Let’s NOT Create a Two-Tier Pricing System for Stock Photography

ohneski / photocase.com

There’s an article by Jim Pickerell called “Let’s Create a Two-Tier Pricing System for Stock Photography” that’s been making the Twitter rounds the past few days. In it, Mr Pickerell suggests that for Stock Photography to survive as a profession, a two-tier pricing system needs to be implemented: a commercial usage price and a small/personal usage price.

My big complaint with Mr Pickerell’s solution is that making photos more difficult for a customer to buy isn’t going to help anyone because that’s not the problem. Stock photography isn’t failing because prices are too low, it’s failing because the photos are unimaginative.

I will say what’s been said before: There will always be a need for awesome photographers and there will always be a need for custom photography. But you’re never again going to get 800$ for a photo of a bunch generic business people sitting around a boardroom. If you ever did, I hope you bought something cool with your payout. The lack of imagination and any kind of emotional connection in stock photography is why images sell for 2 bucks a pop now.

People are lazy

That’s right, I said it. And I’m not just talking about buyers, but everyone is to blame in this microstock scene. Clients, designers, stock sites and most of all photographers. There’s no imagination anymore. Lazy clients say they want a girl with a headset on their contact page. The lazy designer doesn’t argue, and rather than get out of his chair and commission it (which costs lots and is more work) he just downloads a cheap one from a site where he already has an account. Then the stock sites report that “photos of headset girls are selling well” and lazy photographers go shoot more photos of girls with headsets even though there are enough, holy crap there are enough.

Maybe this all sounds hypocritical, since I’m writing this from the office of a stock photo company with microstock prices… the truth is I’d love to be able to charge customers based on their annual revenue, I could sell one photo to Microsoft and go on vacation for the rest of the year. But that is never going to happen just like this two-tier pricing model is never going to happen.

But where do you start if you want to fix it?

Meet them in the middle. At Photocase we think of ourselves as a hybrid. We’re a site for people who like the simplicity of microstock because we have low prices, royalty-free licenses and you don’t even have to get dressed or pick up a phone to buy them. But we’re also a site where your ideas and expectations will be pushed. Our photos are different, exciting. We’ve even had people say “your photos are great but I can’t use them…,” but they just weren’t ready yet. Besides, it’s not the end of the world if people don’t find what they want all the time because once you try to satisfy everyone, that’s when you end up with 30,000 headset photos.

To sum up

If stock photography is to survive as a profession then stock photographers need to change and adapt, not just add more rules that will alienate buyers. There are so many real-life examples from other industries that photographers can learn from. Photographers need to focus on the skills that will set them apart from others, they days of shooting photos and sitting around watching your bank account grow are over. Personal management skills, salesmanship skills, the ability to find and create clients, adaptability, communication and problem solving skills and of course imagination. These are what will set a successful photographer apart from the Accountant with the D70 who on the weekend puts a headset on his dog and uploads it to to the usual suspects.

There will always be people who buy generic photos, and there’ll always be people who make generic photos to sell to them. If people want to buy those photos, then let them. It will bite them in the ass one day. My solution?

Make something better, don’t just make more rules.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I think there is a problem with your thesis in that for photos to sell as microstock they HAVE to be generic. You just can’t be creative and unique and expect to make any kind of money in microstock. Microstock is all about numbers – if you want to make a return on the investment of producing the images, you have to sell the same image many many times. And for an image to sell many many times, it has to be the lowest common denominator. It has to be the simplest, plainest, most boring kind of image. It can’t be original, or edgy, or unique, or unusual, because It Will Not Sell (in any meaningful quantity). And it generally has to be a ‘business’ orientated image, because those are the only ones that sell in large quantities.

    Look at the ‘best sellers’ on microstock sites, and that is what you will see. And those are the only images that make money.

  2. Hi Peter,
    your considerations are valuable. Sure, people are lazy and tend to use what you deliver them, do you remember my post? “Giving the microstock clients (also) something different” http://www.mystockphoto.org/giving-microstock-clients-something-different/
    But I have to underline the word ALSO: as Chris has written, you can’t ignore the mainstream bestsellers… yes, you can cover those subjects with some creative new point of view.
    Talking about the Jim’s article, when the traditional RF and microstock will be a unique great market, an easy (super easy for the buyers…) use pricing could be an idea to consider.

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