Dreamstime: The Anatomy of a Stock Photo Agency Gone Mad

Several months ago I saw two industry graphs put out by a government agency.  One showed the increase in the demand for images since 2008.  It was going almost straight up.  Year after year.  The other represented jobs in the industry and the earnings of those who create images.  It was going straight down at the same rate.

It occurred to me someone had to be working quite hard to strip photographers of their ability to earn a living for these two conditions to exist side by side.

It’s quite obvious the demand for images is soaring.  Anywhere you look, someone is promoting their product, service or cause.  And the hook to get you interested in it is always an image.  Yet as the demand increases, photographers are working harder, investing more and more into their businesses and earning less month after month.

Why is this happening?  Well, you don’t have to look any farther than the deal Dreamstime cooked up with Google to find out.  In an announcement to their contributors – that apparently contributors were suppose to be thrilled about – Dreamstime hammered out a deal where Google would pay a licensing fee of $2.00 per image and then people using Google display ads could use those images.

The first problem here is $2.00 per image license?  Really?  That won’t even buy a loaf of bread, let alone cover the cost or producing a professional quality photo.  The second is once Google has licensed the image for $2.00, each person running a Google ad gets to use the image without the creator of the image getting paid a royalty.   So the deal also cuts the creator of the image out of future license fees for a lousy couple of bucks.

The insanity here is mind boggling.  And I honestly have to ask myself if they are stupid, insane… or just plain evil.  The action doesn’t just hurt contributors… it hurts every photographer in the business by lowering the overall value of our work in the eyes of the public (a little like pouring toxic chemicals into a pristine river.  It eventually contaminates the river and the ocean it dumps into)… and it hurts Dreamstime.  It also hurts those who need quality photography for their advertising as the quality of images drops in direct ratio to the diminishing return on investment.

By hammering out a deal to license stock photos once and allow the company that licenses them to re-license use of the images (whether charging or including them in the price of the ad) to anyone running a display ad with no further payment to Dreamstime or the creator of the image is cheating both out of untold license fees they could have and should have earned.  The people who will no longer be paying to license these images are the exact client demographic stock photo agencies license work to.  It also cheats ALL stock photo agencies, and ALL photographers out of income because few of Googles advertisers are likely to pay for an image via any source when Google is providing it free… compliments of the photographers that got suckered.

Why do I think it was just plain evil?  Consider this.  What person who can afford to run a display ad can’t afford $2.00 to license an image to use in it?  I mean really???!!!  There was no good reason to hammer out the deal in the first place.  It benefits no one and does great harm to the industry.

I suppose it is unfair to pick on Dreamstime.  They aren’t the only ones in the industry who have gone mad.  In fact the entire industry has become quite cannibalistic.  There was the under the table Google Drive deal between Getty Images (or was it iStock, same thing now days) to provide images to Google under similar terms, also cheating photographers out of any commission they should have earned from the image on subsequent uses.  But in this deal, photographers got the grand sum of $12.00 per image.  Dreamstime has taken it to a new low.

We need look no farther than what Dreamtime employee Malina Tudoroiu told Peta Pixel in regards to the deal to understand just why it is that when the demand for images is out the roof, photographers are going out of business.  She said:  “There’s nothing unusual in this deal, except of course for the famous name…”

So this is business as usual at today’s stock photo agencies.  Hammer out “great” deals that cheat everyone concerned out of their royalties and devalue the industry as a whole.  And it is this type of insane, short term gain with long term destruction, type of business logic that is dragging the entire industry into the mud.


Getty Images: The Cheap New Whore on the Stock Photography Block

I have tried to remain silent about the stunt Getty Images recently pulled, but I have noticed a consequence to those who use Getty’s cheap new wares that is probably not what they intended.  Each time I visit a website now and see “by Getty Images” emblazoned across the image or in the required tag line, I think: “Wow, you guys are really cheap!  I don’t think I want to deal with you.”  I mean the images are often great, sometimes works of art, but the Getty “brand” now spoils the whole show.

