Selling the Same Stock Photos at Different Prices

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Now that it’s possible to sell stock photos at a wide variety of prices, photographers are taking advantage of the opportunities in a wide variety of ways. Some photographers are sending different photos to different markets based on the price range they believe will return more, or where they feel it needs to be to cover the costs of production. Others are placing some photos in all markets with a price agnostic philosophy.

Confused by the lack of consistency I observed on this issue, I asked around. The responses helped me understand the issue, but there was still very different points of view. So I asked around again, but this time on the record. Below are the responses I received to the question:

‘What do you think about photographers selling the same stock photos at different prices?

Yuri Arcurs, World’s top selling microstocker:

Buying images at a higher price and you are often giving a whole other service level then what microstock offers. For some customers, this kind of service is highly appreciated. I have no problem letting more expensive agencies sell my images at a much higher price and providing this service. I do not see a conflict here and all the agencies that I know of that does this have not expressed any complaints or concerns from their customers.

Ellen Boughn, Content Director, Dreamstime:

Martha Stewart sells her branded products at Macy’s (midstock or RF) and also at Target (more like microstock). Each of the chains sells basically the same kind of product but of diverse levels of quality. There is something disrespectful and insulting to the buyer in offering the exact same product (or image, in this case) for different prices for the same uses. Such a practice could contribute to the final downfall of RF. I think the wish to squeeze every penny out of an image ultimately devalues all images.

Serban Enache, Founder and CEO, Dreamstime:

In this case it’s the photographer who decides, unless some rules are set forth by the agency.
Considering our model and price structure, this is not harmful to us, but we don’t really agree to the practice as it is negative for the industry.

It is misleading and unethical, just as the agencies’ selling the same image to two different buyers at different prices. Because each affords another price. “Pocket-pricing” how I call it, is unethical.

Although our business model doesn’t really suffer (it may even be promoted this way, as the buyer will find the low priced alternative), it’s still something we’re not keen to see. The agent- contributor partnership involves a lot of trust.

Shannon Fagan, New York, NY, photographer & SAA President:

For non image exclusive RF agency contracts, selling the same image at different price points for the same usage is a bit of an oxymoron, but certainly a validated market condition.   As comparison, the same flight from New York to Paris exists at various prices at different times, and via multiple purchase methods, for the same essential seat for one passenger.   Unless the contract for sale is image exclusive to one agency, it is the buyer’s responsibility to find, secure, and transact the best opportunity for purchase.   If agencies are caught in the middle of a debacle between buyer and seller, then contracts should be modified to reflect image-exclusive agreements in order to qualm buyer concerns.

Don Farrall,

I am actually not a fan of multiple outlets for the same images.   I prefer a contract that is image exclusive, and not photographer exclusive.   The current system in place makes for a lot of redundancy of effort adding a lot of extra time to a minimally profitable effort.   Selling the same images at different prices further muddies up the marketplace, wasting additional time on the buyers side. Istock is trying pretty hard to make exclusivity the defining quality that will drive buyers to search there first, but their photographer exclusivity, not image exclusivity policy, that extends even to rejected images, is asking too much, and they are losing the battle in winning over many of the top producers as exclusives.

Chris Ferrone, Owner and Editor,

During this time of transition wherein declining and ascending business models co-exist, photographers should enjoy the higher revenue from the old models as long as they don’t mind the risk of embarrassment or worse should a higher-paying client find out they could have paid much less for a given image.   Ultimately, however, and like it or not, the ascending lower-priced business models will prevail and photographers simply won’t have the higher-priced options.

John Griffin, CEO, Cutcaster

This is one of the problems that we are trying to solve at Cutcaster.   Finding true market value and eliminating the confusion between “stock classes” via one user-generated model that combines pros and joes….

Dan Heller, Freelance Photographer, Author and Industry Blogger:

Gasoline, milk, coffee, toys and hundreds of other commodities —   identical products can be purchased at different prices from different stores within a 10 mile radius of your house, because sellers conduct intelligent market analysis of buyer demographic, geographic location, store design, and many other factors. Identical stock photos can and should be priced using similar methodologies. (further reading)

Paul H. Henning, Founder and CEO, Stock Answers LLC:

So long as you’re licensing royalty free imagery, not rights managed, there is absolutely nothing to prevent you from selling the same images at different prices with different RF licensing models (subscription, micro, ‘traditional RF, etc.).   The only caveat I would offer: are you potentially going to turn off a customer who finds after-the-fact that he could have purchased the SAME image at a cheaper price on a different site, or under a different model? My guess is that in the real world this doesn’t happen very often, due to the sheer volume of images and stock sales sites that exist, but it’s worth pondering before you jump in and follow the multi-pricing strategy.   If this became common, the risk is that a large percentage of buyers could get ‘burned and turn off to either certain sites, specific photographers or even stock in general because they would come to believe, whether rightly or wrongly, that they were never really getting the best possible ‘deal.   Your credibility, as well as that of your stock sales outlets, may be at risk.

