20 Jun 2011 Can a Voluntary Code of Conduct Make a Difference in Microstock?

FairStockPhotoAgency.com is a new website aimed at creating a voluntary code of conduct for microstock and other stock photo agencies.

It was created by Vitezslav Valka, CEO of Pixmac, after the agency he steers ran into a variety of problems. The most notable problem was contributors unhappy about their content appearing for sale but without attribution on Pixmac’s website.   That is, the photos were credited to the partner agency which supplied them and the photographer’s name was not shown.

The declaration of a fair stock photo agency addresses this and other issues in microstock, including the transparency of reseller partners, the ability to opt-out of reseller programs, and maintaining attribution information in photo metadata and through reseller relationships.

The site declares its intention as resolving some of these issues, along with raising awareness and creating transparency. To achieve this, microstock agencies can join the site – effectively signing the declaration – agreeing to abide by the rules.

How is it Going So Far?

Even though the site hasn’t been publicized yet, four microstock agencies have already signed: Pixmac, YAYmicro, Cutcaster and Photocase. Some bigger agencies have been approached but declined to participate.

Contributors can also sign the declaration. They agree to not spam keywords, to give an agency time to rectify issues before posting about them on forums, and to respect confidential information. Some well-known contributors have already signed.

Can it Make a Difference?

So what chance does this declaration have of achieving its objectives and making a difference in the microstock industry?

Top microstock agencies have no reason to sign it, and good reasons to not sign it.

Small and new agencies have an incentive to sign it, but limit themselves by doing so, making it more difficult to compete with the top agencies.

If only small agencies sign it, it won’t “resolve” the problems – the majority of the industry (in terms of sales) will still operate the same way.

Another aspect that will make it difficult for this particular initiative to succeed is the fact that not one of the agencies who have signed it complies with the rules. Of the current four, Cutcaster is the only one that doesn’t strip attribution details from the metadata in preview images (compliant with rule #1) but does not offer a way for contributors to remove their files (breaking rule #3).

What Could Make it Work?

Having agencies comply with the rule prior to being listed would be a great start.

For there to be any incentive for larger agencies to participate, contributors would need to agree not to distribute their images to any agency which hadn’t signed the agreement. And that would mean turning down significant revenue. If you think that sounds unlikely, you understand why I don’t think this initiative will work in its current format.

My View

So while I’m happy to support this movement with ideas and public comments, I haven’t signed it myself. While it’s perhaps the most organized incarnation of this long-standing ‘fair trade’ sentiment, I don’t see it making any meaningful difference in the marketplace.

If I were running a small or new microstock agency, I’d definitely sign it now while it’s clear complying with the rules is not a requirement.   Even if compliance became compulsory, I’d probably still sign it, but do so fully aware that building sales would make many times more positive impact.

Your View?

What do you think?   Can it work as it is, does it need critical changes, or can it work at all?

  • Luis Santos
    Posted at 17:10h, 20 June Reply

    I would add a few more points on that list but I believe I better shut my mouth 🙂

    • Vitezslav Valka
      Posted at 01:11h, 21 June Reply

      Luis, definitely feel free to say what you have in mind. This kind of initiative needs feedback as that’s the way it can keep it’s power. I wanted to have it more general and focusing on crucial issues, rather than having a list of tens of limitations. So it’s easy to remember and follow.

      It’s now in beta because I’m sure it’s not perfect yet…

  • Microstock Posts
    Posted at 00:04h, 21 June Reply

    Full credit to Vitezslav Valka for taking such an initiative. It is a hard battle to fight though, if agencies are not legally bound to honour, or even create Artists rights. I’ve always thought that there should be some kind of establishment which oversees the behavior of agencies, the same like a kitchen in a restaurant is inspected from time to time, or a Monopolies and Mergers Commission looks to see if competition is not being unfairly stifled. Often the agencies are good at sweet talking their contributors, but ultimately their own interests inevitably wins and often at the expense of contributors.

    • Vitezslav Valka
      Posted at 01:36h, 21 June Reply

      Well, I’m not a big fan of regulations. That’s why I made it this way. Who feels this is right might join/sign it. And anyone in the industry might link that page in case of need. In the future I see it more as a possible certification authority rather than institution enforcing something. People are smart enough to understand the rest.

