No microstock agency has come as close to joining the top earning agencies as Depositphotos has done in its mere two years of business.
But this agency is weird. Very weird! Here’s why:
They launched into a bloodbath of controversy due to association with a file-sharing network. They copied the best strategies of various top microstock agencies adding almost nothing new. And a policy of strict anonymity for staff and owners compounded suspicion and fed conspiracy theories.
Yet the company has been very successful. The strategies they copied were well chosen. And they spent a lot of money in all the right places. They’ve just passed 5 million files exactly two years after launch. And many serious microstockers report that Depositphotos is among their top 5 – 7 earning agencies.
Let’s take a closer look at this weird but successful microstock agency and see if we can help you make your decision about contributing to Depositphotos.
What’s [NOT] Different about Depositphotos?
There’s not much in the Depositphotos business model that we haven’t already seen in the industry. Here’s some of the winning strategies that Depositphotos chose:
- Smart search – most new microstock agencies lack variety and sort options when they launch but Depositphotos gave buyers great search results from day 1
- API – realizing just how many sales come via partnerships and system integrations, Depositphotos also had a functional API from day 1
- Lucrative affiliate program – new agencies can’t trade on a reputation for generating sales, so affiliate programs must make up for it which the Depositphotos program does, though a little weird (see below)
- Contributor incentives – boosting submissions with paid uploads got Depositphotos to a record-breaking 5 million files in just two years
- Taking submissions by hard drive – accepting bulk submissions with a release spreadsheets lowers the barrier for big contributors to participate
- Split site – contributors get separate accounts at a separate and familiar sub-domain: submit.depositphotos.com
This lack of originality doesn’t just apply to strategy. Site layout, logo design and terminology are all familiar to anyone in the industry. Even model release structure and wording are plainly derived from another well-known microstock agency.
But copying has its advantages. Their strategy was already proven so they launched with lots of confidence. And they backed it up with great programming and well targeted marketing. At launch, Depositphotos looked and felt more like the top agencies than a startup.
So what is actually different?
- Payment by SMS – buyers in certain countries can pay for photos through their mobile phone bill, replacing credits with SMS messages. This is an original innovation.
- Free Trial Subscription – buyers get a 7-day subscription for 5 photos per day free of charge, yet contributors still get paid for the sales.
- Credits actually cost $1 – most other agencies have complicated the pricing and pushed them up over time. However, at Depositphotos, 1 credit actually costs $1, and 50 credits costs $50. Discounts are available above 100 credits.
- Exclusivity is full ‘photography’ exclusivity, not just for Royalty Free licenses or image exclusivity. I’m not sure what the strategy behind that is, but Depositphotos isn’t pushing exclusivity at all.
|Minimum Image Size||3.4 Megapixels|
|Footage||Yes (added August 2012)|
|Licenses||Royalty Free commercial and Editorial, and extended licenses|
|Compensation||44 – 52% for credits, 30 – 35 cents for subscriptions, and 24 – 28 cents for SMS sales|
|Pricing||$1 credits, subscription plans from 3 day – 1 year with 5 – 45 daily downloads|
|Payment Methods||PayPal, MoneyBookers (Skrill) and Webmoney|
|Referral Program||Contributors: 3 cents per subscription sale (nothing for credit sales)
Buyers: 15% of credit sales (indefinitely) & 4 – 10% of subscriptions
|Application Process||Submit 5 sample photos|
|Exclusivity||Contributor exclusivity (see notes below)|
|Upload Methods||Web and FTP, or hard drive for large collections|
|IPTC Data extraction||Yes|
|Delete images?||Yes, immediately and individually|
|Languages||English, Russian, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Dutch|
|Headquarters||Fort Lauderdale, USA|
Depositphotos was launched by Dmitry Sergiev, the current CEO, who previously worked with a file sharing site, Depositfiles.com. When Depositphotos launched, forum chat alleged it was possible to download pirated collections of stock photos from Depositfiles.com. Apparently Dmitry left Depositfiles before starting Depositphotos, and that was the extent of the association. Nevertheless, together with the connected names, it has been a constant public relations battle for the company ever since.
It was plainly evident that Depositphotos was launched with massive financial backing. And they used it effectively, building their portfolio with cash incentives, marketing extensively within the industry, and building a solid and functional system. They also took additional funding recently in the form of $3 million from Jersey-based TMT Investments.
The company now has operational centers in three different continents: Accounting and official headquarters in Fort Lauderdale; programming in Moscow; and, review, sales & marketing teams in London. And yes, headquarters in the US means we must submit the all-too-familiar tax forms.
Microstock agencies need contributors to trust them with their portfolios and buyers to trust them with their credit card details. Anonymity doesn’t inspire a whole lot of trust, but that apparently didn’t occur to Depositphotos until recently. They’ve been working on their anonymity issues since early after launch, but still haven’t figured it out:
- No staff are ever named on the website
- Email comes from anonymous addresses (service@, support@, marketing@, etc)
- No staff existed on LinkedIn (until recently, see below)
- Even their domain registration details are hidden.
However, we are finally starting to see the Depositphotos staff come out to play:
- Marius Klatt, Sales Manager operating from London, who we met at Microstock Expo
- Olga Kravchenko, currently manager of the partner program, was also at Microstock Expo
- Dmitry Sergiev, Founder and CEO, now finally on LinkedIn
- Elena Flanagan-Eister, head of US Sales & Marketing, attended Visual Connections NY
- Igor Kaliuzhnyi, head of Eastern & Western Europe, quoted in all press releases
- Vadim Nekhai, Marketing Manager
- Jamie Joyce, Marketing & Advertising Manager
- Shawn Rize, SEO Specialist
- Igor Shoifot, Advisor (via TMT Investments), also attended Visual Connections
Split Personality Social Media
It’s taken some time for Depositphotos to get their social media strategy on track, and it’s still not without major issues.
Fortunately someone has woken up to how creepy this is and established a Facebook Page instead, which actually has smart and interesting content behind it.
Yet just when we though they’d figured it out, they start posting contributors’ images at high resolution and without watermark on their Facebook Page.
Depositphotos is currently paying 10 cents per accepted file for the first 500 of new contributors, making a maximum possible upload incentive of $50. Previously the amount was 20 cents making the maximum $100.
But what’s even more appealing is the assistance given to qualifying contributors through their Special Program for Large Contributors. Not only will they negotiate terms, they’ll take your portfolio by hard drive and categorize, attach releases and submit it for you.
While appearing generous on the surface, the Depositphotos referral program reveals more of the weirdness of this agency
- Payment for referring contributors is great, but it only pays for subscription sales, not credit-based sales. Weird, right?
- 15% buyer referrals sounds great, but it’s calculated after subtracting the contributor royalty!
- It doesn’t specify that referrals are paid for the life the referred account, but it doesn’t specify an expiry limit either
- The cookie duration is a mere 3 days while most other microstock agencies set theirs for 30 days
Depositphotos seems to have proven itself trustworthy over the past two years, operating without any major scandals. And that the staff are coming out and attending events provides more comfort.
Their ability to generate sales is also well proven based on public comment from established microstockers.
With a solid submission process and an open invitation for serious contributors to submit in bulk, there’s also little risk of not getting a return on the effort of uploading.
Add all that together and it seems like it’s now both a profitable and safe decision to contribute to Depositphotos. You can register here.
Posted December 27th, 2011 by Lee Torrens