Posts Tagged ‘microstock’

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

In March we were contacted by a picture buyer who was working on a set of booklets for a health clinic. She wanted 100 pictures of various foods and people. The pictures were to be used on company brochures, their website and information booklets. She said her budget was €100, and would we like to offer her a price?

“Is that your budget per image?” enquired Yvonne innocently.

The buyer responded “You can’t be serious — April 1st is next month. I think the megabuck days are over. We have a US site giving us the deal for $175.”

So we lost the job and suffered a little humiliation into the bargain.

But is she right? Are the megabuck days over?

Yes, if there ever were megabuck days. We never experienced them.

Before digital replaced film — perhaps the most crushing disruption ever experienced by any peacetime industry  — buyers would spend £1,000 on a front cover image. As regular readers will know, I am no photographer, but a magazine paid me £1,600 for four of my distinctly average photographs in the ’90s — for the simple reason that they couldn’t find them anywhere else.

That’s what all picture libraries want to be able to to do — supply images that can’t be found anywhere else.

But that’s not always what the market wants or needs. Like most markets, the lowest common denominator is king. If you’re selling insurance, houses or holidays to the over-60s, then you have to use a photograph of a smiling, handsome, healthy grey-haired couple. I believe it’s enshrined in American law.

As a result microstock sites are awash with such images: happy couples running hand-in-hand through the surf, a phalanx of ethnically correct young executives smiling at the camera. They sell over and over again. But if you need a picture of the ruins of St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross, then your average microstock agency ain’t gonna help.

The difficulty is that buyers have rapidly become accustomed to paying a dollar for any picture, so when we try to charge real money for a real image, they throw their hands up in horror. My dream conversation:
THEY: “£100? You’re havin’ a laugh. I buy me photos from fotoLia for a dollar each.”
WE: “Then may I suggest, Sir, that you purchase said image from the establishment wot you mentioned.”
THEY: “But they haven’t got one.”
WE: “That’ll be £100 then please sir, ay theng yow.”

It doesn’t often happen. Shame.

But yesterday we heard news of a fightback by photographers. fotoLia is a microstock agency with a name suspiciously reminiscent of a longer-established company (called fotoLibra). It has millions of royalty-free images, and it recently launched a new initiative called The Dollar Photo Club, where they sell ten images for $10 (it works out at $10 for the image you actually want, and they throw in nine more).

This has proved one step too far for some people. A group has been set up by Olga Kostenko, a Ukrainian photographer (I’m amazed she has the time at the moment) called Boycott fotoLia.

It first appeared in the Stock Photography Buy and Sell Images group on LinkedIn, but mysteriously it has now been taken down. Nevertheless their English language website is still active, and as of today it claimed that 432,563 images had been removed from fotoLia in the past week, and 176 photographers had removed their entire portfolios. It’s a drop in the ocean for fotoLia, but the worm, if not actually turning, is at least glancing back.

 

Kostenko writes: It is clear that the final target of Fotolia owners is not a new market but a takeover of the current stock market. Fotolia management tries to convince us that they are care about us, the content creators. They tell us that it is profitable not only for Dollar Photo Club and Fotolia. They tell us that it is profitable for authors as well. But it is not. DPC incomes will grow by pulling existing buyers away from other stock agencies, not by finding new buyers. DPC’s goal is get a big bite of the stock pie, cut out this market, move to a completely new arrangement with buyers and crush its competitors. And all of this is done with our unconditional support. Because at this moment we don’t have rights. We cannot refuse to allow our images to be used on DPC. All our images from Fotolia are on DPC as well. We don’t have the choice to add or delete our images from DPC.

 

FotoLia responded to Will Carleton’s Photo Archive News, and you can read their reply here.

If you are a contributor to fotoLia, are you happy with this development?

Have you removed your images?

*prior to The Worm Turning?

Quora is an interesting web site. Questions are created, answered, edited and organized by its users. And its users seem more intelligent and less abusive than the average troll one encounters online.

Here’s a good one: What are some of the reasons that stock photos look like stock photos?