Perhaps the Getty Image brand used to mean something… though this has become debatable after she wound up in court a few too many times for little things like stealing images off of social media and then selling them as if she had the legal right to do so… but now her new “branding” has established her as the kind of girl you don’t want to introduce to mom.

On several occasions, Getty has had the muscle and opportunity to set things right in the ailing stock photo industry.  Instead, she chose to put on her shortest mini skirt, the spiked red heels, and torn fish net nylons.  Then she smeared the bright red lipstick into the equally bright rouge on her cheeks, dripped on the mascara until it ran down her face and hung tawdry cheap jewelry from every appendage on her body and marched right down to the red light district in the worst section of stock photo town (microstock) where she loudly announced herself as the cheapest new hooker on the block.

I mean, the other girls on the block are cheap… but at least they ask to be paid.  All Getty requires is that you tell the whole world you hopped into the sack with her.

That of course is a mistake.  She may look pretty… to some… and after a a few too many shots of tequila you may even want to take her home.  But no matter how much you may have cleaned her up before taking her and showing her to all your friends, associates and clients at the corporate dinner party, the morning after will be filled with regret.

It may be that she really is a good girl, and has her pimp, the Carlyle Group, to blame for her self degrading new actions, but it doesn’t change what your friends will think when they see you with her.   She’s the new girl in the stock photo industry.  The hooker who thinks so little of herself that she will sleep with anyone for free… and everyone knows it when you do!

The tragedy isn’t what Getty has done to herself.  She chose to tell the world she is worthless.  It’s that in making herself over as a cheap whore and marching to the front of the line, she said that the work of all the artists who have contributed to her, and all of the “buyers” who use her are equally worthless.

None of the artists were given a choice.  They can only walk away and build their stock photo libraries elsewhere (and many have).  But the image buyers do have a choice.  Have you saved anything by telling the world you are hanging out with the cheapest whore in the business?   It’s something you need to consider.  It is your image, after all, that drives your business.  Can you afford to be associated with someone that cheap???


iStock angers photographers… AGAIN

While it hides behind the “credibility” of being part of Getty Images, iStock manages to raise the ire of photographers (and clients) more than any other stock photo agency in the business and their abuses of both are frequently in the news.

I’ve been seeing the latest pop up in the forums and now it has made headlines in PetaPixel  about how 9000 contributors have been informed they were “overpaid” and have to pay iStock back!  What PetaPixel missed in their article is how frequently this occurs over at iStock.  I have seen numerous threads over the years on the forums about iStock chargebacks to contributors due to “miscalculation” or supposed credit card fraud…

In this last instance, iStock should have sucked it up and eaten the loss… if there really was one at all.  Instead they pushed the liability for their incompetence down to their contributors one to many times and now have a PR nightmare on their hands.

It doesn’t matter how you look at it.  The best thing that can be said here is that iStock is incapable of accurate bookkeeping… which of course also says that most likely there are a similar amount of “mistakes” being made in calculating just how much a contributor is earning in the contributors favor as well.  This is if 9000 photographers were overpaid, how many were underpaid?

iStock started the race to the bottom with their images for pennies business model that pulled the rug out from the stock photo industry.  Apparently they didn’t just choke photographers when they built the express elevator to the bottom… they also choked themselves and are constantly on the lookout for more ways to gouge photographers.

While the overall abuse is typical in large sectors of the stock photo industry, iStock leads the pack for abuses.  It is seriously time for photographers to back up and take a look at things.  What do any of these agencies have of value?  YOUR images.  Why enable them to abuse you?  Delete your account and move your images to Photoshelter where you can charge a fair price and keep the majority of the earnings!

The double standard on photo copyrights

I have been noticing for some time a double standard where copyright is concerned.  Earlier, it was how those lobbying for the Orphan Works law to be passed to allow them easier access to images and little to no penalty if they get caught taking an image without due diligence to find and pay the copyright holder for the use were the same corporations who depend so much on their own copyright being protected and enforced.

