Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Getty Sales And Numbers For Thought

This road that splits into a fork is a concept image about choice and directions.
In the stock industry choices have to be made about price vs. volume and which direction both photographers and agencies are going to choose. Make that choice wisely!

My latest Getty sales report looked a little different than usual. A While back, through some sort of “glitch” Getty mistakenly included a few of my images in the Thinkstock collection (and I believe the images have since been removed). Some of those sales showed up last month and some again this month. Last month I kind of shrugged them off, but this month I decided to take a closer look.

What caught my eye was that a few of the images seemed to be doing quite well. One of my images sold 46 times out of Thinkstock, another sold 42 times, and a third image sold eleven times.  You know that whole thing about volume making up for lower sales prices? Well, here is a very small and very unscientific look at that proposition, because each of those above images were also still available as RF images on the Getty site giving me an opportunity to compare how they did at subscription prices on the Thinkstock site as opposed to how they did at “traditional” RF prices on the Getty site.

The first image, with 46 Thinkstock sales, netted me…are you ready…$18.40. The image sold as an RF image off of the Getty site four times for a total of $1,312.86.  Hmmm…I think I’ll take the RF! But what about the next image? That one, with 42 subscription sales brought in $16.80. It only sold twice on the Getty site, but brought in $31.20.  Again…I’ll take the RF. The third image sold 11 times at Thinkstock, bringing in $4.44. It sold twice as an RF image and brought in $155.26.

As I said, this is such a small sampling over such a short time period that drawing conclusions should only be done with the utmost caution.  However, it does reinforce my suspicions that I am better off with higher priced imagery. There is a price point at which the volume just does not make up for the low prices. That concerns me since there seems to be a movement of clients away from the higher priced sites, including microstock sites such as iStockphoto, and towards the less expensive agencies such as Shutterstock.

Whenever I peruse microstock sites I just can’t believe that some of those incredible images are available at such low prices. It is going to be very interesting to see how the industry does in the coming years. How are agencies (and photographers) going to succeed if they compete on price? The images I mentioned above each took hours of post-production work above and beyond the photography involved. I am just not seeing how subscription pricing would justify my work (though again, this is a miniscule sampling). I am hopeful (thought sometimes I wonder why) that agencies are going to figure this out and because I am producing consistently at as high a level of quality as I can, that I will do well as a result.

By the way, a few weeks ago a Blend Images Photographer had a sale, of an RF image, of $60,000.00. Of course, those little victories are more akin to winning the lottery than anything else, but it is important to realize that there are still clients out there who are willing to pay for the right image!

So is the answer for agencies to provide better searches, exclusive content or a better experience? I really don’t know, but I do know that my brief taste of the results of rock bottom pricing is a bitter one!


Anonymous said...

After Penguin, a lot of these "Free image" sites popping up are ranking insanely high on Google. Zero content on them but lots of ads and they are now outranking my PR6 image site.

I sell vector images and I and other image sites have complained repeatedly to Google since they are basically non content ad sites.

One site is nothing but a front for ads for I personally think that Shutterstock owns them.

The problem with the "" site is I found stolen graphics from my competitors posted on it. I contacted my competitors and let them know, since I also was getting hurt by illegally posted images that are getting given away for free.
Apparently Shutterstock knows about the illegally posted images but still deals with them...

Things keep on getting more insane each day.
Starting in 2013 we have to deal with Google stealing are full size web images and giving them away to scrapers on their image library. Doing this total bypasses our sites. What is crazy is apparently Getty is going after the people licensing their photos and not Google for giving them away! Everyone is afraid to deal with Google since they control 75% of the web traffic. Nobody wants to be unlisted.

I am waiting for ANYONE to file a class action lawsuit to fight back against Bing and Google for stealing our images and photos. So far there are only a few posts giving advise...

And it seems that only the surrender monkey French have fought back and won. It takes years and years to file a lawsuit against Google -

Anonymous said...

On this page I am seeing an ad for Shutterstock.

Peter Dazeley said...

Dear John,

interesting reading your piece. I had 60 odd Thinkstock sales, at ridiculous prices, on my January statement. I know that Getty messed up. It is wonderful that my images are so desirable, but I just don't understand this race to see who can sell the best images at the cheapest rate. Getty should be branding itself as the Harrods of stock photography not the Woolworths. Will we ever get back to a fee which represents the value received by the customer. Lastly how will the creators of the future be able to afford to create? Very Best Peter

Helder Almeida said...

The micro is getting worst and worst, every year.

The advantage is that in micros you can upload many similar photos to some of the top sites (they are not exclusive) and this way you can multiply your micro numbers by 10 or more. This way the return of the investment is greater.

By the other hand, the macro sites are selling more and more at micro prices and with controversial deals (like google), who also can leave to less and less profit in the next years.

But as a admirer of your work, i must say you are a macro photographer not micro, and most of your work is true RM.

Paul said...

It depends. You have very unique conceptual images that can command higher prices because there's nothing similar available. Content that is easily created and readily available is not likely to sell well as traditional RF. Someone shooting flowers may get a ton of sales at a subscription site but zero in RF. Part of the problem is when someone produces high end work and sells at micro or subscription sites that buyers become more accustomed to getting a Mercedes at the same price as a Kia.