This is an excellent question. Alas, so far there are only four answers, none of them particularly illuminating.

Let me have a go. First of all, let’s forget photography and look at economics — the law of supply and demand. The four basic laws of supply and demand are:

  1. Demand increases, supply remains unchanged: a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.
  2. Demand decreases, supply remains unchanged: a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  3. Demand remains unchanged, supply increases: a surplus occurs, leading to a lower equilibrium price.
  4. Demand remains unchanged, supply decreases: a shortage occurs, leading to a higher equilibrium price.

Unfortunately in the picture library / stock agency business we have involuntarily created the fifth law of supply and demand:

  1. Demand decreases, supply increases dramatically: a massive surplus occurs, leading to a far lower equilibrium price.

That’s where we stand at the moment. Twenty years ago if you wanted a sunny photograph of a couple running happily down a beach hand-in-hand, you either commissioned a photographer at considerable expense, or you trawled through transparencies at a picture library (and paid a hefty fee for doing so). Now they’re so common you can scarcely give them away.

I went into the Spar store in Harlech yesterday, hoping to buy a packet of frozen broad beans. What they had in the freezer was:

  • Frozen oven chips
  • Frozen roast potatoes
  • Frozen potato wedges
  • Frozen hash browns
  • Frozen French fries
  • Frozen jacket potatoes
  • Frozen Smiles (??) potatoes
  • Frozen garden peas

That was the extent of their frozen vegetable range. Now I’m as anti-eating green things as any ordinary man can be (although peas and broad beans are sort of OK) but even I felt that this was an overwhelming bias in favour of potato-based products.

Potato-based products are heavily marketed, so people buy them. At first we don’t notice the broad bean chicks have been ousted from the freezer nest by these cuckoo brands.

It’s the same with microstock and rights-managed images. Microstock is heavily marketed, like supermarkets, with a loss leader — $1 for an image! And that’s all that buyers remember, until they’re suckered in to an annual deal where they’ll pay as much for their images as if they’d bought them from us without any trade agreement. They don’t notice they end up paying at least the same, and probably more.

The boon and the benefit of Microstock is that everything has been ironed down to the lowest possible common denominator. Welcome to a perfect world, where everyone lives exclusively on potato-based products and sugary drinks, yet keeps a trim figure and teeth like the grille on a Cadillac. Nothing has ever gone wrong in these people’s lives, and that’s what the client wants. So endless numbers of photographers endlessly reproduce the same image with infinitesmal variations, like this:

Happy couples running hand-in-hand down the beach

Happy couples running hand-in-hand down the beach

Oops — the last one is embarrassingly much better then the rest. Oh, it’s not a microstock image at all, it’s a fotoLibra Rights Managed image (thank you, Peter Phipp!).

When I was a kid we rebelled against conformity by growing long hair and wearing blue jeans. We all wanted long hair and blue jeans. We all looked the same. We conformed.

The point is that stock photos look like stock photos because that’s what the market wants. Conformity. And potato-based products.

You get what you pay for.

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

One member was so incensed by my last posting — about a potentially dangerous scam which could ensnare any of us — that he quit fotoLibra. “Your blog post wasn’t about photography!” he thundered. He was right, and I promised him that the next posting would be about photography.

I’m sorry to disappoint, because this still isn’t about photography — it’s about commerce, and ownership, and copyright, and images, and sales, and royalty free. I really shouldn’t write prescriptive pieces about photography because I am possibly the least skilled photographer who will read these words (though I will confess I’m a dab hand at Photoshop) but I do know what the picture market wants, needs and expects.

It’s hard enough selling images at the best of times, so my heart sank a little further in this worst of times when I saw an announcement from a microstock agency that they had nearly a million images to give away for free. We haven’t got a million images yet, and we don’t want to give them away. We’re asking money for ours.

For a large sector of the market, Price is the only consideration. I met an illustrated book publisher a few years ago who’d been to China and had picked up a set of DVDs of hundreds of thousands of free-to-use hi-res photographs. “We don’t need you any more,” he said crushingly. “We’se making books from dese images what we got.” (There’s a lot of class in publishing). Sadly, he isn’t in business any more, because the public stopped buying his repetitive titles.

