Tag Archives: stock photography

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.

City Stock Photo Shoot Explained

I am shooting an extended stock photography series on Melbourne lifestyle. This is a project that I have been running for 2 years now, and is work that I fit in around client projects. With winter looming my client work slows down, allowing me to shoot more stock.

I’m always surprised when other photographers ask me about how I organise and complete these shoots. So here it is – a city stock photo shoot explained.

Step 1 – Finding Models. I enjoy meeting and shooting with new models. I wrote this post about finding models using ModelMayhem, StarNow, or Facebook groups. For this particular shoot I used StarNow (I wrote about that in StarNow My First Experience) where in excess of 200 models applied to be involved.

Serious hipsterStep 2 – Finding the Right Look. With each application on StarNow comes a link to the models portfolio. While I had a large number of applicants, the StarNow website makes it easy to work through portfolios to decide on the right look for the shoot. In this case, I went for a young, male, hipster look.

Step 3 – Helping the Model Understand the Style of Image. Step 3 involves helping the model understand what type of images I am trying to create and what they should expect in a stock photography shoot. On StarNow there is a messaging service where you can contact the model. I used this to contact some of the shortlisted models and provided links to a lightbox of similar images and a link to a post I wrote called What Models Should Know About Stock Photography Shoots. I also asked the model to get back to me to let me know if they are interested in the shoot now that they have more information.

Step 4 – Organising Shoot Logistics. For this shoot I exchanged messages with the model both on StarNow and via text message. We organised the shoot to be in Melbourne CBD and met at Flinders Street Station – a destination easily accessible by public transport. I planned the locations we would shoot in advance so that we could get variety in the images we produced during this 2 hour shoot.

Man and ParliamentStep 5 – Meeting and Confirming Details. When I first meet the model I like to confirm that the model understands the type of images we are aiming to produce. I often shoot to a brief from iStock and Getty Images, and in this case I went through the brief with the model when we first met. We then completed the model release and sorted out payment. With payment made, model release completed, and a common understanding of the types of images we planned to shoot – we were ready to get started.

Step 6 – Conducting the Shoot. When I do stock photo shoots I like to work closely with the model and to discuss what is, and what isn’t, working. I like to start the discussion and feedback early. So I find a location near where we meet to begin shooting. That enables us to get started promptly and for the model to relax. At this first point I review the images with the model and we discuss what we like and don’t like. This helps create a common understanding and sense of teamwork in the images we produce. From there, we work our way around the different shoot locations, reviewing images together, and re-shooting where necessary. After 2 hours we were done, and another enjoyable stock photo shoot was done.

Step 7 – Post Production and Uploading. I like to download all the images on the same day as the shoot. I then make minor post production edits in Lightroom and upload a handful of images to iStockphoto. This is primarily to make sure I haven’t missed anything on the model release and so I know that the image library will accept both the release and the images.

I have never had a problem with my model releases, but if I do, I’m confident I could go back to the model promptly if I need any further information from them.

This shoot was done on a Saturday. I uploaded 5 images that evening, and they were approved overnight. They were available in my portfolio on the Monday morning. I expect to have between 80 and 120 images in total from this shoot for my stock portfolio. I will edit and upload the remaining images over the next few weeks.

Step 8 – Follow Up with the Model. I like to follow up with the model to thank them for their time and expertise, and for them to be able to see some of the final images. In this case, I text messaged three images to the model the day after the shoot, and posted several to my Instagram account where he could also see them. When the entire shoot is available in my stock photo portfolio I will send him a link so that he can see the final images.

And that is a wrap on this stock photo shoot.

I hope ‘City Stock Photo Shoot Explained’ helps you understand the process I use, and will be useful in planning your own stock photo shoots.

 

StarNow My First Experience

It’s leading into winter here in Melbourne, Australia which is a period where my wedding photography slows down and I spend more time shooting images for my stock portfolio with iStockphoto and Getty Images. In this post I wrote about how to find models for this type of project. In the past I have used ModelMayhem for most of my castings and Facebook groups for others, but I have found them increasingly difficult to get reliable models. For the first time I have posted a casting on StarNow and so this post is to share – StarNow my first experience.

