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