Consolidation of Stock Image Agencies


When Adobe bought out Fotolia, people were saying that it was a good thing but seriously folks. You have all been mistaken.

Back in June, Adobe announced its own photo bank called Adobe Stock. You sign up with their cloud services which can run into hundreds in a year, you get 40% off all your stock photo purchases.

For me, it was a WTF moment.

In doing so, and charging your customers less, and you're selling it at a lesser price which in turn benefits the agency and not the photographer. If Adobe sold your photo at a retail rate of dollar, you get only a few cents from it. And if they sold it cheaper, you get less than peanuts.

This is a problem I have with stock agencies which sell stock imagery for cheap. You want the best photos taken on a DSLR with Leica lenses, have a model or property release as well, then charge buyers a buck for a download. Maybe a little more than a buck if you want a higher resolution version. And if you give discounts to your buyers, you also discount the return on commission to the photographer. So where does this end?

Challenging the Microstock Market

I don't give a damn about long tail marketing or mass market buying. Adobe isn't a premium company that is going to pay you well for your photos. Fotolia made a name for itself as a microstock for everything. Adobe hopes to do the same.

From images to clip art and vector files, the creative effort behind it is getting valued much lower.

Sure there will be some winners but even on Wallstreet, the losers outweigh the winners. So who are the winners here? Adobe of course because they don't own the intellectual property behind your image but so long as you give them the permission to sell it for you, they can set a price and give you a percentage of the retail price. Technically speaking, they won't give you a higher rate if they sold it lower because of their promotions.

This is how it all works these days. You the photographer gets your foot in the door by providing royalty free with property and model releases, it is a classic case of having you do more and earning less. It is a disruptive model of business that only benefits the business owner. That is, unless you are some rich millionaire with plenty of time on your hands and want to shoot some really awesome photos and sell them for beer money.

The Two Faces of Microstock

Currently, don't think that you can challenge the big guns of photography with your amateur attempts to make money from photography.

There are two types of microstock agencies, one that only validates and takes in DSLR high spec imagery and those who don't. These stock agencies want only the best imagery shot on DSLR cameras to be listed as Royalty Free. Photographers who are desperate enough to sell will list them there as they have no other choice. You might think that rights managed is the way to go but seriously, unless it was a big corporation going on a global spending spree, your chance of getting something sold for such use is next to zilch.

Image buyers are spoiled for choice since they can get the best imagery for the cost of next to nothing.

The other type of Microstock will be more forgiving with your imagery but they don't make money from them because you used a mobile device to capture those photos. Not that it's not any good but compared to the quality of those using DSLRs, your photos suck.

Why buy a photo for a buck that was captured with mobile devices compared with those using DSLRs. They cost the same. Do the maths and you'll know what value it is. As a buyer, I want to pay the least for the best. 

I have seen pretty good pictures listed on royalty free, with model releases and stuff required for commercial use. And they go for cheap. As an ambitious photographer who wants to break into the business, you have to hedge your bets on a better camera, pay for models if need be and photoshop the hell out of them so they look great. All for the return of a buck. Don't think you can hijack the big boys by setting up shop. People have tried to set up coffee stalls outside Starbucks just to do the same and they never work.

Now, some photographers would prefer to sell their images on dedicated sites like Photoshelter.  You get to make all the money on your own but hey, have you forgotten the marketing part? Do you not see those online search adverts inserted into Google for stock image or stock photos? Seriously you want to take o the big boys with millions to spend so that your Google Ad bid will never get seen? Advertising is the only way to get your site shown to the world and if you were hoping some guy who wants to buy an image for his website is going to land on your web image fire sale page, well think again.

What the Future holds for Image Agencies

The market is worth roughly US$4 billion a year. If a hundred image agencies were to battle for that same market, you can see the fragmentation. Some will fall off a cliff. Others will exist only in name.

The future is marked with consolidation. Too many agencies and the market isn't growing fast enough.

Adobe Photos have subscription models, and so do some of the more popular microstock agencies, and if a client were to download photos with a their paid subscription, you will get pennies in return. 

For the up and coming photographer, listing on a stock photo library might turn out to be a bad idea. If they get bought out, turned inside out to a microstock model, you have to agree to stick with them or delete your albums for sale.

Selling your photos might sound as easy as uploading it to a site but in the end, it is the retail prices that will eventually inspire you. Why would you waste time on a business that demands not just your time but money as well if you want to compete in the big league with little or no hope of ever achieving a decent income? Think for a moment about those stock photographes who earn hundreds of thousands every year and ask them how hard they work and how much of a dollar investment they put into their business. Does the end justify the means?

That, unfortunately, can only be answered by you.