Melbourne tram

I found the listing process challenging but have had a strong response

What is StarNow?

From their website StarNow’s goal is to “connect talent with casting professionals”. It was started by 3 New Zealanders who were living in London, and today their website has a leading position in UK, Australia and New Zealand, and a growing presence in USA, Canada, Ireland and South Africa.

How did the listing go?

In my previous experience with listings on ModelMayhem the process of getting your casting live is intuitive and straight forward. With StarNow it wasn’t – and I should say, that this was the only part of the process which hasn’t been smooth. Everything except this step has been great.

With the casting, the process is not entirely intuitive (at least not for me!) and I didn’t provide all of the information they required. I then received an email from StarNow explaining this, but it wasn’t clear what I needed to do to meet their requirements and get the casting live.

After several emails over 5 days, the issues were resolved and the casting went live. This casting was for a Melbourne lifestyle photo shoot – I plan to do 20 of these shoots over the winter months.

Melbourne

I have had a very positive response with StarNow my first experience

What has the response been?

The response using StarNow has been very strong. After 3 days I have 193 applications giving me a very large selection of models to work with. This is a much stronger response than I have received with my previous listings on ModelMayhem.

With such a large number of good quality applicants the challenge is going to be to select who to work with! This is a really good problem to have and I’m glad I put this listing on StarNow. So that has been StarNow my first experience. If you are looking for models or actors to work with on your next shoot I’d recommend investigating StarNow.

Developing Multiple Photography Income Streams

Reflecting on the week that has just passed, I’m feeling grateful for the range and variety of activities my photography business offers. I don’t like shooting the same type of thing all the time, and this week confirmed for me that I’m making strong progress in developing multiple photography income streams. Let me tell you about that range of activities and see if it is relevant to your own photography business.

So, here it is – the week that was – and the 7 different income streams it produced.

Income Stream 1 – Wedding album. Just before Christmas I shot a lovely church wedding for a couple in Melbourne, Australia. Since then I have delivered their images and canvas prints, and this week I designed their wedding album. I’m pleased to say that this couple are doing it right – they have ordered an album for themselves, and one for each of their families. That’s three albums in total. I’m looking forward to delivering them soon. Developing multiple photography income streams takes time, but this type of printed product (wedding albums) is an obvious extension to my core activity of wedding photography. Do you have the opportunity to add printed products for your existing clients?

(To see more images from this wedding please visit my website at Craig Dingle Photography.)

Bride

Can you create an additional income stream by providing printed products for existing clients?

Income Stream 2 – Corporate Portraits. This week I shot corporate portraits for a local businessman. He is starting a new role and needed images to be added to the company website. I shoot these in my home studio which makes it an easy and convenient job. Does your business come up early in the Google search results for photographers in your area? Do you have resources (like a home studio) that can be used for extra shoots like this? Can you make yourself available at short notice to meet the needs of a client like this?

(If you are interested in creating a shooting space at home, please read How To Build a Home Photography Studio).

Home studio

I shoot both corporate portraits and product shots in my home studio.

Income Stream 3 – Product Photography shoot. I don’t do many product photography shoots, but I have one client (who I met at a wedding) who regularly asks me to shoot images for their website or for advertising purposes. Often it is a short notice request – like this week’s shoot. They needed a small range of images for an advertisement they are preparing. I don’t get a lot of excitement from shooting products, but I like this client a lot, and I appreciate the regular work which comes from them. Are you cultivating regular clients who know they can rely on you?

Income Stream 4 – Uploading Stock Images. I shoot and upload stock images on a regular basis, and although this has been a quiet week, I have been uploading images from a recent shoot. This doesn’t produce any income today, but builds my stock portfolio which will produce an income for years into the future. Can stock photography form part of your business income? Can you utilize down time to build your portfolio and generate a future income?

(I am a strong believer in stock photography to produce a regular income for photography businesses. Read more about that in Why I Shoot Stock).

Businesswoman sitting on the ground

Adding to my stock portfolio helps create a future income stream

Income Stream 5 – Editing Images. This week I was asked by another photographer (and reader of Beyond Here!) to assist with editing her images. It was in a style, and with a tool, which she was not familiar with, and so I have edited the images for her. This is the first time I’ve generated income by editing images for another photographer. I don’t see myself doing this often, but I appreciated the chance to help another photographer deliver a quality outcome for her client.