All the same, a million free images? That’s absurd. So I signed up to the site to have a nosey around. To sign in, you create a username, supply an email address and a password, and click on the verification email. Then you choose your picture. Then the interrogation starts. Full name? Full address? City? Zip? Phone? Grandmother’s eyes? I dutifully complied — it’s rather more strenuous than registering on fotoLibra as a buyer — and selected an image to download.

Those of you with long memories may recall a little run-in fotoLibra had with English Heritage a couple of years ago when they told us to take down images of Stonehenge we were selling. You can read about it here and here. So I looked on Stock Free Images for photographs of Stonehenge. I got 34 results, not all of Stonehenge, of course.

© Galleria | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Here’s one I downloaded for free. It’s not bad. It’s not great, either, with visible signs of compression at full size, but it’s good enough for perhaps 70% of usages. Of course when the search results come up, the first images you see are the pictures that Dreamstime wants to sell you. Dreamstime is a microstock agency which owns Stock Free Images. So Free Pictures! is the bait to attract buyers to Dreamstime. Underneath their premium images you see the lesser ones which SFI are offering for free. I wonder if English Heritage will be chasing them?

I’d also like to know why the photographer J. Wallace (for much of the metadata remains with the image) allowed his or her photograph, taken on June 28th 2008 with a Canon EOS 400D, to be given away for free. We have three photographers named J. Wallace. I hope it’s not one of them.

Harking back to my illustrated book publisher friend, there’s enough content here to satisfy the least demanding critic. There are 645 free photographs of Golden Retrievers, for example. If I was in the business of publishing doggy calendars, why not start here? I only need 12 adequate images, after all.

Is it any wonder that buyers on a budget will look at sites like these first? This is a world where Adequate is good enough. On the other hand, to be tempted to sites like fotoLibra, buyers have to be able to
a) find images they can’t find elsewhere
b) be assured that the image quality is absolutely top of the range
c) ask our photographers for pictures they can’t find

We can’t compete on price. We haven’t got a million murky pictures to give away. So we have to offer a service which corporations like Dreamstime can’t dream of.

And we do. We’ll bend over backwards to accommodate our clients’ wishes, which is why fotoLibra sends out regular little notes from Jacqui with her impossible demands for our photographers.

But when the actual content is deemed so trivial and unimportant by companies like Dreamstime that they can simply give it away, I just think it’s a sad world for photographers and the picture business.

Don’t you? And what can / should we do about it?

Micro Royalties

January 11th, 2011

We don’t need to tell you it’s a tough world out there economically, especially in the picture business. People are buying fewer photographs and paying less for them.

There’s an American photographer whose work I admire enormously. His name is Mike Yamashita and he shoots mainly for National Geographic Magazine. I met him a few years ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair when they built a large gallery showcasing his photographs in one of the halls at the fair. He had traced the footsteps of the thirteenth century Venetian explorer/ trader Marco Polo, documenting his journeys in a stunning series of images.

Great photographer through he is, Yamashita is not the most Pollyanna optimist you’re likely to meet. His glass is rather more than half empty. For some time he has been pronouncing with gloomy relish that “Stock is dead.”

Well, this is simply not true. The proclamation may have been triggered by three of his picture agencies closing their doors over the past year. What is true is that the old established market has been well and truly disrupted. Photo sales used to be the preserve of an elite few, many specialising in one field — jazz, aviation, cricket, ethnic populations — and because communication was twentieth century in its slowness, and photographs existed as physical, analogue objects, they had a scarcity value of their own.

Now of course — and fotoLibra is very much responsible for this shift — anyone can take and sell a photograph. Just before Christmas we were asked for photographs of specific situations in Kazakhstan. Twenty years ago this would have involved the buyer telephoning a series of picture libraries with the request. Each picture librarian would know, firstly, if they had photographs of Kazakhstan or if the buyer was barking up the wrong tree. If they did have pictures, they would charge a search fee to look through the files to see if there were any images that fitted the bill. If there were, they would be despatched in sealed clear envelopes to the client. If the seal was broken, the client would be deemed to have used the image, and would be charged accordingly. If the images were lost, which happened frequently, it would be simultaneously a disaster and a bonanza for the photographer — £400 for each lost transparency, for example.

