Photographers Direct - Fair Trade Stock Photography


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Why will Photographers Direct not represent photographers who have images on microstock / micropayment sites?

Because they are the antithesis of Fair Trade Photography. Microstock sites (which sell Royalty Free images for 1 to 50 dollars) prey on the lack of industry-experience of amateur photographers.

The only people who benefit from these sites are:
  1. The site owners, because they make money from the images and do not care about the damage they are doing to professional photographers' livelihoods.
  2. The buyers, who cannot believe their luck at being able to get images for a few dollars, and being able to use them as often as they like, for as long as they like, wherever they like.
The people who lose out every time are the photographers. Almost every photographer we have spoken to on this issue has expressed regret at placing their images on microstock sites. Initially they are excited at people taking an interest in their images and paying for them. Of course they like making an income from their images, but here are the facts:
  • The average fee for an image licensed through Photographers Direct is about 200 dollars, of which the photographer will receive 160 dollars. Images have been licensed for up to 5000 dollars. These license fees are usually for a single usage, not a Royalty Free license. The photographer can license the same image again and again for similar fees.
  • The average earnings to a photographer per image licensed via microstock is about 50 cents. This means you will have to sell on average 320 images to earn the same amount. These images can be used anywhere at any time and cannot realistically be traced. You are not 'selling' your images, you are not 'having success'; you are giving away your images, and the buyers cannot believe their luck.
Imagine the day when you see one of your images on a book or magazine cover. You will probably be very happy and proud, until you realise you earned less than a dollar from an image that is helping to generate possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in publishing sales. Is this fair?

The microstock myth is that this does not happen, that images off microstock sites are only used by designers for initial layouts and by 'mom and pop' businesses who would never pay more for images. If this were true, then shouldn't the license reflect it? If you are only paying a few dollars for an image, then it should only be allowed for personal use, a blog, or for businesses with less than 4 employees, for example. However the licenses are open ended. You pay a couple of dollars and you can use the image for anything, for all time. It could be for a billboard advert, a magazine cover, a tv spot.

But does this really happen? Yes it does, and what is painfully ironic is that microstock photographers love to boast about where they have found their images published. Once they have got over the excitement of seeing their work in print, they need to step back, take another look at that paycheck, and think 'Is that all my work is worth?'

A Quote from Photo District News:

"SAA executive director Betsy Reid pointed out a discussion board on iStockPhoto where members were congratulating photographer Lise Gagne, who wrote that she had just seen one of her stock images on IBM's web site.
'Once you're done celebrating, is anyone going to stop and think that you got 20 cents for that image?' Reid asks."

Can IBM afford to pay market rates for images? Of course! Would they pay 500 dollars for this same image if that was the price? The odds are they would. So why did they pay 1 dollar? Because that was the price it was offered for. The photographer has thrown away 499 dollars.

The painful injustice of microstock sites can be seen from the July 23rd 2007 cover of Time Magazine (yes, that's right, Time Magazine). Of the images on the cover, one is credited to Getty Images, one to istockphoto. How much did the photographers earn? A conservative estimate would be that the Getty photographer earned over 1000 dollars. The istock photographer? 20 cents.

Surely photographers should have the right to market their images where they like?

Of course, but we also have the right to make conditions on who we will and will not represent, and Photographers Direct has a duty to protect the livelihoods of all our photographers who agree that microstock sites are just downright bad. Here is an example from a microstock newsgroup of the perils of playing 'both sides of the fence':

"I signed up to Photographers Direct and was right on the point of selling 6 of my images at $120 each. I then received an email from the guy politely saying that he had found my images on Shutterstock and would I mind if he used them instead before he downloaded them. I politely declined and removed all of them [from Shutterstock] before he could use any, I was fuming at my own stupidity."

In this case the photographer was lucky that the buyer was honest enough to tell him he had found the same images on a microstock site. The buyer could have just cancelled the sale through Photographers Direct and downloaded the same images from Shutterstock. Rather than 576 dollars (which the buyer was clearly happy to pay!) the photographer would then have earned 1 dollar and 50 cents for the use of his images.

Further damage is caused because any buyer who uses a microstock site will begin to see it as the norm. Whenever they get a normal quote from a photographer for an image, their response will be 'but I can get images at microwhateverstockphoto for 1 dollar!' Where does this leave the photographer?

For these reasons Photographers Direct cannot represent photographers who have any images on microstock sites. This is part of our Fair Trade policy.