Income Stream 6 – Selling an E-book. If you are a regular reader of Beyond Here you will know that stock photography makes up a significant part of my photography business income. I wrote an e-book called Build a Five Figure Income in Your Spare Time to encourage photographers to get into stock photography. I have priced this very affordably, and it is regularly downloaded by people wanting to generate an income from stock photography. I had one sale this week, which made a small contribution to the week’s income.

Income Stream 7 – Selling Stock Images. In Income Stream 4 I covered the work I did this week uploading new stock images. They are unlikely to be downloaded immediately but will produce an income in the future. In the meantime, the 8500+ older images in my stock portfolio will continue to be downloaded and produce an income today. While the income per download is small, it is encouraging to know that buyers are purchasing my stock images every day.

So that is ‘the week that was’ in my photography business. It produced 7 different income streams. I hope that reading Developing Multiple Photography Income Streams has given you some ideas for your own photography business. Happy shooting!

Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional

As I’m writing this post for Beyond Here, iStock is going through some ‘teething’ pain in its unification with the Getty Images enterprise submission platform (ESP). The long awaited first lot of stats were delayed, were then ‘under-whelming’, and then needed clarification. What is an iStock exclusive photographer to do? I’ve decided to focus on something more positive and share a recent studio shoot. It was a shoot which went really well and so I’ve called it – Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional.

I have worked in corporate environments for more than twenty years and have developed a good sense for the type of image which will be useful in a corporate environment. For that reason, I regularly shoot business themed stock images.

Business frustration

There is strong demand for business themed images which communicate a clear message

From time to time I look for new models to work with – as was the case in this shoot. I generally do my first shoot with a new model in the studio so I can assess whether the images will be popular, and whether there is a good working relationship. That leads to knowing whether it will be worthwhile to progress to a shoot which involves higher cost (like hiring a specific venue).

For this shoot we worked in my small studio.

So what goes into making good stock photo shoots exceptional? An exceptional stock photo shoot for me is when you can produce a wide variety of effective images in a short space of time. And how many images is that? This will vary by photographer but for me, an average shoot of this type will produce 60-70 images for my stock portfolio. This specific shoot produced more than 120 – making it exceptional. Here are 5 tips to fast track you from good to exceptional.

Tip #1. Use changes of wardrobe to create different looking images. In this shoot we used 2 simple wardrobe outfits – one dark suit and one light suit. As you’ll see from the images on this post, a very simple change of wardrobe can create very different images.

Whistleblower

A simple prop like a whistle can be used to produce specific messages in your stock images

Tip #2. Use simple props to create variety and communicate a message. There are a limited number of images you can produce if you are just relying on changed facial expressions to communicate a message. Simple props can enhance the theme you are going to create. I have a range of them on hand, and generally use the props the model feels most comfortable with. You can see them in the images on this page – my glasses even suited her nicely!

Confused

I expect this type of image to do well as stock. It communicates a message and can be used in a wide variety of situations.

Tip #3. Real emotions make strong stock images. This tip comes down to the ability of the model, and the ability of the photographer to help the model express genuine emotions.

In this shoot, both the photographer and the model liked to work quite quickly. We went through a series of poses and props before we started working on images expressing frustration and confusion.

This model was really good at expressing those emotions, and so we spent a little longer than usual shooting this type of image. I expect images like these to do well as stock, as they effectively communicate a message and will be relevant for a wide variety of situations.

Inspiration

Black backgrounds can help an image stand out on a white website

Tip #4. Use Different Backgrounds to Create Variety. I shoot the majority of my studio stock images against a white background as that gives a designer the most flexibility in how they use the image. Greater flexibility means greater potential uses, and that means more downloads.

But I also shoot on different backgrounds to create different looks. In years gone by stock images were mainly being used in print and usually on near white backgrounds (the page).

Today, stock images and most extensively used online, and specifically on websites which can be any color background.

To meet this need, I’m shooting more images on black backgrounds as well, which often help the image stand out on a white website.

