’ve just started using this feature and I see immediately:

  • the data is split by files uploaded using qHero and ‘other’. If you have always uploaded using qHero this is great as all your data will be available to analyse. I’m a long term iStocker and most of my files were uploaded before qHero existed. So only my more recent files have the useful stats of this feature
  • if you are not a qHero user this is no good to you! So if you were considering using qHero the qHero stats feature is another plus for it.

In summary:

I like the qHero stats feature! It provides immediate insight into the financial return of each shoot, and helps me to focus on producing images with the highest likelihood of a strong financial return. Well done qHero!

 

iStock Increasing Targets for 2018

In late 2017 I decided to give up my iStock exclusive status. That means I now receive a lower royalty rate from my sales on iStock, but I am able to make my images available through other sites. I outlined my rationale in this post.

The royalty rate that iStock exclusive contributors receive is based on their previous year results. The more your files are downloaded the higher royalty rate you receive. In December 2017, the new targets have been announced and you might not be suprised – iStock is increasing targets for 2018.

table of rates

I’ll focus on the photo information as I don’t contribute illustrations and have not submitted any new videos in the last 3 years,

So what does this information mean?

Firstly, as soon as you become an Exclusive artist you will receive a 25% royalty from your sales. Once you pass 550 downloads for the year, you will increase to 30%. That is a straightforward target if you have a reasonable sized portfolio. Then it starts to get hard. To move up to a 35% royalty you need to have 5,500 of your files downloaded. How hard is that? I have a portfolio of 10,000 images and will finish 2017 with around 4,300 downloads. So 5,500 is going to be difficult for most contributors. And from there the targets sky rocket. To achieve 40% royalty you need 22,000 downloads and to reach 45% you need 330,000 downloads. I would expect very few contributors are at these levels.

How does this compare to the previous years levels?

Achieving the 30% level is straightforward, so the key here is the 35% target. 5,500 downloads is a 10% increase on this years target.

What’s the context?

iStock recently announced that it has added 9.6 million files to it’s database in 2017. That’s likely to be dominated by photos (although iStock does accept other files as well).

How likely is success?

If you are striving to reach the 35% level you will need to achieve 5,500 downloads in an environment where there is a large increase in the number of files available. That is going to make success very difficult.

What to Do?

For a contributor to succeed in this environment they have 3 choices:

  1. Produce very high volumes of images to continue to grow income
  2. Produce very unique images so the influx of other contributors files doesn’t significantly impact them
  3. Look for other alternatives

These announcements from iStock reinforce my view that we are going to see the gradual decline of the micro stock libraries in favor of niche image libraries. Why? In niche libraries the customers will save time by only searching through relevant content, and contributors will be able to get higher royalties per download. I outlined those thoughts in 5 Stock Photography Predictions for 2018.

Plenty of iStock exclusive contributors will stick with the model they know despite iStock increasing targets for 2018. I won’t be one of them. What about you?

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?

 

iStock Contributor Statistics Progress

This year has been one of significant change for one of the leading microstock companies iStockphoto. Having been owned by Getty Images for several years, a lot of the functionality and backend processes have been integrated into Getty Images this year. You can read more about that in these posts – iStock Unification One Week Along and Five Months After iStock Unification. One item that had been outstanding was iStock contributor statistics. In this post I update the iStock contributor statistics progress.

iStock had recognized the need for improved contributor statistics and had committed to delivering something by the end of September 2017. After a very humorous countdown to the big date in the contributor forums, iStock did deliver shortly before the end of the month.

So, if you are an iStock contributor where do you find your contributor statistics?

Head over to ESP (this is the Getty Images contributor site. ESP stands for Enterprise Submission Platform) and log in. Then look for the “My Performance” area and click on the heading which reads “Content Statistics”. Right, now you are in.

Money

Better iStock contributor statistics should lead to better outcomes for photographers, customers, and iStock

What will you find?

Once you enter the Content Statistics area you will find 3 pieces of information for your files based on activity on iStock and Getty Images in the last 30 days. They are:

  1. Views. This is the number of times an asset has been viewed on the asset details page by a registered user.
  2. Interactions. This is the number of times an asset has been added to a board by a registered user.
  3. Countries. This is the number of times an asset has been viewed on the asset details page and added to a board from registered users in a specific country.

What Did I Find?

I have found that the statistics provided are interesting but not particularly useful.

Views tells me what are potential buyers looking at. I have over 10,000 images on iStock and was surprised to find that one photo has 3 times more views than any other individual file. It is an image which has been downloaded many times, and is one I shot 5 years ago. It’s nice to see it is standing the test of time, but disappointing that other files (particularly more recent work) are not receiving more views.

The interactions again is interesting, and I can make assumptions about files being added to a board to be considered and potentially downloaded in the future. That said, the number of files being added to boards is a tiny fraction of my total monthly downloads. That suggests buyers aren’t using boards extensively, and so perhaps it is not giving much insight at all to future downloads.

The countries section gives some insight into where buyers who are interested in your content are based. For my account the top 2 countries were Australia and the United States. I live in Australia, and a lot of my content is Australian, so I expected it to be the highest ranked country. The US is the world’s largest stock photo market and so I expected it to be the second largest. So I really didn’t learn anything new here.

anger

Unfortunately iStock contributor statistics continue to be a source of frustration for contributors

Conclusions

The updated iStock contributor statistics are disappointing and contributors reaction to them indicate I’m not the only one who feels this way. There was no real insight from the data which has been delivered, and no progress towards getting real time data on downloads. Unfortunately contributors still need to wait for their monthly reporting statistics to see what has actually been downloaded and how much royalty the photographer will receive.

Concerns

For my portfolio the statistics have provided confirmation for me that recently uploaded files are not receiving many views. This makes it difficult to justify investment in higher production shoots if the files are not being seen. iStock have recognized this by communicating with contributors that ‘search freshness’ is an issue and they are putting in place some ‘test and learn’ activity to see if it can be improved.

Take out

My personal take out is that Getty and iStock are not really taking contributor statistics seriously. They have delivered something, but it doesn’t enable me as a contributor to get more insight and to be able to turn that into shoots which have greater sales potential.

For long time iStock contributors like me, we can remember when there was real time download and royalty reporting. One contributor summed it up beautifully in a Facebook group post where he said “We used to have real time stats. Everyone loved it. It had to go …”

How are the iStock contributor statistics working for you?