  • CandyBox Photography
    Posted at 02:44h, 21 June Reply

    We support the initiative of Vita because he took the difficulty to express the thoughts of many in the industry in a meaningful way. Like Vita says “feel free to say what you have in mind” and finally that’s what counts for now. The future is the future but the past was full of changes which nobody in the stock business market could foresee, let’s assume prevent 😉 We are all part of an very dynamic market and adaptation is the key…also for the future development and success of agencies.

  • Cory
    Posted at 09:53h, 21 June Reply

    Seems like a reasonable initiative. Was there a larger scope planned or was it going to focus on these specific issues? Like Luis, I could definitely compile a laundry list of things I’d like to see from agencies like price setting features, 50/50 royalty rates, optional subscriptions and easy portfolio disabling features. Obviously, you can’t expect agencies to comply overnight, so a rating system might make sense (gold, silver or bronze star agencies). Just thinking out loud though. It’s a good start.

  • tan510jomast
    Posted at 12:54h, 26 June Reply

    cheers Lee, long time no speak 🙂
    being only 4 yrs active in this tiny section of my photography business, i am too little to worry, but perharps little is the time to worry before i become as big and successful in microstock photography as the Yuri, LiseGagnon, LeeTorrens, SJLocke..(s) of the business.
    I think this can only be do-able if indeed the big guns like yourself and aforementioned take a proactive stand to mobilize this.
    This, and the problem of image thefts in this global web community.
    Maybe the agencies are already compliant but only with the top sellers.
    Or else, I would be wondering why the top sellers don’t care to push this on.
    Just my tuppence worth , ,..
    but really, as i said, what’s a small fish like me telling you what to do, lol.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 15:04h, 26 June Reply

      Thanks Tan, but you can’t put me in the same group as those very accomplished photographers. I’m not a photographer in the way they are.

      I’m sure Vita has, or is planning to, contact many of the top selling contributors. But like the explanation in the article for the top agencies, I think similar dynamics are in play, making it less straight-forward, and less beneficial, for them to participate. Hence my conclusion.

      Thanks for your comments.

  • Phil McDonald
    Posted at 07:48h, 12 July Reply

    As Lee Torrens stated, the problem is incentive. Without motivation to comply to a set of guidelines, why would they? There’s no real upside if they do and more important no penalty if they don’t.

    In the crowdsourcing industry AKA microstock the agencies have an “our way or the highway” mentality and for good reason. Though any contributor can take a direct sales approach, it’s a hard slog, with the promise of limited success at best. This is why we have 20% commissions etc. as agencies are concerned with the bottom line: profit. Doing the right thing by signing a voluntary code of conduct that might impact the bottom line negatively if they do, is not likely.

    If it impacted their bottom line if they didn’t sign, then you’d see compliance.

  • Dimitar
    Posted at 17:58h, 21 July Reply

    HHHhhhhmmmmm…Got me thinking

    Salute to the pioneering initiative to bring order in the chaos. It might not be realistically implementable in its current form, but its an initiative in the right path nonetheless. I say we support Valka by signing if not for else, then for the egoistic reason that he is doing something proper (for me and all of us photographers out there), so that Valka or future Valkas are encouraged to make even bigger step once enough signs have been gathered, but only as a form of certification.

    I’m sure that many of the agencies are following Lee and will inevitably read the comments (unless they have buried themselves so deep in their arrogance), so this Lee’s post will stir things up at least to the level of a wake up call to something in the future. If I were them, i would for sure consider that leaving a gap open (and contributors level of satisfaction is a huge one) for someone to fill it in is a long term not a vise decision. At the end of the day, we all know the story of a potential contributor with 10.000 photos being rejected by a major agency and the rest is history…

    I also give gratitude to Lee for staying neutral in this matter considering his role in this case is a reporting one and should stay like that although he can benefit if the initiative spreads even further.


  • Vitezslav Valka
    Posted at 00:30h, 22 July Reply

    Thank you Dimitar for this valuable feedback! The idea was exactly that: Let’s try to do something to fix the big problem all contributors face. It might be me who will find the solution. Or this might be a good base for anybody else.

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