01 Jun 2015 Making Microstock Exclusivity Work

Many people have tried exclusivity and then reverted to being non-exclusive because they found that they earned less in total while exclusive.

Nobody claims that exclusivity works for everyone. And it’s certainly not what it used to be.

Aspects To Consider About Exclusivity

There’s a lot of other factors that make exclusivity attractive beyond just the amount of royalties earned.

  • You only have to manage one account
  • It is easier to follow up on mis-use and unlicensed use
  • It is also easier to keep yourself updated when you’re only following news for a single agency
  • You have fewer forums to bother with

But let’s face it, the money is the most important. That’s why the majority of exclusives choose exclusivity.

Which Agency?

First, one has to look at with which agency they could go exclusive. In microstock there’s really only three options: iStock, Fotolia and Dreamstime. The latter two have relatively few exclusive contributors.

All the Dreamstime exclusives I’ve spoken to have small portfolios and are more interested in microstock for fun than maximising profits. I will be happy to hear from others who feel differently, of course.

Fotolia have quite a few more exclusives than Dreamstime, but still very few compared to iStock. They do exceptionally well in Germany, very well in France, and pretty well across the rest of Europe, according to most accounts. The Fotolia exclusives I’ve spoken with are all from Germany or France and shoot with a very European style.

The agency with the largest base of exclusivity deals is iStock. Recent changes at the company have made it clear they’re less interested in a lot of their existing exclusive contributors’ content than they have been in the past. And it’s working. A lot of long-time exclusives are dropping the crown, and leaving iStock exclusivity.

But not all.

Some Top Microstockers Still Choose Exclusivity

Many exclusive iStock contributors are still very happy and earning well. The agency has also negotiated some interesting contracts with some of the industry’s top-performing microstock photographers. The very public Yuri Arcurs deal is the obvious one, and many have noted that Andres Rodriguez now has an exclusive account in iStock too. His non-exclusive accounts haven’t been going up in quantity while his exclusive one has, and lately he’s also pushing only iStock and Getty in his social feeds.

A few other top performers have been unable to respond to requests for comment on this topic, citing NDAs. My guess is many are contributing exclusively to iStock via un-related accounts, something confirmed off the record by at least one.

Why Does Exclusivity Work For Them?

So why are they doing this? The answer is simply that a certain style, quality and quantity of content still earns more when distributed exclusively through iStock than when distributed non-exclusively.

I’m sure many will disagree with this. Not least Jon Oringer, in a blog post about exclusivity, whose reasons are heavily weighted to the agency perspective, or purely theoretical, without actually addressing whether the contributor can earn more.

But if you ask around, off the record and with the right people, you’ll likely come to the same conclusion I did.

How To Make Exclusivity Work For You – Know Your Portfolio Strengths

The trick is to know what kind of content you can produce, so you know which exclusivity contributors to question.

Where Fotolia exclusivity has the best chances of making sense is when your portfolio has a very European look. As I said before, Fotolia is very successful in Europe and most of its top performers use European style. If you aren’t in Europe and you can’t, or don’t want to, shoot European style, this is likely not the best choice for you.

The content that still does better exclusively at iStock is lifestyle -models on locations-. Note that to succeed the content needs to be very well shot  -high production value, skilled photography, excellent equipment-, with modern style (more authentic than stocky, natural colours, lots of back-lighting) and with great post-processing. And it has to be done in professional-level quantity to be worthwhile. This is the content that iStock wants, because it sells very well with their buyers.

Now, relatively few microstock contributors can produce this kind of content, but if you check the top of iStock’s search results for lifestyle-related search terms, you’ll spot them pretty easily. Note how well they’re all doing on sales per image. And if you can, monitor their portfolio size for a while and note how much and how consistently they create new content.

So if you’re still exclusive but wondering why it’s not working for you as it used to… Or if you’re a high-quality lifestyle stock  shooter wondering about exclusivity… that is how to make exclusivity work for you.

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