Jack Hollingsworth,

A year ago, i was opposed to the notion.  but now, i say…why not?  there are literally thousands of retail examples, in both product and service sectors, where this very thing is happening daily.

Daryl Lang, News Editor at Photo District News:

It’s reasonable for a photographer to offer the same picture (or collection of pictures) through different agencies at different prices. This will only work as long as the stock image market remains in total disarray. Until the marketplace settles on how much image licenses ought to cost, a photographer should try every strategy he or she is comfortable pursuing to make the best of the situation.

Paul Melcher, CKO, Zymmetrical and Stock Photo Industry Bohemian:

Ultimately, it is not the price that makes a buyer purchase an image, but the image relevancy to a very specific need at a very specific time. Shopping around is just not something photo buyers do, as for a few dollar difference, it is just not worth it. Especially, if those dollars spend are company money and not personal. Photographers selling at different price points are playing the market and are absolutely right.

Jon Oringer, Founder and CEO, Shutterstock:

When a single image has different prices online, it is generally because other stock companies are marketing it to various audiences who they believe are using the image for different purposes. That is why Shutterstock’s user-friendly subscription plans with pricing that is inherently transparent and consistent, is the best choice for all consumers who are looking for high quality, royalty-free images at an affordable price.

Jim Pickerell, Selling Stock:

I have always been a strong advocate of selling the same images at multiple price points.

Rights managed has always sold the same image at multiple price points. Given the high volume of images on all microstock sites and the variations in search-return-order (SRO) there is no guarantee an image high in the SRO on one site will be seen on the next due to a variety of factors:

  • Editing
  • Search engine operation and feature
  • Customer service before and after the sale
  • Bulk discounts

Not all customers search all possible collections, some use traditional, some microstock, some both. The best way to maximize sales of an image is to make it available on as many sites as possible (including traditional) where theoretically more customers can see it.

The idea that if a customer finds an image on one site that works for his project, and is within his budget, he will then spend time checking other sites to see if he can find it cheaper, is ridiculous. Most customers don’t have time to do this. Of course there are exceptions, but in the long run the more people who have a chance to see a photographer’s image the more money he will make.

Most portal operators don’t like this because it benefits image suppliers, not portal operators. Portal operators tend to look after their own self interest, not the interests of creators.

Some customers search traditional RF collections. If they can find the right image at a price they can afford they will pay it rather than spend more time trying to find something that is cheaper, but not so good.

Customers look for the right image, not the cheapest image.

All image sellers would make more money if every image was available for use in all segments of market and priced base on use and value received. For more on this point see: Modified Rights Ready Pricing

Steve Pigeon, President, Masterfile:

I think it’s OK for parties to license identical images at reasonably variable price points based on the different services being offered by distributors.   e.g. If a distributor offers better service, quality and warranties than its competitors, then it can justify charging a higher price for the same product.   There are myriad examples of this in the consumer retail business – but they don’t involve paying a 5,000% premium!

If a microstock company is permitted to license an image for $1-$20 and a traditional RF company is charging $50-$500 for the identical image from the same photographer with similar license terms and the same file quality, then someone is getting screwed – and it isn’t the photographer.

Masterfile has been offered such “price agnostic” collections previously and has declined every time.   Where pricing and principles are concerned, we have religion.

Andres Rodriguez, Super Microstocker:

Selling photos at different prices I feel is fine. Each agency has a customer base and customers don’t have time to shop around. They use the site that fits their needs without worrying about the price in many cases.

Kelly Thompson, COO, iStockphoto

A small variance in price isn’t a huge deal, but large differences really anger customers. It’s why we don’t let our exclusives sell the same images on Getty Images (and soon in our high-end collection). That goes for similar (sister) images as well. With the volume of great images being produced, there is just no reason for the duplication.

Oleg Tscheltzoff, Co-founder and CEO, Fotolia:

I don’t like the idea of photographers selling the same images at different price levels.   Of course often photographers can’t choose the end price as they are not in control of it, but I think they need at least to choose a channel: either micro, or mid or macro.

James West, Co-founder and CEO, Alamy:

It’s a free market – Alamy contributors are able to sell their royalty free images anywhere else at any price point. Imposing restrictive practices on image suppliers works against the long term interests of customers and photographers.

Which Way do You Go?

Posted January 26th, 2009 by


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