UPDATE August 2009
There has been a lot of talk recently about a design including an image from istock being used on the cover of Time Magazine. The reported price is 30 dollars, though it is not clear if this is what the photographer received or (more likely) he received 20% of this. Amongst all the back and forth discussion on newsgroups about how great/awful this is for the photographer, I think the most pertinent post I have seen is a simple link to Time Magazine's advertising rates.
Time Magazine paid 30 dollars for a cover image, and for the next 2 pages they charged an advertiser around 1,000,000 dollars. Time Magazine is not to blame here, the photographer is, because he made the image available for that price, with no reasonable limits on use.

"Micropayment sites sell your work for peanuts and give you the shells"
Quote from World of Stock.

"I also experienced a wake-up call when I saw a full page spread of one of my images in a book and later realized I only got $1 for it."
Quote from a photographer.

"As a freelancer and Shutterstock contributor I was rather shocked to come across one of my images being used on the cover of a national UK photography magazine recently - the payment I received for this was a miserable 25 cents (about 15 p)"
Richard Barnes

"Currently I have some images with microstock sites and I've just found one of my images on a book cover. I was paid the grand total of 25 cents for this.
My first feelings were 'fantastic a book cover' then 'ARGGHHHH I only got 25 cents.'"


A couple of years back I wanted to test for myself whether placing stock on a microsite would work for me. After 3 months I checked out the earnings ratio and was astonished to find that all I had made was the grand sum of $50 !! This absolutely ridiculous state of affairs convinced me that this is not the way for a serious professional photographer to sell their stock photo's. Not only does this devalue our work but undermines the market in general as a 'norm' is being created which makes it extremely difficult to obtain a fair and reasonable rate for image licensing. The moral of this experience for me as a professional photographer is whether I am knowingly willing to devalue my photography by allowing microsites and their users to gain financial benefit from my hard earned work whilst leaving me in the cold.. NO. NO, NO is my emphatic answer !!!
Laurence Delderfield

Microstock Photographer Lands Book Cover for $3.82 - though the title is a little misleading as it looks like he actually got 28 cents...

On the microstock sites, a few can make a good living selling on them, and then there are a few more who can make enough to meet their expenses and then, there are tens of thousands who will only be able to say that they are "professional photographers" because they have sold a few image licenses (but have not made enough to reach the threshold to be paid any of it.).. and those who consider themselves successful in microstock and do sell more than a few licenses, don't make enough to pay for their equipment let alone support their family.
In the end, microstockers are at those agencies to get recognition from those who don't value the work of the photographer enough to pay them.

Ed Book

I tossed in around 100 photos and had 44 accepted. Out of that 44 I've had 82 sales to date and made exactly $30.96. Or if you like an average of $0.37 per download.

Convert that in to sterling and its 19.97 or 0.24 per download.

The only thing I am thankful for is that I was younger and stupider [sic] and suckered in to the rubbish on the internet about making a living from microstock.

The first print sale I made of a small 6x4 B&W made more cash than the two years I waited for microstock to reach this paltry sum.

I made more cash in one day of shooting the interiors of trailers than I'd make out of this portfolio in close to 30 years.

And any twit who crows on about how there are photogs making a living out of this rubbish can go tell it on the mountain.

name supplied

Examples of microstock sites are: 123rf, areaimage, bigstockphoto, canstockphoto, crestock, cutcaster, dreamstime, fotolia, gimmestock, istockphoto, luckyoliver, scandinavianstockphoto, shuttermap, shutterpoint, shutterstock, snapvillage, stockphotomedia, stockxpert, usphotostock.

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Photographers Direct  =  Fair Trade Stock Photography

email: admin@photographersdirect.netprivacy policy
All photographs are copyright protected and cannot be used without permission. The digital images on the Photographers Direct company website are available for licensing direct from the professional photographers who have submitted them. If you are interested in buying a picture license you can submit a 'purchase enquiry' by entering your contact details and either quoting your budget or asking the photographer to send you a quote for the use of their stock photos. Your query will be automatically emailed to the photographer and you will also receive an email with the photographer's contact details so you can contact them direct about their images. If you cannot find a photograph that is suitable for your needs on the website, please try our free online stock photography search service. We have photographic professionals for hire for assignments all over the world, so we have a good chance of finding any picture you need.

Photographers Direct is committed to assisting pro photographers in receiving the best possible commission rates for the licensing of their stock photography images.

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