Tag Archives: shutterstock

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!

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.