Tip #5. Very literal messages do work in stock photography. In the past it was often images which were subtle in communicating a message which did the best as stock images. That was mainly because they could be used in a wide variety of situations. Today, there is a growing trend for stock images which communicate a very literal message doing well. I see these used most commonly as the lead image on blog posts where the author is trying to grab a readers attention with the image so that they will continue and read the text. So, I have started to shoot stock images with very literal messages as well.

Decisions

She’s choosing love over career, a very literal message

This was a really fun, enjoyable shoot which produced a large number of images for my stock portfolio and helped me demonstrate these 5 tips. I hope these tips will help with your own stock photography projects.

If you are new to stock photography, there is an extensive number of posts on Beyond Here to help you. Here’s one to begin with, Starting in Stock Photography. Thanks for reading Making Good Stock Photo Shoots Exceptional. Happy shooting!

iStock Unification One Week Along

Photographers who contribute to the microstock site, iStock, have been going through weeks  and months of change. This culminated at the beginning of February 2017 with the ‘turning off’ of the old methods for uploading still images as part of the unification with the Getty Images site. I outlined those changes in this post. So, how is iStock unification one week along? And what do we think the future holds?

money

Contributors are all hoping these changes generate more income for the artist.

Gaining Access. As an exclusive contributor I was in the first group who were to be sent emails to gain access to ESP (Enterprise Submission Platform). Unfortunately my email didn’t arrive when promised, but I knew why. Four years ago I experimented with video, and have the grand total of 50 video clips in my portfolio. Video contributors were invited to join ESP approximately 2 years ago. (I can’t remember the exact date as I was no longer contributing videos). So Getty Images figured I already had access to ESP, when in fact I had deleted their email without ever using it.

Getting Help. So, what did I do to get help? And what can you do if you need help? There is a Facebook group for ‘iStock Exclusive Contributors’ where Brenda and Chris (who work for iStock) are actively helping contributors. I posted a note in there, and within a few hours Brenda had me sorted out and able to use ESP. What if you are non exclusive? There is another active Facebook group called ‘iStockphoto’ only. I’d recommend posting any issues in there and seeing if iStock staff or other contributors can assist.

Help

If you need Help, try the Facebook groups for iStock contributors

Uploading in the New World. There are now 3 options for uploading still images to iStock. They are to use ESP itself, to upload through Deepmeta, or to use qHero. I had always uploaded to the site directly, so in preparation for the change I researched qHero. It seemed to be a simple tool to use, and I have begun uploading using qHero.

Changes in the Upload Process. qHero is a straightforward tool to upload, keyword, and submit images. I find it easy to use and quite different to uploading to the site itself. Key benefits I see are – you only need to upload the model release once and can use it on multiple files, and you can keyword multiple files at the same time. Both these changes will save me time in the uploading process. They make it particularly easy to upload and keyword multiple files from the same shoot.

File inspection. So far 5 of the 10 batches of files I have submitted have been reviewed. The review times have been approximately 48 hours for each of these batches. This is slightly slower than the norm for exclusive contributors but has been explained by iStock as due to training needs for image inspectors.

File display. Of those 5 inspected batches none are yet visible in my portfolio. I am not alarmed by this (yet!) as the files were approved in the last 48 hours, and iStock have indicated it might be slightly longer than usual for files to become ‘live’ in portfolios. Hopefully that starts to happen late this week.

File Editing. For one of my batches the inspector asked me to update keywords. I was able to edit that detail easily within ESP itself. I’m glad to say that was a simple process. I found that at first ESP looked a bit daunting, but after some time exploring it, the tool is logical and simple to use. So don’t be overawed – once your files are within ESP, editing and updating is straightforward.

sale

I’m hopeful that the changes will bring real benefits to buyers and sellers, and iStock won’t have to resort to sales to drive traffic

What’s Next? Within ESP there is currently no download or royalty detail. The first time this data will be available is due around 20 February 2017. While you can’t see any data at the moment, you can see the framework for more detailed information than has been available in the past. That’s encouraging and I’m looking forward to that data being available.