Today fotoLibra has a number of photographers living in Kazakhstan. We can contact them instantly via email at no cost. One of them is an airline pilot by trade and a keen (and good) amateur photographer by inclination. He is on the spot, and can take precisely what the client wants. We supply the images to the client within the unfeasibly short deadline of 48 hours he has given us. There’s no special thanks — it’s what the client expects. Twenty years ago this would have been completely and utterly impossible.

We break our backs to provide an unsurpassed client service. It’s expected. But it’s still really hard to make a sale.

So we have devised a scheme to make more money for our photographers, with less outlay for our clients at the same time. Impossible? Having your cake and eating it? Barking at the moon? We don’t think so.

We want to make dealing with fotoLibra as easy, as painless and as simple as possible. But Simple and Easy are among the most difficult things to achieve well. Look at the simple Google interface. You don’t need to learn how to work it — it just works. That’s because a large fortune has been spent in making it simple. Underneath it’s very, very complex, like fotoLibra. If you buy a picture from fotoLibra, four simple choices take you to the price. Underneath that is a matrix of 1,447 price points. But you never have to see that. We’ve made it simple and easy.

And our new Micro Royalties initiative follows the same thought process. We want to sell more pictures. We want to pay our photographers more money. How do we solve this? We would move more images if we gave them away. But that wouldn’t benefit us or our members. How about this — instead of selling image rights for a flat fee, how about hire purchase? Deferred payment? Pay nothing now, and the rest over four years? That’s how they sell furniture. Why should pictures be different?

Here’s the plan. We can write a routine so that instead of publishers being billed for image usage in one great lump on publication, they are billed micro royalties six months after publication, when royalties become due. The amounts may be small, but they will come due again every six months. The image providers share in the success of a book. If it sells and sells, the photographer will earn much more for his photograph than if a straight sale had been made.

Of course our normal way of business will be dominating our trading for years to come. This Micro Royalties proposal is simply an alternative option, it’s only designed for book publishers which are one section of a picture library’s business. We don’t expect the take-up to be enormous, until people have tried it and found that it works for them. Maybe it won’t work for them at all. We’ve subjected the plan to all the various SWAT analyses, and we have pinpointed just one downside — if a book doesn’t achieve the publisher’s expected sales, then the photographer’s income will suffer. We’ll make adjustments to the percentages in the next sale to that publisher to allow for that. But this scheme is configured to appeal to the rapidly expanding, untested and as yet illustration-light eBook market, and the joy of eBooks from a publisher and author’s point of view is that they never go out of print. The drip may be small, but it is constant.

Picture libraries invented the Royalty Free image. They created Microstock. Neither of these plans favoured the photographer particularly — they were skewed in favour of the buyer. The creator of the image was outside the loop, the unwanted presence, the cow in the milk bar, the author at the book fair. This new fotoLibra plan rewards the photographer for his part in the success of a publication. If the writer gets royalties, why not the illustrator? The labourer is worthy of his hire.

No publisher has yet taken us up on this proposal, so we will be running a couple of experiments this year to test how easy this is to implement. Then we can tell them about it and demonstrate how it works.

We wish you a happy and profitable New Year.

Here are the most popular subjects photographed on fotoLibra, ranked by size.

