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Why are microstock images so cheap?

Do a search on Dreamstime or any of the other major micropayment sites and you’ll find some great pictures equal in quality to anything on competitor name removed by admin or competitor name removed by admin or any of the other sites where full-time professional photographers show their images.

Search by downloads and you’ll often find more great images in the first 50 or 100 (because buyers know how to find the best images) than you’ll find on ******** or Corbis where the algorithm shows the last image posted first.

Unfortunately for a small portion of the uses microstock photographers are not earning anywhere near what they deserve, given the quality of this imagery. I know microstock is aimed at mom and pop users, who can’t afford more than $2 per image. That’s fine. I have no problems with making images available to these customers for $2.

But, what about that very small percentage of customers who are professional users? Corporate users, advertising agencies, major companies producing brochures that they are going to distribute to 500,000 people, or book publishers that will produce 1,500,000 copies a textbook that they sell for an average price of $60 a copy? Couldn’t they afford to pay a little more?

Some ask, “how can you charge one customer $2.00 and another $2,000.00 for the same image?” Easy, all you have to do is structure your pricing based on usage. If the customer is a high school student working on a report she can’t afford to pay much. If the customer is Newsweek, or Google wanting to use the picture in an ad, they can easily afford to pay more. So the first question that should be asked is not file size needed, but how they intend to use the picture.

“Aren’t some images so easy to produce that they are only worth $2.00?” No. The value of a stock image to a given customer should be based on how the customer intends to use it. A picture of a flower, leaves on the ground, an empty road or a field of corn may be easy to shoot, but if a commercial customer wants to use such a picture on a large project, he will be more than happy to pay a lot more than $2.00 for the right to use it. Conversely, if a student wants to use a shot with several paid models in it on his personal web site he’s not going to be able to pay more than $2.00 for the image no matter how much it cost to produce.

Establishing prices based on broad usage categories doesn’t have to be that complex. And it can still make every image available to those who legitimately can’t afford to pay much. Microstock sellers simply need to develop a few categories of usage, each with a different price point. Ask customers if they are going to use the picture on a personal web site, a product for sale, a magazine, textbook, marketing brochure, or print ad in a magazine or newspaper. Each will have a different price point. There probably should be a few more categories, but not a lot. Each person who wants to download an image has a general idea of how they intend to use the image.

The vast majority of microstock customers will be making very limited use of the image and a charge of between $2 and $10 per download is fair. But if even 1% of the images downloaded are for some type of commercial use what those customers are willing to pay could easily represent ten or more times the royalties you are currently receiving for your images. One percent of competitor name removed by admin's 16 million downloads in 2007 is 160,000 downloads. That’s about 1/10 th of all the images competitor name removed by admin Images will license rights to in 2007 and competitor name removed by admin will earn over $60 million for 160,000 images licensed.

If you’re not interested in being paid more for the use of your pictures then continue exactly as you have been. If you’d like to earn more ask your microstock distributor why pricing based on usage won’t work. Why is it impossible to charge customers making commercial uses more that they charge the vast majority of customers who are using the images for personal or non-commercial purposes?

Something to think about.

Photo credits: Absolut_photos.

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