Other comments. Overall my transition and experience of iStock Unification One Week Along has been positive. I see real benefits in the improved functionality of being able to upload and keyword batches of files from the same shoot. I typically upload about 100 files per month. In the last week I have uploaded more than 100 files for the week alone. The new tools are definitely going to make submitting and keywording content simpler.

Concerns? While it’s nice that images submitted in the ESP world have been approved already, that’s meaningless until they are available to be downloaded. I’m waiting to see how long it takes from image acceptance to image display. On a separate note, I’m optimistic about what the reporting will bring come 20 February 2017.

That’s my experience of iStock Unification One Week Along. How is your experience? Which tools are you using? Are they helping your workflow?

iStock New Beginnings Week

This week marks the end of an era and new beginnings in the stock photography world. iStock, one of the original microstock sites, is changing the back-end technology used to run its site. What does this mean for iStock contributors? Read more about the iStock new beginnings week.

If you are an active contributor to iStock you will be well aware of the changes going on with the site. You should have received several emails over the last 6 months explaining the changes, the implications, and the timelines. If you are an occasional uploader, then this brief summary might be useful.

plan

iStock changes in February 2017 mean contributors will need to re-plan how they upload and track performance of their files

What’s changing? iStock is ‘retiring’ its legacy uploading system and replacing it with the system used by Getty Images (and also currently used for iStock video contributors).

So what does that mean? It means that – if you have been uploading directly to the iStock site – the way you do that will change from February 2017. You will no longer upload directly to the iStock site, but instead through a Getty Images application called ESP (or Deepmeta or Qhero, more on those in the next paragraph). Between 1 and 3 February 2017 you will receive an email from iStock / Getty Images which provides details for ESP.

What if you currently upload using Deepmeta or Qhero? Many contributors use Deepmeta as their way to upload and track their files. More recently Qhero has been available as a tool to upload your images. The upload process remains unchanged for Deepmeta and Qhero.

Do you really need to know about ESP? Yes, as a contributor you do need to know about ESP. As well as being a tool to upload images, it will also be the place where you find data about downloads and royalties. So, look out for the that email this week, and make yourself familiar with the ESP tool.

What else? If, like me, you are an active iStock contributor the past month has been very frustrating. During the current changes, stats about downloads and royalties have not been available. To a degree contributors have been ‘flying blind’ in January 2017. That all ends in February 2017 when details will be available in ESP. Here’s hoping it is a smooth transition and a success.

Thanks for reading iStock new beginnings week. I hope it goes smoothly for you and that the new world is an improvement for both contributors and buyers.

Great Reads – Michael Jay Fotograf Berlin

When I started Beyond Here in 2014, I developed a series of posts called Great Reads. The idea was to put together a series of posts which would provide recommended reading for photographers. This initially focused on books, and particularly books about the business side of photography. In this post Great Reads – Backyard Silver I expanded the scope of Great Reads to include online resources. Backyard Silver is an excellent blog detailing the experiences of US stock photographer Steve Heap. Today’s post Great Reads – Michael Jay Fotograf Berlin looks at another excellent online resource.

BooksI should start by saying that I’ve never met Michael, and possibly never will given that we live on opposite sides of the world. That said, you can read about Michael and his background on the ‘about’ section in his blog.

He has a very interesting history – both as a photographer and as a person with a technology background. He chose to be an exclusive contributor with iStockphoto for 6 years, and also worked for iStockphoto and Getty Images promoting their business in Europe. More recently Michael has chosen to drop his exclusivity with iStockphoto and become an independent contributor.

Like Steve Heap’s blog Backyard Silver, Michael’s independent contributor status means he has a wealth of knowledge about the broader stock photography market which he can share. This is a key difference to Beyond Here. I am the primary writer for Beyond Here and as an exclusive contributor to iStockphoto I can only bring you my experience with the one agency I work with. So I encourage you to check out both Backyard Silver and Michael Jay Fotograf Berlin to read about their experiences with a wide variety of agencies.

I particularly encourage you to check out Michael’s three recent posts:

If you are already a stock photographer or are considering stock photography for your business check out Michael’s blog. Please also see the Stock Photography section on this blog. It has a wide variety of posts explaining stock photography and how it works from a contributors point of view.

