Microstock is the new Royalty Free

The distinction between microstock  and royalty free  (RF) is becoming irrelevant. If this seems a little controversial, consider the following: Veer  announced that it is blending RF & microstock at Veer.com and moving rights managed (RM) imagery to Corbis. Getty launched Thinkstock  this morning (ed. Wednesday this week). This is a subscription-only site which integrates imagery from Getty, Jupiter & Istock into one blended set of search results.

Microstock and RF will be blended seamlessly from the buyer’s perspective and image buyers will be given more choice than ever before. Buyers are being presented with images in response to searches and they will buy what works best for them.

Impact on Pricing

What happens to pricing depends on your point of view. I’m optimistic that we’ll start to see pricing get tied to how often images are purchased. This form of pricing is fairly common in microstock today; all images start off at the same level and popular images go up in price. As a result:

The best performing images earn the most.

The lower prices of newer images ensures that they don’t get completely buried by the best-sellers. As they sell, they move up the earnings ladder. If anything similar to this is implemented in the blended sites, prices for popular images will go up whether they began life with the ‘microstock’ or the ‘RF’ label. Conversely, images that don’t sell well will not benefit.

Ultimately, the impact on pricing is likely to be mixed, and your background in stock photography will influence how you feel about pricing. If you started in microstock, the pricing trend has been upwards. If your background is in RM/RF, then ‘upwards’ is probably not the first word that comes to mind. Still, the market is what it is, and your choices remain the same: do nothing, adapt, or leave. I think there is still opportunity but it won’t involve doing what worked in the past.

What About Rights Managed?

There continues to be a place in the market for RM imagery, but this won’t be limited to traditional agencies. It would be easy for a site like iStock or Fotolia to implement RM licensing across their entire collections. As more traditional image buyers begin to explore self-service online channels for stock photography, it’s inevitable that sites will evolve to accommodate their requirements. This doesn’t mean a decline in pricing – images, that are in demand, unique, and hard to replicate, will always command a premium. The more likely scenario is a continued evolution towards a single stock photography licensing storefront. (Whether that is a million small storefronts integrated by Google or an individual stock photography site remains to be seen.)

Implications for Stock Photographers

  • The distinction between microstock and RF is not meaningful.
  • Evaluate and test your distribution options (direct, RM, Micro/RF) to find which ones work for you.
  • Microstock is now a viable way to get your images in front of RM/RF buyers.

Further Reading

A Parting Thought

If Thinkstock updates it’s collection every week, I think the iStock portion of the collection is going to grow the fastest. I think the same will be true at Veer and the images submitted through Veer Marketplace. It’ll be interesting to see how the editing strategies evolve to manage this aspect of their sites.

Rahul Pathak  is CEO of Lookstat. Before founding LookStat, he was the VP of Product Management at Judy’s Book , a user generated local reviews and savings site. Prior to that he was a co-founder at Quova  and worked in private equity at Advent  and as a strategy consultant at Monitor Company . He has a CS degree from MIT and moved to Seattle in 2005.

LookStat provides a full-service microstock solution for busy stock photographers. The systems and services cover all aspects of the microstock process including keywording, uploading, submission and analytics.

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

One thought on “Microstock is the new Royalty Free

  • February 7, 2010 at 5:23 am


    Great post. I agree that RF and Micro are in reality merely different price points for the same product. Is there currently any examples of sites where popular images actually rise in price? Kind of an interesting idea!




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