26 Oct 2015 GL Stock Images
It’s a common case in microstock: a new agency launches with a different perspective or business model, but in a few short years they evolve to become exactly like all the others.
GL Stock Images started life with an interesting USP: providing the vector graphics that designers’ clients hadn’t chosen or that were otherwise unused.
Now they’re a typical microstock agency and while they haven’t grown to any meaningful size, they’ve lasted 8 years in an industry where most startup agencies fizzle out in less than 3.
Originally named Graphic Leftovers, the company was founded by Daniel Errante and Kelly Jay in St. Louis, Missouri in March 2008. Later the HQ was moved to Houston, Texas.
The business originally sold only vectors, pitching itself as making use of unfinished work, rejected client submissions, and ‘parts’ of designs (hence “leftovers”). Soon, they modified their proposition and added stock photography, launching an extremely modest collection of 200 images in 2008.
At first, they didn’t accept images that required releases, so they had no photos of people in their collection – an attractive point for contributors who don’t do lifestyle. But this is still one of the best-selling genres in stock, and once again they adjusted to fit the market. They now accept lifestyle images with model releases, but don’t require releases to be submitted or attached to every photo.
|Minimum Size||4 megapixels|
|Licenses||Standard and Extended Royalty Free|
|Pricing||By size: Small $1 to $5, Medium and Large $6 to $15|
|Payment Methods||PayPal and Skrill|
|Referral Program||5% for six months from sellers only, only standard license sales|
|Application Process||Submit 20 images for review|
|Upload Methods||FTP and multiple web upload|
|Headquarters||Saint Louis, MA. USA|
|Founders||Daniel Errante: LinkedIn, Kelly Jay: LinkedIn|
|Social Profiles||Facebook, Twitter, YouTube|
The Current Business Model
Although they’ve abandoned some of their initial premises, they still have a few small features that set them apart.
This marketplace’s pricing is based on single image purchases: no more contributor headache from credits and subscriptions. On the buyer side, they only require a minimum $10 deposit to start buying, and they offer bonuses for deposits of over $100.
Another interesting point: contributors can set their own prices based on size-structured tiers. Small sizes go from $1 to $5, and medium and large are from $6 to $15 per image with a standard RF license. And contributors get 52% of every sale. This “more than half” royalty is one of the main points of their stated ‘fair trade’ policy for contributors.
Their standard license has a very low copy limit compared to most microstock agencies, at 10,000 copies. But they also offer a “merchandise” (i.e. extended) license for $45 or unlimited copies for $85.
This small agency features what many big ones still lack: a very easy uploading system. You can bulk upload all of your files straight into a queue for review. There’s no categorizing or disambiguation process.
Graphic Leftovers became GL Stock Images in 2012. This rebranding was part of an fundamental redesign of both the company and their website. What they have now is an edgy, modern-looking site featuring a collection of over 2 million images and illustrations, with a very user-friendly and graphically appealing interface and an interesting blog, all of which provides a great customer experience.
From a client’s point of view, their library is limited and needs more varied content. However, for a microstocker, it’s a clear sign of underrepresented niches, and some contributors might see it as an opportunity to supply specific styles and types of images.
The biggest growth-inhibiting factor is their collection. The most obvious problem is that all search results are still mostly vectors. This is easily explained by GL’s origins as a vector-only site, but after so many years, it’s a very bad sign that they haven’t been able to attract a meaningful quantity of photos. Other problems are that it delivers gallery-based results more than specific keywords matches, and that it lacks advanced filters: results can only be sorted by most recent, by collection (and there only two), and by type (photo or illustration).
The Cost of Fairness is Growth
GL Stock Images is a tiny player in the market, and doesn’t appear to have any full-time staff working on it, including the founders who are both working on other projects. There are no visible signs of growth, and contributors consistently report extremely low sales. The business is on auto-pilot.
But instead of cutting prices and royalties, they stick to their fair-trade contributor deal. They seem to be hoping to achieve incremental growth via a base of happy contributors filling their collection with content and spreading the word for them. Clearly this strategy is not working for them.
The latest decision has been to shut the doors to new contributors and new submissions in order to reduce reviewing costs. Although this may raise suspicion about their situation, Errante says it’s a temporary lock, and that they will be reopening for new submitters in the coming months.
GL Stock Images is an interesting case study for the microstock market, demonstrating how high royalty rates make it extremely difficult to grow, but also how a microstock agency can survive long term if fully automated.