PhotoShelter vs. Microstock

PhotoShelter vs. Microstock

We have recently announced a policy change that disallows our photographer contributors from cross listing an image on PhotoShelter and another site where the retail price of the image is less than $50 (which translates to microstock sites). As expected, reaction to the decision was varied and vocal.

But rather than get into the emotional responses, let’s talk about the observations that led to our decision.

First, we are not in denial about microstock. Microstock is here to stay just like royalty-free licensing. We think that microstock fulfills a niche for people that 1) want low cost licensing, and 2) do not care about exclusivity. iStockPhoto’s projected revenues for 2008 make it clear that microstock is one of the few growing areas of image licensing, irrespective of our opinions of how it is affecting the industry.

When we started PhotoShelter, our goal was to create a product that enabled and empowered the individual photographer. The creation of the PhotoShelter Collection last fall was no different. We wanted to give photographers a better deal, and allow virtually anyone to participate. But helping photographers wasn’t the key business driver. Rather, it was to address the buyer sentiment that there isn’t enough diversity in the marketplace, and that the stock photo collections had stagnated.

We want to give photographers the control to pick and choose their outlets, but not so surprisingly, we began to see situations where an image was about to be sold for several hundred dollars through the PhotoShelter Collection, and then the deal was scuttled because the client found the same image on a microstock site for $1.


Microstock supporters make no apologies, and it’s clear that the good microstock shooters make thousands of dollars by selling thousands of images. They use the argument that once PhotoShelter creates a commensurate revenue stream they will happily switch over. And they are upset that we are stigmatizing their work.

I’m not sure how asking them to price consistently equates with stigmatization, but I digress.

Our policy is consistent with our belief in the value of imagery. And disallowing one distributor from selling the same product at a highly discounted rate, is the same logic that companies like Apple use to prevent the same computer from being sold at wildly varying prices. It preserves the value of their product by avoiding cannibalization on price.

The market will bear prices that range from $1 to several thousands dollars. We are choosing to play in the price range that we think is sustainable for photographers and for our business.

So yes, if you’re a microstock shooter, you will have to choose whether to list an image in one place or another. But you have the choice, and perhaps you will put a few images on PhotoShelter and make a few sales – and that simple act will show you that images run the gamut of quality and value. And as the industry settles through this tumultuous time, I think we’ll see the $1 stores co-existing with the Pradas, and everything in between.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 3 comments for this article
  1. Anthony Collins at 6:35 pm

    Unfortunately many images placed with microstock agencies will be abandoned when the photographer loses interest to remain on sale and get the occasional download. The presence of these images damages the market for realistically priced stock. This reservoir will grow as each successive generation places a few dozen or hundred images with micro before moving on. Like pyramid selling, the micro model has favoured those who got in early when there were only a few “red pepper on white background” images, but the stories of the first heroes of micro sound good to anyone just starting out. In certain subject areas such as travel it is hard to believe that individual images will ever generate enough downloads to earn their keep. It is an eye opener to browse a micro which publishes download stats to see how many images have never been downloaded. I have in front of me a copy of “French” magazine. Apart from the features using photos by the authors,nearly all images are from Shutterstock or freebies from the local CDT (Comite de Tourisme), plus a section of Rights Grab “Competition” photos submitted by readers to win a subscription. As long as photographers put travel with micro there will be magazines cheap enough to use it and once they have enough free material from readers why even pay $1?

  2. anjo avenida evans at 6:28 pm

    I agree that there is a glut of images mass uploaded to micro along with free if rejected. This, in my opinion, debases the creative works of serious photographers and artists. Imagine the damage of home recording units and movie camera when suddenly every tom dick and harry, or pierre jacques et henri get to publish their “music” and “movies”. Freebies and cheapos will get enough scavenger magazines and newprints (we all know they exists), and who is to blame but the photographers who so desperately give away their works simply to be able to tell their friends they’ve been published. Shame! Let’s home more sites like PhotoShelter succeed.

  3. embryo concepts at 6:48 pm

    “Be careful what you wish for!” is something I was always reminded by my mentor. Now, as a budding professional, I am surprised to see how many “faceless” contributors there are in microstock. How many are also working in macro stock , I wonder. If we hide behind the mask, are we ashamed of our creative works? Another thing that astonishes me even more is to hear a micro contributor telling me that they uploaded 100 images per week. Wow, that would be 5200 “masterpieces” per annum. Even Michelangelo , or more appropriately, Art Kane, Matthew Brady, etc… would kill to have this mass production of masterworks. Sounds a lot like pushing hamburgers instead of good fine cuisine, don’t you think? Hats off to Photo Shelter. I wish you every success. For the sake of any photographer who feels he/she is worth his/her reputation as one who deserves to be paid for fine workmanship .

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