27 Jul 2007 How to Create a Microstock Agency – Part 2

Update January 2011 “ this blog post is now quite dated. If you’re interested in the business of microstock agencies take a look at my industry report which covers all aspects of the industry from the agency perspective.

This is part 2 in a series of posts about ‘how to create a microstock agency’. In part 1 we looked at why so many new microstock agencies appear, the microstock catch-22, and other hurdles.

Here in part 2 of this series we take a look at the creative strategies employed by the existing microstock agencies to overcome these hurdles, successful or otherwise.


iStockphoto are a unique case. The market didn’t exist when contributors started uploading their photos. The earliest contributors had no expectation of receiving commissions. Whey iStockphoto started charging for downloads they created the new customer base of low-budget photo buyers that never existed before. There was no catch-22 for iStockphoto.


Fotolia overcame the microstock catch-22 by offering contributors cash incentives to upload their photos. This was an extremely successful strategy and helped them quickly build their portfolio. While successful, the strategy must have been expensive. Whether you believe their portfolio size claim or not, buying your way to critical mass seems an effective strategy.


LuckyOliver employed a combination of strategies. The primary incentive was offering a credit, known as ‘tokens’ at LuckyOliver, to contributors for each image they uploaded in the initial startup phase. These could be used to buy other images, or later used to enter images into the Sideshow. Additionally, the first 30,000 exclusive images contributed received a 60% commission rate for the lifetime of the image. Without spending cash like Fotolia, LuckyOliver also bought their way to their initial portfolio.


CanStockPhoto are employing the ‘wait patiently’ strategy to build their portfolio. They have been in business since 2004, more than a year prior to Fotolia, but their portfolio has only just passed the half-million milestone. With their apparent zero budget for design or marketing, the strategy may have seen them to a cashflow positive position with their tiny portfolio. Or perhaps growth isn’t high on the strategic agenda for full-time student founder and CEO Duncan Enman. Contributors, myself included, report slow sales indicating they don’t have the momentum of critical mass. While patient waiting may help you stay afloat, it’s not an effective strategy for growth.


SnapVillage appear to be relying on the Corbis brand to overcome the catch-22. They didn’t leverage their unique position to pre-populate the portfolio which would have brought in buyers from day one. Neither did they offer any incentives for early contributors. All accounts show that the market isn’t taking SnapVillage seriously. It’s too early to arrive at any conclusions, but early indicators seem to show that relying on a well-known brand is not an effective strategy.


Cash works. Being paid just to upload photos is appealing and Fotolia aren’t the only ones to do so. New entrant Albumo are crediting the accounts of contributors with US$25 when they have 250 images approved in their portfolio.

Promises work. Providing credits or higher commissions is also appealing and from all accounts, LuckyOliver have used it to good effect.

It seems the strategies involving incentives push contribution over the hurdle. They acknowledge the risk the contributor is taking by uploading photos to an unproven website. The agency is sharing the risk which many contributors respond to in a positive way. Relying on time or brand seem less reliable.

In part 3 we take a look at some other lessons from the market, in particular strategies and mistakes to avoid.

No Comments

Post A Comment