fotoLibra's Most Popular Image Categories

It would be pleasant and profitable for all of us to see many more of the less well featured subjects, such as
Age
Extreme
Invertebrates
Customs
Law and Order
Civilisations
Humour
Military
Engineering
National
Lifestyle
Motherhood
Plants
Antiques
Cartoons
Astronomy
Finance
Cacti
Fitness
Ferns
Physics
Tools
Dance
Transport
Ecology
Heritage
Cycling
Family
Aesthetics
Adventure
Arts
Transport
Running
Books
Chemistry
Horse-drawn
Geology
Toys
Third World
Royalty
Textiles
Glass
Forestry
Amphibians
News
Tennis
Hospitality
Parties
Wine
Ceramics
Camping
Showbiz
Furniture
Indoor
Protest
House
Crafts
Marine
Prehistoric
Folklore
Sub Aqua
Media
American
Computers
Sport
Collecting
Jewellery
Biology
Lichen
Country
Clubs
Disease
Design
Private
Society
Places
Events
Tunnels
Hospitals
Drama
TV
Olympics
Zoology
Manuscripts
Cinema
Botany
Gay & Lesbian
Typography
Gyms
Disability
Science
Health
Archaeology
Maps
Hotels
DIY
Old Age
Entomology
Anatomy
State
Topography
Genetics
Anthropology

Opening Up Stonehenge

October 25th, 2010

The public reaction to my previous blog posting Stonewalling Stonehenge has been remarkable, and understandably the majority of comments have been in favour of the rights of photographers.

I wanted to address each individual comment in turn, but there were simply too many for me to cope with and keep fotoLibra ticking over at the same time. So firstly I want to thank everyone who took the trouble to make their points. Over 10,000 people, among them BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, read the comments, and PM invited me on air to discuss the subject. Eddie Mair gave us four and a half minutes (the piece is about 40 minutes into the broadcast). The story was picked up and repeated (with varying degrees of accuracy) in blogs around the world.

By the way, I know some of you think Jacqui Norman wrote this, but in fact the writer is Gwyn Headley, the founder of fotoLibra. Jacqui writes the fotoLibra Newsletters and the Picture Calls. Rather than adding to the comments on the original blog, I decided to lay out my subsequent thoughts in this second posting.

In this economic climate I do feel it is ambitious of property owners to ask for a commercial photography fee from photographers upfront, unless exceptional access conditions are granted in return.
But the strength of feeling against English Heritage surprises me. I almost find myself in the invidious position of having to defend them.

First of all, English Heritage is a wonderful institution doing an amazing job with diminishing resources in the face of hostility from both the public and the Treasury. One small thing that would make a big difference to their ability to cope would be the removal of VAT on building repair and conservation work. But our politicians and tax officials are too craven, indifferent or greedy to allow that minor concession.

Like all organisations, English Heritage will have its fair share of zealots, jobsworths, and staff who are plain barking mad. They can be rigid, bureaucratic and inflexible. They will retreat behind barriers of obfuscation and legality. But behind it all their purpose is simple: to do their best to preserve the threatened, imperilled heritage of England. In Wales, we have Cadw, banished by the Welsh Assembly Government to a prefab on an industrial estate on the outskirts of Cardiff, so highly do Welsh politicians regard our heritage. Scotland has Historic Scotland, about which I know less. They all suffer the same slings and arrows.

My parents, living in a Grade I listed house, were not allowed to change their bedroom wallpaper. It was a Chinese print dating from the eighteenth century, and it needed to be preserved. We had no problems with that.

There is always the danger of the Taste Police stepping in and obstructing development, but when there is pragmatism and understanding on both sides a mutually agreeable solution can usually be thrashed out.

I remember with sadness the wonderful Art Deco Firestone Building on the Great West Road in London. It was listed by English Heritage, but being office workers they tend to go home at 6 o’clock. At 6:05 on a Friday evening, the bulldozers went in and by the time English Heritage officials were back at their desks on Monday morning the fabulous, unique Firestone Building was a pile of rubble. The slimeball developer was fined the maximum — £5,000.

But let’s get back to photography and the rights of photographers — specifically fotoLibra members — to photograph what they like. In a free country (and I don’t believe there is any such place, on this planet at least) people should be allowed to photograph what they can see. How you subsequently use that image is up for discussion.

It would be unwise, unjust and unfair to use a photograph of an innocent stranger to promote a commercial product, or to illustrate an editorial piece on the perils of drug abuse, sexual perversion, or any other rabble-rousing indiscretion. The person concerned could sue and would quite possibly — or would certainly deserve to — win.