André said...

thanks for writing your thoughts down and sharing them with your readers. I've been enjoying your blog for years.
Maybe you can shed light on one question that popped up when I read your article.
Assuming that the $60,000.00 is not a standard price tag at Blend Images - how can an image get sold at this price as RF?
Don't RF images have standard pricing depending on the size of the image? Why and how would anybody pay more than the largest file size price when buying RF images?

Anonymous said...

John, you are not comparing 'apples with apples' and the numbers quoted therefore lead to a poor conclusion.

I've been doing microstock for over 8 years and have about 5000 images on the main 5 agencies. My Istock portfolio was 'ported' to the the PP programme over the last 14 months or so. The PP programme (that's together with TS) currently generates about 8% of my microstock revenue and that's with most of my port having been transferred several months ago and having had the opportunity for popular images to have climbed the sort-order __ which your new stuff may not have.

If we take your first image, which netted $18.40 for 46 sales, and then multiply the income by 100/8 to evaluate what it might have earned in total if it had also been available on the 'Big 5' microstock agencies then potentially it should have earned $230.

That's not bad for one month is it? You don't say how long it took for that image to generate $1312 as RF on Getty but the numbers suggest that if it was longer than 6 months then it would have earned more on the micros.

It's kind of silly comparing one month's earnings, from one very minor microstock sub agency, to total earnings at Getty over an unspecified period of time. It just doesn't tell the full story.

John Lund said...


Both the $18.40 and the $1,312.86 are from just the sales of last month. I admit that my comparison is faulty in many ways...but I still find the disparity in earnings...over that one month period, to be worth pointing out.

I would love to know more about your experiences with microstock earnings...more knowledge can only help all of us!



John Lund said...


In that $60,000.00 sale an RF image had the copyright transferred and was taken out of the collection (though the similars were left in). That sort of thing happens more often than one might think!

The buyer wanted as much exclusivity as they could get....



donfarrall said...

Hello John,

Similar experience here. Several images selling many times under the Thinkstock "mixup" and also selling as RF for considerably more during the same month. Subscription royalties take microstock to the absolute bottom.

Also notable, two years ago Getty sold an image of mine that had been RF to a client for exclusive use going forward, for $20,000.

Don Farrall

Jo Ann said...

I think that it's a perfectly fair subject to consider - what work should go for higher prices and what will do better at lower - but for me the big issue is who gets to decide the price level.

The Getty/Google deal signaled clearly that Getty thinks it gets to make that decision with no input from the contributor - the one who owns the copyright. This is only a continuation, IMO, of the stance they took in April 2011 with their change in contract terms (moving unsold RM images to RF, and Getty RF to subscription sites).

The Getty Connect royalties that showed up a few days ago included a lot of ways to get to fractions of a cent or 0. Again, no ability to opt out of these deals.

I left iStock over Getty's unwillingness to allow an opt out over special licensing deals. While I can certainly see that decent returns from some RF sales via Getty Images can buy some acceptance of their less savory deals, at some point their insistence on removing contributor choice over how and where to sell work is going to leave you with some hard choices.

Anonymous said...

John: Stay away from microstock (i.e. Thinkstock), it's only going to get worse. Your images are too good to sell for so cheap. Selling images for 50 cents is a waste of time. Also, I have been concerned about the Getty-Google deal as it has not yet been resolved. I hope this is NOT a trend for the future. Like you said John, many images take hours of post-production. How can we afford to give them away for pennies?

Anonymous said...

Yes Copyright sales happens more often then people think. I had six during 2012 and two already in 2013.

Personally I see an increase in RM sales, then again my port is very nieched.
I have been doing micro since 2006 and could easily survive on that income. Still, my RM/RF income is at least five times more then in micro.
Even my own quite small off-line, trad, RM service is doing very well indeed, all things considered.

Micro is not here to stay, it will not prevail and sadly the agencies are basically killing off themselves.
RM/RF, however will always be there, the foundation platform of any stock-photography and thanks to all the creative buyers, ad-agencies, designers, etc. This platform will forever be an outlet.

good article John.

best. Christian

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Anonymous said...

John! at this moment all serious micro photographers are reporting that SS alone stands for 50-60% of their micro revenues.
Well, how safe is that? I would say thats like putting half your eggs in one basket, isnt it? and this is also presuming SS will carry on being the "good guys" and forever. IMO, thats a walk on egg-shells.
The micro photographers that will survive are the ones that also have invested heavily in RM/RF, which sooner or later will be the only escape route.

Any micro agency, never mind which one have got a tendency to be king for a day and thats it. Bearing in mind I know four of the biggest and most prolific micro photographers around and they all have a large nieched RM/RF portfolio behind them.

Anonymous said...

Seriously I do feel for the people that have invested years and years in micro. Its all tumbling down is it not? rates are next to nothing and getting worse, Istock seems a gonner and SS, well its probably just a matter of time before the shareholders start screaming for more profits.
All the euforia is gone and reading between the lines in some forums, its lots and lots of frustration and anger lingering among the contributors.

I can understand newcomers, part-timers even semi-pros but I can not for the life understand how bona-fide professionals could fall for this, investing years of hard work into something which is no more then a jumble sale model.

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The advantage is that in micros you can upload many similar photos to some of the top sites (they are not exclusive) and this way you can multiply your micro numbers by 10 or more. This way the return of the investment is greater.

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