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Evolving Imagery

Stock Photography Comes Into its Own

By Melissa Tetreault

Stock photography benefits professional photographers and artists by providing a venue that shares and publishes work. Designers utilize photos, vector art, and graphics to complement their creations. Stock photography is also a tool for those looking to augment their large format graphics.

Over the last couple of years, stock photography market consolidation slowed down. Prior, many smaller sites were acquired by big names such as Corbis, Getty Images, and Jupiter Images. Today, these corporations allow smaller sites to continue to operate separately underneath their umbrellas. Instead of offering an unlimited supply of artwork under one name, sister sites represent various types and genres of stock art.

Stock art and photography Web sites are truly unique. One may offer retro images, another only vector. Some carry only action shots or maybe all black and white. Depending on the customer’s preference, each major stock photography house offers a brand to carry out this vision.

What Now?
With consolidation seemingly over, one may ask, what will happen in the stock photography space to spur more innovation?

Yvonne Beyer, marketing manager, iStockphoto, explains, "We think the market is going to demand better keywording, searching, and wider variety of search options." Additionally, iStockphoto plans to add audio tracks to their offerings. Starting in the Fall, they will offer tracks as low as one dollar. Says Beyer, "By adding audio tracks to the mix, iStockphoto will become the first company to offer stock imagery, video footage, vector illustrations, flash files, and audio for purchase under one payment model and under one convenient site."

Affordability is another area for improvement. "Given today’s sluggish economy, coupled with a sophisticated Web 2.0 business environment, we believe there will be a growing demand for affordable, premium royalty free (RF) images. As a result, customers will migrate from traditional stock photography companies to online stock agencies," shares John Oringer, founder/CEO, Shutterstock.

Thanks to consolidation, lower prices make it easier to create and distribute images. "This results in a range of new crowd sourcing micropayment sites, whereby amateurs and semi-professionals contribute their imagery. Images at microstock sites are more affordable, meaning that more images are being licensed than ever before, but for a lot less," explains Dan Perlet, director of communications, Corbis.

Corbis just created its own microstock site, Offering only RF imagery, it provides buyers and sellers with more options, greater control, and flexibility. "Users with all levels of experience will feel comfortable using the site," says Perlet. The site hosts a unique rating system. "Snappyness" scores become higher depending on an image’s popularity—based on number of views, downloads, favorites, comments, shares, and purchases. According to Perlet, this rating ensures that site searches yield the best images.

Money Talks
Each site’s fee structure varies. However, some sites offer numerous fee structures.

At iStockphoto, customers can purchase RF images starting at one dollar, all the way up to 20 dollars depending on the size of the images, based on a pay-as-you-go plan. Yearly subscription plans are also available. For 96 dollars a month you can receive up to ten credits a day, for 274 dollars a month up to 30 credits, and for 521 dollars a month up to 60 credits. Credits are not the equivalent of dollar amounts, they are iStockphoto’s own form of currency. In a hypothetical situation, two medium images may be worth ten credits. Note that sizes—xsmall, small, medium, large, xlarge, and xxlarge—are based on pixel sizes.

Shutterstock offers subscription plans for one, three, six months, or one year. For a month subscription customers receive 25 downloads a day for $249 a month. A three month subscription is 25 downloads a day for $709. A six month subscription is 25 downloads a day for $1,349. A yearly subscription is 25 downloads a day, which totals 9,000 downloads, for $2,559.

Corbis licenses both rights managed (RM) and RF images. The pricing for RM images is based on specific end users and time periods. Depending on usage, fees can vary from hundreds of dollars to several thousands. Purchasing RF images depends on whether they are used for print or Web use. An average is $250 for print and Web images vary from $15 to $95. offers a pick your own price model—allowing contributing photographers to set the price of images. Image price levels are set at one, five, ten, 25, or 50 dollars. also offers subscriptions—weekly, $79; monthly, $199; three months, $499; six months, $799; and a year, $1,499.

Veer, a RM and RF image site, is also owned by Corbis. Similar to the Corbis’ fee structure, RM image prices depend on the specific end user and time period of use. Their RF images also depend on Web or print resolution. However, the average price for these images is around $300.

Variety Factors
Whatever type of image—whether static or dynamic—it is available. Variety is endless, as is the differences between Web sites. Each has a principle they stand behind. iStockphoto has history, according to Beyer, "it is the Internet’s original member-generated multimedia and design community and the world’s leading RF stock destination."

Shutterstock prides itself on ease of use. "We separate the Web site experiences of image buyers and sellers to ensure our site is clear and uncluttered," shares Oringer.

Other sites are innovative, launching new features to further enhance the stock photography experience. Says Corbis’ Perlet, "Within our umbrella company, we have a sister company called GreenLight that can quickly and easily help advertisers handle all image clearances. For example, if an image is going to be used in an advertisement and has a picture of a celebrity, famous building, landmark, or mural, GreenLight can contact the rights holders and quickly handle all clearance fees related to using the image."

"The Ideas section of the Veer site is a social networking area where creatives and design lovers can create original content and connect to share and explore ideas, from tiny sparks of inspiration to big concepts, from workday challenges to world-changing ‘what ifs.’ It features inspirational content from movies to interactive and dynamic pieces that allow creatives to create unique digital environments and blend Veer type and imagery with their own artwork and copy," shares Tracy Gauson, corporate communications/PR manager, Veer.

A Picture is Worth a 1,000 Words
As the stock photography market grows through site, content, and feature improvements—opportunity will follow. "The good news for the industry is that there are more outlets for imagery than ever before and that the importance of imagery itself is growing with it—imagery is not just a window dressing for the written message, but increasingly, a message itself," explains Perlet.

Sep2008, Digital Output

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