I might think it tasteless to commandeer Stonehenge to promote some commercial service or artifact, but we’ve been worrying this bone for six days now and there doesn’t seem to be a thing anyone could actually do about it in law.

So instead of issuing poorly worded and hastily thought out decrees which have the unfortunate effect of getting up everybody’s nose and giving bureaucracy a bad name, why don’t organisations like English Heritage open a dialogue with organisations like fotoLibra and see if we can work together towards a common goal?

They want to preserve our heritage (and so do I) and we want to sell more images. I’m sure we can do a deal.

I’m picking up the phone right now.

We recently received the following email from English Heritage:

We are sending you an email regarding images of Stonehenge in your fotoLibra website. Please be aware that any images of Stonehenge can not be used for any commercial interest, all commercial interest to sell images must be directed to English Heritage.

It’s kind of them to think of us, but this raises a number of questions.

Firstly, what legitimacy do they have for this claim? Is there any law that states that it is illegal to use images of Stonehenge for any commercial interest? Can someone direct me to it?

Secondly, if an image of Stonehenge is so used, how could they possibly police the usage? A quick browse through a number of rights-managed and royalty-free online picture libraries produced the following:

iStockPhoto (a US owned company) has 513 images of Stonehenge
Fotolia (US) has 648 images of Stonehenge
Dreamstime (US) has 670 images of Stonehenge
Shutterstock (US) has 737 images of Stonehenge

All the above sites sell images on a royalty free, unrestricted usage basis. If anyone buys a royalty free image from one of these suppliers then he’ll be using it as, where and when he likes, without asking English Heritage’s permission. How will they stop that?

Alamy (UK) has 1130 images of Stonehenge
GettyImages (US) has 860 images of Stonehenge
Corbis (US) has 426 images of Stonehenge
fotoLibra (UK) has 223 images of Stonehenge
Photo 12 (FR) has 114 images of Stonehenge

These are mainly rights managed. Rights managed images are essentially designed for a specific and time limited usage, and they’re more controlled and controllable than RF images.

Has every picture library with images of Stonehenge received this email? If we really are breaking the law by selling images of Stonehenge to be used for any commercial interest, then of course we will cease and desist immediately. However nothing in the National Heritage Acts (1983, 2002) which brought English Heritage into existence refers to their right to prevent the sale of images of any of their properties. In any case it must be legal to display them for sale if we intend to sell them for non-commercial (i.e. editorial) rights-managed usage.

If English Heritage wants to stamp out the unlicensed, unregulated, unlimited usage of RF images of Stonehenge they will have to talk to the people who hold those sorts of images for sale. In a large number of cases they will find that the picture libraries or stock agencies who hold these images are owned by foreign nationals who are not subject to British jurisdiction, who are based overseas, who have no connection, emotional attachment or even necessarily fondness for the United Kingdom.

Why the hell should they listen to a powerless quango which wants a slice of their profits? English Heritage is the current custodian of Stonehenge. It has been their responsibility for 27 of the monument’s 4,500 year old history. And they want to own the image rights to the site. (BTW It’s well known in the Headley family that our great x 170 – grandfather Elfis carved the stones for Stonehenge out of the Presley mountains in Wales, so our claim to the site is far longer than English Heritage’s nano-ownership (o.oo6% of the lifetime of the henge)).

In a recent blog post I noted the plight of a property owner in San Francisco who took the HSBC Bank to court for using a photograph of his house in a promotional leaflet without his permission. He lost, seven times over. That doesn’t set a strong precedent for EH or the National Trust or indeed any owner whose property can be seen from public land. Google Earth and Google Maps have pretty clear images of the place, as well.

OK, English Heritage’s email did not ask us to remove the images of Stonehenge from fotoLibra. But they did use imperative, urgent words like ‘can not’ and ‘must be’. I am ready to be proved wrong, but I don’t believe there is any legal substance behind the request. How can there be? Look at this:

Photo © Clive Morgan / fotoLibra

What if we photograph the place from the air? What law can we possibly be breaking here?

