Using Micro-payment stock agencies to help choose your top decor sellers

An Inkjet NEWS & TIPS article by Royce Bair for 2006 Oct 19


In a previous newsletter we covered the strategies of volume fine art and decor print sales (the "not-so-fine" fine art market). Although selling at art shows and flea markets can be very rewarding, it takes a special personality to put up with the grueling regiment of this kind of marketing.

As I pointed out in the beginning of this feature, selling at art shows is sometimes necessary in order to poll, test market, or get a handle on the public's opinions and tastes. A less stressful method one might consider is testing via micro-payment stock agencies.

I covered the three major shifts in the stock photography industry over the past ten years in an October 28, 2004 newsletter. That article has been updated to with links to additional micro-payment stock agencies (the 3rd shift in the market) and other industry developments concerning the micro-payment phenomenon. .

Some may not like the royalty-free concept (and RF micro-payment even less), but micro-payment stock photography sales are a super fast way to do market research on what the public likes. Although your style of fine art may not have a lot of commercial applications, people license micro-payment stock for a variety of reasons. The top three sellers -- Shutterstock, iStockphoto and Dreamstime do NOT allow your images to be downloaded and re-sold as art prints, posters or greeting cards (one personal use is allowed). NOTE: I have not done the research yet to see if the other micros provide this restriction, but I presume the do (most offer posters and prints as an "extended" use, for additional money, and most allow you to opt-out of this feature if you desire).

Shutterstock is my favorite micro-payment RF agency because they use a subscription model. For $159, image buyers can download up to 750 images in one month. (If a buyer actually did download the maximum amount, they'd only be paying 21 cents each, yet Shutterstock pays you 25 cents for every download. It looks as if SS would go out of business soon with those kind of numbers, but the truth is, that most buyers get to the end of the 30 day period and they've only downloaded about half their limit -- which makes them just like the rest of us who have good intentions, but forget to mail in those rebate coupons before the offers expire.) This model encourages a high number of downloads, so you get to pocket more of the $159 subscription fee (most of the other micro-payment agencies license your images individually for $1 to $5 each, and you get 20% of that).

When I put up a group of images on Shutterstock, within just a few weeks or months (sometimes in just a few days) I can usually determine which images are selling best. Download stats are updated on SS every 15 minutes. It's actually fun to watch feedback that comes in so quickly. More often than not, the images I'm most attached to (because of all the hard work it took to produce the image) sell poorly. I've sometimes noticed an image, that I didn't think much of at first, get a huge number of downloads. I begin to look at the image differently, and I try to determine why it is so appealing so I can duplicate that attraction in future photographs.

In a collection of vintage photographs that I own, I didn't think these two photos of little girls would be good print sellers, until I saw the huge download stats (within just a few weeks) on Shutterstock:

What can you do with this information? If you're thinking of selling your images as fine art or decor, you can use these stats to determine which images the public really likes, and you don't have to go out and invest a lot of money in printing up a large group of images, only to find out that 80% to 90% of them don't sell. The micro-payment stock agencies can do your market research for you, and you can make some stock photo commission money at the same time.

STOCK PHOTO SALES STRATEGIES: Some may worry that they've "sold the farm" by licensing their images via a royalty-free model, especially through a micro-payment RF model for so little money. Although most micro-payment downloads are used for small business Web pages, personal projects, newsletters and minor business collateral uses, I have seen some major publishers and advertisers starting to use micro-payment stock for projects where they'd normally have to pay a few hundred dollars if they'd licensed a regular RF image, and maybe even a few thousand if they'd licensed a rights-managed image.

Although this drives me and other photographers nuts, thinking that some big company got to use their image for next to nothing, the bottom line is how much money YOU make in the long run.

My own experience has shown that I used to make (10 to 15 years ago) about $1 to $2 net per image per year under the old, rights-managed stock photo sales model (before the Internet, and exclusive of images chosen for promotional stock photo catalogs). This means that on 1,000 transparencies, I averaged between $1,000 and $2,000 net per year for the images that I kept with one agency. My average image license was about $600 ($300 net to me), which means the agency licensed an average of 3 to 7 of my images each year from a thousand slides.

With online Internet sales, that average has just about tripled, producing about $3 to $6 net per image per year for rights-managed images. However, the average prices per rights-managed license have actually gone down.

(, one of the largest online marketer of rights-managed and regular royalty-free images (about 7 million images), recently reported that their average rights-managed image sale dropped from $182 in 3rd quarter 2004 to $159 in 3rd quarter 2006. During the same period, their average royalty-free image sale ROSE from $171 to $213!)

In my own experience, my royalty-free images on the Internet will typically earn me $5 to $11 ($8 average) net per image per year, which is about $3.50 more than my rights-managed average. And my micro-payment royalty-free images on the Internet will typically earn me $7 to $21 ($14 average) net per image per year.

These numbers are for images submitted to ONE stock photo agency. The numbers can go considerably higher if one places the same images with multiple agencies.

Despite the low income per image license, the bottom line is that micro-payment can sometimes make more money for the photographer than other licensing models, and quickly enable one to do some very impressive market research.

There are images I'd never license via the royalty-free model, let alone the royalty-free micro-payment model, but this model is certainly something each photographer should consider for part of their collection of images. Images you may want to never consider marketing via micro-payment or regular royalty-free are unique, hard-to-produce images you think may never have mass appeal. If such an image only sells occasionally, it will never be successful in the regular royalty-free model, and even less successful under the micro-payment model. Whereas, it can take only one restrictive, high-priced, rights-managed license to make a successful stock photo shoot. For this reason, I'd never placed these esoteric and difficult-to-shoot night photography images into the royalty-free stock photo market:

If you decide to go the micro-payment route with some of your images, you should consider placing those images with several micro-payment agencies at the same time. This will maximize your sales for the same image preparation efforts (cleaning up the digital file, captioning, and keywording). A more complete list of these agencies is found here:

NOTE: The above article may have links to web pages when referring to certain inkjet products. While is NOT associated with, many of the articles found in this section originated from news letters, which were written by Royce Bair, a private consultant.


Home | Tips & Reviews | News Blog | Search | Tutorials | Resources | Subscribe | About Us | Consulting | Contact Us is a division of The Stock Solution, Inc. Copyright Stock Solution, Inc. 2009 - Valentine Clipart e-Cards

Disclaimer: The information on this Web site is provided as a public service. We make every effort to gather and provide accurate and safe information on this Web site. However, the users of this Web site are responsible for verifying the accuracy and safety of the information provided on this Web site. Neither Royce Bair or The Stock Solution, Inc. accept liability for any loss of income, loss of time, loss of property, loss of information, or for any harm done to any person, resulting from any information obtained from this Web site.