Thanks for reading Great Reads – Michael Jay Fotograf Berlin.

How Not to Run Your Small Business

I love to share good news stories and experiences to help us run our businesses better. This week I’ve got a bad news story to share. There are lots of lessons to learn from this one – and they are all about how not to run your small business. (I’ll try to focus on the lessons and avoid a rant!)

I am currently planning a stock photo shoot where I need an environment that looks like a shared working space or creative collaboration area. (It’s a concept shoot for my stock portfolio with iStockphoto and Getty Images). I have researched possible locations and have found a venue which looks suitable. It is a studio space in downtown Melbourne, Australia which has two large studio areas and a rooftop outdoor space. It looks very cool and I could imagine it as a creative collaboration area or even as a workspace for a funky advertising agency. I was impressed that they also have a range of tables and chairs and props which could make it look like an active work space, and flexible enough to look like a café.

Here’s where my problems started and the lessons for how not to run your small business begin.

customer service

In small business, you are at the center of customer service

My first step was to call the studio to arrange a time to view the space. I was going to be in the area last Friday and wanted to visit. So on Tuesday I gave them a call. The only contact number on the website is a mobile number. I called. There was no answer. There was no option to leave a message. I thought that was odd, but I pressed on. I went back to the website and got the email address. On Tuesday afternoon, I sent an email to the only email address listed on the website.

I didn’t expect an instant reply to my email, but by Wednesday night I was wondering if they had received it and if they were going to reply before Friday.

I have been following this studios posts on Instagram for several months and was encouraged when they added a new post on Thursday. I sent them a private message on Instagram asking if it would be possible for me to visit them on Friday.

By Friday, I hadn’t received a reply to my email or Instagram message, but I was in the area and decided to visit them. Again I drew a blank. At 10.30am the studio roller door was down and there appeared to be nobody around.

As I’m writing this post it is Tuesday afternoon, one week after my first attempt to contact the studio. I haven’t had a reply to my email or Instagram message.

So, what could possibly explain what’s going on for this studio? I’m assuming it can only be one of two things. First, is that business is so good and they are so busy that they have not got back to potential clients. It is a busy time of year and it is possible that they have lots of bookings prior to Christmas. The second possibility is that business is terrible and they have more pressing issues than getting back to a potential client. Who knows, they could be in financial trouble? Or be about to shut down? Or a key person may have health issues? Or there may be other issues that I know nothing about which means they haven’t got back to me? Who knows.

serviceSo, what are the lessons we might learn from this? I’ve come up with five. If you have some to add, or want to share your own experience please add some thoughts in the comments section below.

  1. Make sure website details are correct and up to date. I wondered if they had mis-typed their own phone number and email address? That sure would have an impact on the number of bookings they get.
  2. If there are special circumstances, let your clients and potential clients know. I assumed this was a poorly run business with no focus on responding to clients. But maybe that’s not the case. Maybe it’s a one person business and they have a sick child? or a major health issue? To avoid clients thinking the worst – keep them informed. Let them know via your website or phone message or auto reply from your email that they are currently experiencing special circumstances.
  3. Clients expect you to respond promptly. Make doing this a priority. I thought the idea of contacting the studio on Tuesday and visiting on Friday was giving them lots of time. (I have some clients contact me today and want to visit same day!) Given the ease of electronic communication clients expect a prompt reply. Set aside time in your day to get back to people.
  4. Word of mouth is a big influencer. Unfortunately I’ve already told this story to several people. It’s annoyed me that I thought I’d found a great location and I haven’t heard back from them. The studio might be getting an unfair wrap, but I’ve shared my experience with other photographers and I know it will influence their choice of studios in the future. Reputation is important. Word of mouth – good or bad – is influential. Do everything to make the word of mouth feedback for your own business positive.
  5. Doing the basics well is important. Many, many small businesses are built on providing excellent customer service. Excellent customer service does not have to be fancy or special. Often it is about doing the basics very well, every day of the year.

Thanks for taking the time to read how not to run your small business. If you have an experience to add for other readers, please use the comments section below. And to finish this post on a high, please read this post about a great customer experience I had.

