Thoughts on exclusivity

I hear groans and complaints "Yet another one of those." It seems like every month there is a new post in the discussion board or on the blogs about the pros and cons of going exclusive. Never one to keep my big mouth zipped up, I thought I would share a few morsels of my own grey matter on the subject.

I joined DT about 4 years ago as a complete novice, both in terms of photography and especially in terms of the microstock industry. And at the first opportunity I went exclusive.

Once I had started looking upon photography as something more than just an excuse to snatch a break for a few minutes during an excruciating walk (I’m not really one for long hikes or long bouts of pedestrianism), I really wanted to see what I could do with this hobby. I had big dreams of becoming a famous photographer with Cindy Crawford begging me to do her next cover shoot (OK, so that dream is now gone and I’ve become slightly more realistic). And of course, I was wondering how I could convert my snapshots into some hard currency.

First off, let me tell you a bit about how I came to join DT in the first place.

I researched the possibilities on the internet. Microstock popped up in my Google search results. Great, I thought, I’m going to be a millionaire in no time (like I said, I’m more realistic now). I started checking out all the agencies I could find.

First hurdle I noticed at some of the agencies was the registration process. They required me to send them a lot of personal details, some of which I was quite unwilling to do (such as a copy of my passport). So I just gave those a miss.

Second thing I found out was the registration process. Some of the agencies had a sort of entrance exam, where they required you to submit a certain number of photos which would then be reviewed and a certain amount had to pass muster before they registered you as a contributor. While researching this aspect a bit more on different forums, I discovered quite a few horror stories, whereby people submitted 10 photos only to have 7 of them rejected. They then tried again and submitted 10 photos (including the 3 that had passed muster the first time around), only to be rejected again. The strange thing was that the 3 that had been given the OK stamp the first time, now didn’t seem to be acceptable. Obviously reading this kind of experience sort of helped me to decide against trying those agencies.

I stumbled across DT which I guess at the time was a fairly new agency. The registration process seemed fairly easy (at the time there wasn’t all this tax hassle and not much in terms of personal information was required), and they didn’t seem to have an entrance exam. So I filled out the on-line form and started submitting like a mad man.

There were quite a few rejections, and they hurt even though I was expecting them. For once, I looked upon these failures as a learning experience and stuck with the whole thing. And once I had my first 50 photos on-line I requested to become exclusive.


Well, to be honest the first thing was the additional revenue that was on offer. DT offers $0.20 for every picture accepted by an exclusive contributor. And of course the exclusive contributor was getting a higher share of the revenue for every sale. At the time I was selling so few photos that even the $0.20 on just an acceptance looked good to me. I admit it, there was no long term vision about the whole thing. But by that time I had begun to realize that I was at best going to be an average contributor to this industry and there was no way I was going to challenge the likes of Yuri Arcurs. I just thought, if DT was going to let me make enough to buy a few ice creams a month, well that’s a few more ice creams a month than I get to eat now :-)

But after a while I realized that my decision actually rather suited me, and I could have done a lot worse than going exclusive with DT. But let me stress one thing here, this decision suited ME, but it will NOT necessarily sit anyone else depending on their situation and their ambition.

In a nutshell, this is my situation:

•I was and still do consider myself as a hobbyist photographer.

•I am probably never going to become a full-time photographer unless I win a huge amount of money at the lottery or till I retire from my day job.

•I have a very limited amount of time to dedicate to photography.

•I don’t have the energy or the inclination to devote myself to learning all the intricacies of Photoshop or post-processing or making beautiful and stunning illustrations.

•I don’t have the time or the energy to spend my evenings uploading the same picture on 10 different agencies.

•I am not reliant on my income from microstock to pay the rent, put food on the table or petrol in the car.

Now let me tell you about what I think the cons of being exclusive to an agency (and in particular to DT) are:

•BIG NUMBER ONE is the rejections. Being exclusive means, that you have no alternatives. You CANNOT submit any photographs to any other agency. So if you have a photograph rejected here, that’s it. Unless, of course you manage to sell it directly to a customer, you will have to write that photograph off as a lost cause.

•You are tied into whatever DT decides, if the rates change or the acceptance criteria change you either accept them fatalistically or you spend some effort trying to get rid of your exclusivity.

•If your style of photography or subject matter does not suit DT, the pictures will not be accepted and since you can’t submit them elsewhere you can’t really sell them (unless you try selling them directly to a client).

•Different agencies attract different populations of buyers. So, if you go exclusive with DT, you are pretty much stuck to the population that DT attracts. Potentially, you may be losing out on a few customers.

•Earning power of professionals or “power microstockers”. This basically sums up the two points directly above. If you consider microstock as a serious contribution to your regular income then you cannot afford to lose any clients due to these two points. One serious contributor once told me that after having revoked his exclusivity with an agency and submitting to several agencies he increased his monthly earnings threefold. But then again, he is a professional photographer with a studio.

Now some of the pros of becoming exclusive:

•Higher earnings. This one is a pro only if you are a hobbyist photographer or microstocker, for the professionals this is not really an advantage as mentioned in the cons part of this blog. The earnings on DT when you are exclusive are higher. You get the 20 cents per approved photo, and you get 60% of revenue per sale. As a non-exclusive contributor, you don’t get the 20 cents for your approved submissions and you only get 30% - 50% of the sale value. As a hobbyist, that is a quite some difference. Remember, as a hobbyist you probably have a lot of other things that demand your attention and time, so making 10% more for very limited additional effort is probably a very good deal.

•Time savings. You don’t have to spend too much time loading the same image on to different agencies (possibly different agencies have different upload methods, I really don’t know since I have never submitted to any agency other than DT), and you don’t have to lose time figuring out what image best suits which agency or where it is most likely to get accepted.

•Consistency and predictability. After a while you will probably achieve a higher level of understanding as to what is likely to be accepted at DT and what will sell.

•You do not compete with yourself. Submitting to different agencies means that you are probably competing against yourself. I have seen different agencies using different pricing models, I even noticed one only selling subscriptions (25 cents a photograph), and what I never really understood is why someone would sell his/her image on one agency for $1 and make it available at another agency for 25 cents. Maybe they make up for it in bulk? Would be interested in hearing from people who have experience here.

But I have to say, that endless arguments can be made for both sides. While it may be useful and helpful to ask the opinions of others, the decision will come down to what your personal situation and your personal ambitions are and that’s where the opinions of others can only provide limited guidance at the best. The decision will always remain yours and you will need to accept the constraints presented by both options.

Till the day, I give up my day job, I think I personally will stick with exclusivity here as my earning power in terms of ice creams per month has increased considerably since I first joined DT, and though it seems to have reached a plateau now, I think it is just as well because I really don’t want to end up a perfect round sphere filled up with sugar and frozen cream :-)

Photo credits: Abdul Sami Haqqani.

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January 18, 2011


Nice blog. Thanks for sharing.

January 18, 2011


Thanks for sharing your ideas! This was very helpful!

January 18, 2011


Well written with good points.

January 17, 2011


Nice blog, thanks for sharing. I am in similar situation as you and indeed the exclusivity does work for me too.
I never thought about one of the disadvantage you mention: If a photo is rejected by DT then it's final. There is no other place one can take it.
If I feel strongly about an image that was rejected I try to resubmit after fixing and or re cropping.

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