18 Jan 2010 All About Microstock Comparison Websites
If you haven’t seen them yet, microstock comparison websites do a simple but useful task. They help buyers search multiple microstock agencies at once. Some do this by showing search results from multiple agencies on a single page. Others show a single group of search results but show which photos are available at which agencies and at what prices.
Leading buyers to the cheapest source doesn’t sound like a positive thing for microstockers. But as microstockers and microstock agencies we are hardly in a position to protest a new idea forcing down the prices in our market. Let’s take a closer look at some of these sites and then consider what might be their net impact.
SpiderPic impresses me most. It comes from the makers of Ginipic who partnered with Picitup for images recognition technology. It’s just entering private beta now and they’ve offered 200 beta accounts to Microstock Diaries readers via this link.
Like most microstock comparison sites, it shows search results from a customizable list of agencies on a single page. What sets it apart is the image detail page which lists all agencies that have the image and their price ranges. Hovering over the thumbnail for each agency shows the specific prices and sizes available. Buyers can then click through to the agency of their choice. Check out some of the big price differences on the examples page.
SpiderPic also comes with a browser plugin for FireFox and Internet Explorer (Chrome coming soon) which lets buyers compare prices of any photo they find online with just a right-click. Of course the photo must be available at one or more of the agencies SpiderPic support, but it also works on microstock agency websites themselves. Don’t like the price of the large size at agency X? Just right-click and you can see where else that photo is available and at what prices.
The interface is gracefully simple with a useful horizontal scroll bar for each search result, avoiding the need to page through results of all agencies together.
StockBlend includes options to search Flickr, Flickr Creative Commons images, and Google Image Search alongside the results of microstock agencies.
Cyclo.ps differs from the others by placing search results on separate tabs. This makes it more difficult to compare but there’s more space to display images. The search is performed when a user switches from one tab to another, speeding up the initial results but slowing down the switching between result pages.
Like StockBlend, Cyclo.ps support Flickr searches, but adds traditional stock photo outlet photos.com (which at the time of writing is broken).
ImageTrail is the oldest of these sites. The primary difference is there is only one search result. When a buyer clicks one of the images it shows which agencies have that image, which is sometimes just one agency. This focuses the buyer on image choice rather than cheapest price.
It doesn’t allow the buyer to choose which agencies are included and only searches Fotolia, Dreamstime and 123rf. It also only shows photos that have been ‘indexed’ in advance, so it doesn’t catch the most recent photos and the quantity is limited. The site is also quite neglected with more page links broken than functioning.
How they Work
Monetization is via the agencies affiliate programs. As a buyer-focused application, they can be much more lucrative than microstock contributor blogs! However, judging by the lack of maintenance at the two older comparison sites ImageTrail and Cyclo.ps, it’s not easy money.
The data is collected from code that ‘scrapes’ the content from the website in most cases. Some agencies allow these applications to work via their APIs – a cleaner and more reliable method. However, when not all agencies have an API or don’t permit it’s use for this type of application, it can be easier for the developers to just scrape the data from all websites in the same way.
What the Agencies Think
The larger and more successful agencies are usually the most expensive, so naturally they’re not happy to have their prices compared against other agencies. Their rate of customer acquisition is often high enough to make the traffic from these small websites unappealing. It’s not uncommon for agencies to block access for websites like this, though it’s not always motivated by not wanting to be compared. Sometimes these websites can have an excessive strain on server resources due to the nature of scraping.
On the other end of the scale, most newer and smaller agencies are happy to be included for the exposure and potential supply of new customers. Most comparison websites are happy to hear from agencies wanting to be included, even though the potential affiliate earnings are lower.
Do Buyers Really Shop Around?
There’s a lot of evidence to suggest weak price resistance in the microstock market. However, there’s no doubt some buyers will consider price the dominant factor in purchase decisions. Even if they’re a minority, the combined traffic (via Alexa) for the above four websites suggests there’s enough to make a small difference to the market, though probably not a noticeable difference to the top agencies.
What is the Impact on Microstockers
There’s a chance these sites could bring new customers into the market and help focus on credit based sales (not subscriptions), but that’s about the only positives for us microstockers. These tools are built for photo buyers, not contributors.
Just as microstock stripped the traditional stock photo industry of lucrative inefficiencies in supply and distribution, new technologies will continue to make photo buyers better informed about availability and pricing. The recent PicScout ImageExchange browser add-on does the same thing, allowing buyers to see which photos on more expensive agencies are also available at Dreamstime. We’re getting closer and closer to a perfect market.