More recently, I have noticed a trend for media and others to simply help themselves to the images on social media without even so much as proper credit given to the creator of the image. During the Colorado floods, I looked at an article on USA Today and found they had build in an app to pull images off of Twitter and FB and use them for their photos.  The photographers were not credited or paid and USA Today profited.

One is left to wonder if they would feel the same should someone copy in entirety one of their articles and post it on their own blog or Facebook page and not even credit USA Today as the source.  Can you spell L A W S U I T ?

A short while later I saw an article in Photo District News about the lawsuit against Getty Images that resulted when they helped themselves to Daniel Morel’s images on TwitPics of the Haiti Earthquakes…. which they licensed to media for their monetary gain.  Getty has made headlines numerous times for filing suit against anyone who uses one of their images without licensing it through them, yet in their defense when they do it, they see it differently.

In their defense, Getty said “they believed they had the right to do so and were acting within industry norms, customs, and practice.”  Read the article on PDN here.

Really?  If that is true, it then means the industry standard is that when Getty or another large corporation needs an image, it is free for the taking.  But when and individual photographer has his image stolen by the same it is “industry norms, customs and practice.”

The truly sad thing here is that it is true.  It is completely inverted that the person who produces the work seems to be the only one who is not allowed to profit from it.  We need to turn it around.  Copyright law was enacted to protect the ability of the creator of the work to profit from it, and to be able to fund the cost of producing more work. Unless we defend that right for ALL creators – not just big media outlets and stock photo agencies – everyone loses.  Even those who are currently seeking a one sided advantage – for when copyright no longer applies to the individual creator, it will no longer be held valid for the large corporations.

The Canals at Venice Beach

This was taken my last day in LA, after the board meeting with APA National.  I was out for a walk before calling it a day and when I saw the canals at night, went back to my room to grab my camera and tripod.  I will be uploading these images and more of the canals to my stock photo website soon.



Sidewalk Cafe at Night

I just returned from a trip to LA where I had the good fortune of being put up in a hotel a block off of Venice Beach and pier.  Despite a full schedule of shooting and meetings, I squeezed in time to take advantage of the locale and shoot some photos just for the fun of it.  I saw this scene on a late night walk out to the beach and was captivated by the isolation of the lone patron in the taco stand, the colors and light.  This image will be available in the corporate art gallery on my new stock photo website soon.



How much can you make selling microstock?

I’m always suspicious when I see an ad seeking photographers. Anyone who is providing legitimate work for photographers doesn’t have to advertise. They have photographers lined up at their door.

So when I saw an ad on the internet today hyping the fortunes to me made by becoming a microstock photographer, curiosity got the best of me. I clicked on it and out rolled a ten page document loaded with graphics.

Most photographers already know that the vast majority of images licensed through microstock result in a gross earnings paid to photographers of 15 cents to 38 cents per download. So the first paragraph hyped the insatiable appetite the world currently has for images and tells how they have licensed more than 250,000,000 million images since 2003. Nice.

Now they also say they have over 20 million images on line. Let’s do some math:

250,000,000 downloads divided by 20,000,000 images and we know each image has been downloaded 12.5 times. Divide that by the ten years they have been operating and the average number of sales per image you can expect each year is 1.2 … multiply that by the whipping 38 cents you will make for each of those downloads and each image you upload will average you a whopping 47 cents!

Now I know someone is going to rush over here and tell me my math is wrong, that they actually make far more than .38 cents per download… like as much as two or three dollars. So go ahead and do the same math using those numbers. It’s still a crime. And I checked the site and found that they now have 25,000,000 images on line and are adding 75,000 images per week!

It just doesn’t add up! Do the math and work out how many images you will need to reach your income goals…. whether you use the 38 cent figure, or the dollar or two one. Don’t forget to figure in your expenses.