While we’re looking at Clive‘s photograph, who built that ugly tarmac footpath cutting through the sacred ring?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Pro Blog Index

July 12th, 2010

This is the Index to the fotoLibra Pro Blog postings since January 2010.

If you’re new to fotoLibra, welcome! — and may we suggest you read through the HINTS & TIPS section, and if nothing else read Great Expectations from the 2009 blog. It still holds true.

In fact there are a lot of interesting posts in the 2009 blogs, and you can see an Index to them here.

Comments are welcome, even on old posts, and will be read and often responded to.

HINTS & TIPS

ABOUT FOTOLIBRA

ADOBE

CUSTOMERS

E-BOOKS & PUBLISHING

IT

LAW

MICROSTOCK

MISCELLANY

NETWORKING

PICTURE CALLS

The following blog posting was written by Chris Barton, managing director of PhotographersDirect.com. You can read the original post plus the comments it has triggered here.

We’re posting it on the fotoLibra Pro Blog (with his permission) because Chris has articulated the basic flaw in microstock and low value photography, and his blog needs to be read by photographers and picture buyers alike. When people don’t care — as these picture users clearly don’t — then cost becomes the sole criterion. Value means nothing.

Chris writes:

I was looking at a company website today, with the possibility of putting some business their way, when something I saw there made me cringe involuntarily.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, this one has a lot to say. It says microstock. It says perfect-people perfect-world lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter pile-them-high sell-them-cheap image.

Why would a reputable company want to be associated with those words?

The problem with this image is that it has that…. ‘Deja Vu’ feeling to it, and for a good reason.

So, do these guys come as a package? Have they moved on from “Best of the Web” to form the Corporate Team at “123 Greetings”?

As you would expect from such a high powered team, they speak fluent German…

… and some oriental language – you could probably find out which one if you bump into them at the:

and of course they come with a:

Now, this may all just seem a bit of a joke, just poking fun at the short-sightedness of companies using cheap microstock images to represent their… well, image, but when it gets visibly misleading:

About us? They didn’t do a very good job of spotting this trouble on the horizon…

maybe financeme needs better financing if they don’t have any headshots of their own staff and can only afford microstock images…

I think that should read ‘Company Oversight’

…you end up questioning the credibility of the company itself.

I don’t believe these people really work at Targetti Poulsen…

…so why would I trust anything else that Targetti Poulsen have to say?

And if I am wrong and they do work there, are Targetti Poulsen aware that their ‘people’ moonlight at:

On a side note, ‘Bad Credit Cosmetic Surgery Loans dot co dot uk’ wins this month’s prize for “dodgiest domain name”.

My final example I think rounds off this topic in an appropriate way:

from their track record, getting these ‘good people’ to stay does not look promising…

Okay, so HireView Magazine used the same silly microstock image. But that photo at the top? That’s them. That’s the team at HireView. I am confident about that because it isn’t a perfect-people perfect-world lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter pile-them-high sell-them-cheap image that has spread across the internet like a nasty virus. It is an honest picture, and because of that, I think I can trust HireView Magazine.

Which is more than I can say for the rest of these companies.

Companies need to think more carefully about the images they use. I suspect many businesses are unaware that the photos their designer has sold them are spread a-dime-a-dozen across the web. There is a good reason that microstock’s original catchphrase was “the designer’s dirty little secret”.

At the very least, reputable companies should look at using rights-managed rather than royalty-free images, so they will KNOW if the image is being used elsewhere and whether a competitor (or sometimes something even worse: “Cosmetic Surgery for mens, Get your Dream Shape like stars”)  is using the same ‘team’ to represent their company. Or maybe they should follow HireView Magazine’s lead and actually hire a photographer to take real pictures of real people who work at their company. They may not be perfect, they may cost a bit more, but they will look genuine, and honest. And not just… cheap.

Thank you Chris — firstly for your permission to reproduce your blog here, and secondly for your righteous indignation at the short term, penny-pinching attitude of so many organisations. To mangle John Donne: “Every microstock sale diminishes us, because we are part of the photographic community.”

Standards? What standards?

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.