27 Apr 2007 Free Stock Photos
Most microstock agencies offer a limited selection of free photos. Let’s take a look at what’s available and compare across the different agencies.
The strategy is simply to attract people seeking images for free and convert them into fee-paying customers. Only the more successful and established agencies seem to offer free images, making it appear to be a question of resource allocation. They’ve been doing so for years, so it clearly works. Some agencies even buy contextual ads for “free photos” search terms.
Free Photo Details
|“Free image of the week” As the name implies, one free image per week. Four free images are available at any one time. Contributors submit images from their own portfolio for consideration. Contributors gain from increased portfolio exposure. iStockphoto Free Images
|“Free image of the week” and “Free vector of the week” Shutterstock selectively email contributors offering to use one of their images as a free download on their front page. Contributors gain from increased portfolio exposure. You need to be registered to download.
|“Free Section” Contains images ‘donated’ by contributors for registered users to download free. The license is the same as the commercial royalty free license except the print run is limited to 10,000. Contributors gain from increased portfolio exposure. Dreamstime Free Images
|“Free photos of the day” A collection of images are chosen and made available free to registered users for a day. Same royalty free license. (update Jun 2009) Fotolia have also created a Free Photos API and launched PhotoXpress as an independent website using the free photos available from Fotolia.
|StockXpert’s owner, HAAP Media, also owns Stock.XCHNG, one of the largest free photo websites. StockXpert is heavily promoted on Stock.XCHNG, including showing StockXpert images alongside the search results.
|“Free Photo of the Week” A single image is made available each week. Standard royalty free license. BigStockPhoto Free Images
|Single free download image found on the website’s front page. Standard royalty free license.
|“Free Images” Section where contributors can donate their images to be available free for a set period. Contributors gain from increased portfolio exposure. 123rf Free Images
123rf’s free images program was introduced in March of this year (2007) and on April 4 they released some early result information in their contributor forum. They reported a 20% increase in traffic, higher account signups and longer visits. They also drew connections between the contributors who offered the most free images to the most-viewed portfolios. They follow this through to the logical conclusion and assess how increased profile visitation converts to increased sales. Without citing specific data sources they report that contributors “can expect to receive sales increases of a minimum 40% to 2500%”.
I realize Alexa’s data is merely a statistical sample, but it concurs with the 20% rise over the month of March, but then reports an even bigger and sudden drop before the end of the month. See 123rf’s traffic chart at Alexa. I’m inclined to believe their reports of the free image section being a marketing success, even if they’re making the statistics match their story. Given almost all the other successful microstock websites have a free section, it seems obvious that it works.
Update 2007-05-10: Added Shutterstock’s new free image service.
Update 2009-05-28: Added Fotolia’s Free Files API and PhotoXpress.