And it gets worse. When microstock first came out they were telling us all to upload any old photos hanging out on our hard drives. Your dog, pet kitten, vegetable garden, the photos of your vacation you couldn’t get your friends to look at… They needed inventory if they were going to pull the rug out from under the then existing stock photo agencies.

They have succeeded in doing that. Now they are saying in the document that unfurled that to be successful today at microstock, you actually need to shoot good work and will need a full crew to do so. Makeup artists, wardrobe and prop stylists, food stylists etc and that you will need good professional models, professional lighting, and professional level cameras and lenses. Well, this is what the pros have been saying all along, and why the pros have been saying microstock is unfair to photographers.

Of course 38 cents doesn’t go far toward paying for these things. So they suggest you rent your lighting and gear. Um Hum… have they ever priced the cost of rentals? They state agency models are needed, and too expensive, so suggest getting the model to work outside of the agency and work free to get new images for their portfolios. This creates even more problems. It cheats photographers who shoot model portfolios out of their income, it cheats the agency out of the money they should get for representing the models and trying to find them work, and it cheats the model out of future income. Why would anyone pay him or her if all they have to do is give them a couple pictures?

For solving the problem with stylists etc, they suggest running a Craigs list ad to find ones wanting to break in who will work for free. Sounds fair. After all, they have the photographers working for next to free, why shouldn’t their crews do the same!

There is an old saying, if you give them an inch, they will take a mile. That is an understatement in this case. They have taken 10,000 miles and are still running with the same old lie: “If you just invest more into your shoots and shoot better quality images for less money you will soon find great riches…”

The few who did found out their riches ran out and that they were working harder and harder each month for less. We don’t hear much about them anymore!

The microstock business model is fundamentally opposed to the realities of producing good images. A good commercial image requires planning, working out the message and theme, finding locations, models, wardrobe, styling and leaving none of the details to chance. At microstock royalty rates and with their licensing models, photographers can’t afford to do that.

It is highly unethical to promise great fortunes to people when they know they are not there to be had. It is more unethical to urge these same people to find ways to get still people to work for free to subsidize the business of the agencies and the clients who both profit from the work. If the demand for photos is as great as they claim (and it is), then it was certainly unnecessary to devalue the work as drastically as microstock has.

It’s actually a bit worse than slavery. Before the Civil War, plantation owners paid for their slaves and then had to feed and clothe them. Microstock expects you to invest heavily into your gear, and again on each shoot under the false promise that one day you will see something in return for it.

So what was this ad all about? Simply another effort to get higher quality work without paying for it.

Please !

“Hey! Someone stole our photos!”

This morning when I opened my email, there was a frantic email from one of my clients saying “Hey! Someone stole our photos!”  She attached a link to the website of one of her direct competitors where I indeed found several of the same images she used in her marketing.

The problem is that they aren’t her photos.  That is they weren’t photos we shot ourselves for her marketing.  They were stock photos her ad agency had used to “save money.”  Worse, they weren’t rights managed stock photos, or even the standard royalty free stock photos, they were the cheap microstock photos.

Why does that make it more of a problem?  Because under a rights managed licensing system, you, the copyright holder and agency know if the images has been used before, and where the image has been used if it has.  You can decide if a conflict was created by prior use, and you can license rights that prevent the image from being used in a conflicting manner in the future.  Under the royalty free model, you have lost that protection.

Microstock takes is down a few more steps… into the garbage dump.  Not that you can’t find nice images on microstock if you are willing to spend the time sorting through the chaff, but they are licensed so cheaply and in such volume that you have NO control over where that image might appear.  And due to the dollar an image pricing model, many of those places could seriously harm your reputation (low reputation companies, trashy blogs, adult products and services, etc).  The high volume licensing also serves as a liability.  Microstock agencies and their contributors are unable to police illegal uses of the images as it is simply not economically viable to search the records for each use found and there are estimates that for each legitimate use of an image, there will be found dozens if not hundreds of illegal uses. In short, your marketing image could easily have been used by thousands, if not tens of thousands of other companies and individuals for any purpose.

