I really can’t get my head around microstock websites. The bit I can’t understand is why the participating photographers think so little of their work that they’re prepared to value it so cheaply.

Someone recently asked on a Canon forum “Has anybody had experience of using Fotolibra to sell pictures?” Having just helped send out over 100 sales notifications so far this week I thought I could answer that, but my application to sign up to the forum has not yet been verified.

Someone wrongly assumed fotoLibra was a microstock site and posted an answer linking to three blogs recounting experiences with these kinds of agencies. They weren’t universally positive. Out of interest, here they are:

Microstock Tips | Pixels Away | Erik Kolstad’s Blog

They are not right up-to-the-minute (the market has almost stiffened and died since these figures) but none the less I am astounded at how little these supplying photographers are prepared to accept. Have they no pride in their work?

One wrote:

I’m a climate scientist in Bergen, Norway. Starting in 2008, I have been contributing to a number of stock photography sites. I started out with iStockphoto, and after a while I joined Shutterstock and Dreamstime as well. Now I have quit Shutterstock, largely because of their ridiculous royalty scheme (they pay you $0.25 for each customer download). I’m currently trying out SnapVillage, Fotolia, 123rf.com and the German agency PantherMedia.

I couldn’t help but respond, although unfortunately I do sound a bit sniffy from time to time:

May I correct you? You are not actually trying out stock photography sites, you are trying out MICROstock photography sites.

Proper picture libraries such as fotoLibra.com sell fewer images than the microstock sites because we value the work of photographers more highly, and therefore charge accordingly.

You would probably only sell a fiftieth of what you could sell on a microstock site through fotoLibra.

But you would probably earn a hundred times as much.

Our average picture sale for a rights managed image is €56 / $77 / £51. Standard fotoLibra photographers get 50% of that.

So one fotoLibra sale would normally net you $38.50 / £25.50. That’s the equivalent of 154 sales through Shutterstock.

I think that’s a very compelling argument. I have no doubt the microstock apologists will disagree.

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6 Responses to “More Microstock Moans”

  1. Erik Kolstad says:

    Well, I’ve never written a word about fotoLibra. Fotolia on the other hand, I have written about. I’m now an exclusive contributor to iStockphoto and quite happy about it. As I’ve written many times, I’m in it for the fun, not for the money. Most of my work simply isn’t worth a lot of money. Good luck. Erik

  2. Mikkel Christensen says:

    When I first came to the fotolibra site, I also thought it was a microstock site. You are mentioned in the book “How to make money from your digital images” by Douglas Freer. It is about microstock, so he apparently didn’t get it either. I have to say that visiting http://www.fotolibra.com and registering as a seller did nothing to correct my misconception. Are you really surprised? *Nowhere* on the site do you tell the sellers anything about the price range that their pictures will sell for. Not in the help section, not in the terms. Maybe you hint at it in a couple of blog entries, but that isn’t exactly reference information. As a seller, I can’t even click “Price image” on my own images to see the prices that potential buyers will be offered. For a long time I was very, very reluctant to upload anything to fotolibra, because I thought you might sell it for a dollar. I still don’t have any solid idea what price range I should actually expect.
    My point is: You have no one to blame for being mistaken for a microstock site except yourselves.

  3. Gwyn Headley says:

    During the lifetime of fotoLibra (since 2004) no one has ever before said they’ve mistaken us for a microstock agency.
    I beg to differ with Mikkel’s assertion that
    “*Nowhere* on the site do you tell the sellers anything about the price range that their pictures will sell for. ”
    Go to Help (on the bottom of every fotoLibra page), then Prices.
    It’s two clicks.
    We couldn’t think where else to put it.

  4. Mikkel Christensen says:

    Thank you for your reply! I didn’t know if you would still comment on blog posts this old. I have also recently discovered the “help” link at the bottom of the page. Before that, I found the various help pages using Google. The links at the bottom are tiny, light grey, and next to links to “privacy policy” and “terms & conditions”. If you ask me, that is a usability disaster. I honestly did not find the “help” link for a very long time, and I consider myself an expert web user.
    The page you refer to has prices for royalty free pictures but not for rights managed pictures, so I stand by my claim that the prices are not available to sellers. Or do you expect us to pretend we are buyers and create buyer’s accounts to see the prices of our own images (creating misleading hits in the process)? Why can’t you just make the “price image” button available to sellers too?

  5. Gwyn Headley says:

    The more usable we make our site, the more users we’ll get. Which is what we want.
    I put the “help” button where I would look for and expect to find it. You don’t agree. That’s fine.
    So I asked around the office, and one suggestion was we could put another ‘help’ access point as an extra tab at the top of the screen. What do you think of that?
    We have 1,447 price points for rights managed pictures. In the very first paragraph of the Prices page that I pointed you to, we say:
    “To see fotoLibra’s rights-managed prices, sign in as a registered fotoLibra Buyer in the blue bar at the top of the page.”
    We have to have separate areas of the site for buyers and sellers. It would be catastrophically chaotic to attempt to combine the two.
    If you want to see all the prices, simply register as a buyer. I’m afraid we’re not going to rebuild the site from scratch for you!

  6. Mikkel Christensen says:

    Again, thank you for your quick reply. A help button at the top would be exactly where I would expect to find it, so that is a great suggestion. In my work I often find that what I design and what users expect are not the same. The only real way to measure usability is actual user testing. Read more about it at http://www.useit.com.
    As a software designer, I also understand that we can get emotionally invested in the designs that we create, so I understand your somewhat put off reaction. However, I don’t think I asked you to rebuild the site from scratch. I just asked for a way for sellers to see prices. From my point of view, it would be beneficial to be able to distinguish between the actions of sellers checking the pricing of pictures versus actual potential buyers doing the same thing. You don’t agree. That’s fine. I will create a pretend buyer’s account! Perhaps the hits I have been getting on my pictures are not from buyers either, but from other sellers.
    No matter what, I appreciate the personal investment that you and the other people at fotoLibra have in the site. It is a far cry from the impression I got from the microstock sites.