Changes to iStock Royalty Payments

iStock is one of the large players in the microstock photography market, an industry where thousands of photographers are earning an income from their images. During October 2016, iStock announced changes to iStock royalty payments most of which come into effect in 2017. (At the same time, iStock are making changes to the technology they use and the tools and reporting they provide to contributors). In this post, I look at the changes to iStock royalty payments.

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iStock royalty changes need to reflect the growth of subscriptions in microstock

Why Change? The microstock photography market has changed very significantly in the last 5 years, which has meant iStock needs to change it’s royalty payment structure to reflect the industry’s new realities. For iStock itself, the biggest change has been a movement away from ‘credit downloads’ to the ‘subscription’ model.

iStock was initially built on the credit download model – where a customer would purchase credits and then redeem those credits when they bought images. The subscription model has superseded the credit model for most frequent customers.

Under the subscription model, a customer purchases a monthly subscription with a limit on the number of images that can be downloaded in that month. For example, a customer purchases a subscription which allows them to download 100 images per month.

Until now, iStock’s royalty system for paying contributors has not kept pace with the change in the industry.

So what’s changing and what does it mean? The changes are in four different areas.

Change 1 – Redeemed Credits. The redeemed credit system was introduced to encourage contributors to continue to upload fresh, relevant content. It was based only on ‘credit downloads’ and so has not been effective in recent years (if ever!) The redeemed credit system is being replaced by a revised system which recognizes all types of sales, not just credit sales. The good news is – all sales will be recognized. The bad news is the system and targets have not been announced yet. iStock have advised that contributors will start 2017 on the same royalty level as they finish 2016, and that the targets will be announced before the end of the year.

In summary, we will have to wait and see what the system and targets look like.

Change 2 – Exclusive Royalty Rates. This is a change without much change. Exclusive contributors currently earn between 25% and 45% royalty rate depending on which tier they have achieved under the redeemed credits system.

This royalty structure stays the same. The change is that all downloads will be recognized and that Signature+ collection downloads will count double. The impact for an exclusive contributor will depend on the system that replaces redeemed credits – so again, this is a case of wait and see.

After these changes, all downloads will be recognized (good), and it will be helpful to have files in the Signature+ collection.

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Non exclusive contributors will not like the 15% flat royalty rate

Change 3 – Non Exclusive Royalty Rates. From later this week (25 November 2016) royalty rates for non exclusive contributors move to a flat 15%. Previously the minimum you could earn was 15% – and you could earn more by meeting the redeemed credit targets.

This change will be negative for non exclusive contributors – 15% is less than many were previously receiving, and is less than is available on other microstock sites. I would expect that some non exclusive contributors will stop contributing new images to iStock – and I expect this is an outcome iStock is happy with.

They are looking to encourage exclusive content so that they can compete with other agencies based on the content they provide (in addition to the functionality of the site and price).

For non exclusive contributors – since I published this post iStock have changed the implementation dates. The move to 15% flat commission for non exclusive contributors will now happen on 23 December 2016 for subscription downloads, and 1 January 2017 for credit downloads. (Edited by Craig Dingle on 24 November 2016).

Change 4 – Subscription Download Rates. Until now, subscription downloads have paid a flat fee to the contributor. For me as an exclusive contributor, that has been predominantly US$0.75 for files in the Signature collection and US$2.50 for files in the Signature+ collection.

This flat fee is being replaced by a ‘price per file’ system where the exact amount will vary based on the number of downloads a client makes and the price they paid for the subscription. In some ways, this makes it less transparent but I like that the contributors interests and iStock’s interests become aligned in this process. The contributor will share in the rewards with iStock. The exact impact on a contributors income will be seen in the next few months.

So what does this all mean? The changes to iStock royalty payments are recognition that the current system is not working effectively given the industry move to a subscription driven model. In that sense, change is good.

The changes announced significantly favor exclusive contributors over non-exclusives which will force some contributors to make a choice which camp they would like to be in.

Overall, I am encouraged that iStock are adjusting their royalty structures to reflect the new realities of the industry. If anything, it is a bit late, but I am optimistic that 2017 will bring stronger returns from iStock.