I discussed this issue with both the client and the agency at the time they elected to use the stock images rather than doing a “custom” photoshoot.  They dismissed my argument (above) as self serving.  It may be, but it is also true, and they are now taking steps to do a shoot to replace the images, and, of course, re-create all of the marketing materials that the images were use in.  I don’t see the savings there.

The need to control where your image is used goes beyond stock photography.  It can seem to clients who are not old hands in the industry that the business practices of professional photographers are a “hassle” to them and we need to simply dismiss such “silly” things as registering our copyright and licensing our work.  Yet, it usually benefits the client more than the photographer that we hold the line and stick to professional business practices.

A well known architectural photographer I know told me her clients frequently object to her registering the copyright and licensing the images to them. They simply wish to have the images given to them without such encumbrances.  She points out to them that if she does not do so, then they have little to no recourse when someone steals the images for their own use.  How often does that happen?  With almost every client, she says, and each time she has worked with her attorneys get the offending images removed for the benefit of the client.

It may seem that cheap unencumbered images are a god send, but they are indeed the opposite.  While the current mantra is that it is good for you to let your images, copy and other materials be ripped off for the “exposure” you get, anyone who has worked hard to build a brand knows that is a major disaster in the making.

The best economy is to work with professionals who understand the risks and liabilities and follow business practices that will help you protect your investment and branding.  The photos you use in your marketing are your image, they are how the public perceives you.  You can’t afford to dilute it through loss of control.

Please !

Stock photographers take another hit

Stock photography has taken some interesting turns in the last decade, each one tightening the screws on photographers a bit more until it has become unwise and unprofitable for a good photographer to work with any of the existing stock photo agencies.

The latest hit came from Alamy who has announced that they will be funding their expansion by cutting royalties to photographers 10%.  The math on this isn’t very clear, but it works out to a loss of income of considerably more than a straight 10% cut in royalties.

Downward pressure can only go so far before it either breaks the machine, or springs back.  I believe this day has arrived in the stock photo market.  I do not currently know of one agency at this point who has not given the shaft to the photographers to which they owe their lifeblood.

It is interesting to see how the game is playing out.  Microstock pushed many of the bigger players, and ones who gave photographers a fair deal, out of business by accepting low quality images from amateur photographers and licensing them for pennies.  The price was so cheap that it couldn’t help but disrupt the industry.

Now the microstock companies are seeing their pricing was too low and are significantly raising prices, with two of the agencies approaching pre microstock prices on the images they license… while cutting rates to contributors at the same time.  Nice game, but eventually the margins cross and with some agencies paying less than 15% of royalties the zero line is near.

Both buyers and contributors lose here.  For example, iStock who initiated the race to the bottom by licensing images for 10 and 15 cents is now charging as much as $270 per image.  That is more than most royalty free stock agencies charged before being driven out of business by the pennies on the dollar pricing of microstock.  Those old royalty free stock photo agencies paid photographers a 60% or better commission on the images they licensed.  We now have a situation where buyers are paying more, and photographers are getting less.  Much less!

Quality images are expensive to produce.  Diminishing returns result in the more professional photographers pulling out, and all contributors cutting back on production values to maintain some modicum of profitability, and a severe decline of image quality.  Add to this the liabilities of the crowdsourcing business model where the agencies don’t know and refuse to even speak with their contributors and it will prove a wise move for buyers to also shun the stock photo agencies.

A growing number of photographers have pulled out of the stock photo agencies and have moved to direct licensing of stock.  I think we will see this becoming a trend.

For photographers who are looking for a way out, the following may be solutions for you:

Stockbox Photo
Ktools PhotoStore

These are a starting point.  There are many other options for licensing your own stock.