14 Oct 2007 What Microstock Contributors Want

Microstock agencies need to please many different groups: contributors who supply their content; buyers who provide their revenue; and their investors or owners who want to see a return for their investments. Most decision affect all three groups, making it difficult to please everyone.

In the interests of clarity, I’ve created this list representing what microstock contributors want from microstock agencies. I compiled it over time, collecting many great ideas from forums and blogs. This way it represents more than just my voice. Still, opinions among contributors vary on some topics, so feel free to add opposing or supporting comments.

Pay Up!, Joshua BlakeMoney!

Show me the money! Above all else, earnings are what contributors look for in an agency. It’s amazing what contributors will tolerate from an agency that’s producing consistently high earnings.

It’s easier for contributors to be patient with the earnings performance of new agencies when there are ongoing indicators of growth, preferably in the form of growing earnings.

Consistent Reviews

Get this one right and contributors will love you forever. We understand agencies receive tens of thousands of photos every week, that the quantity fluctuates, that reviewing is highly subjective, and that reviewing requires people with a very particular skill set. Granted, it’s difficult, but we see from time to time that it’s not impossible. They key is ‘consistency’.

A common question is why agencies don’t implement quality assurance processes when a review typically costs only 5 cents. Most contributors would happily trade longer review times for greater consistency.


Give us options for uploading. FTP is the most valuable method, though software to enable upload from with Apple iPhoto, Adobe Bridge or similar photo management software is an excellent alternative.

Many of the Java, Flash and ActiveX applications for uploading are excellent and well appreciated. A standard HTML upload form is a great standby. Contributors appreciate a variety of facilities to get our photos online.

Upload limits are frustrating. Agencies need to limit the quantity of low quality submissions, but why apply limits to contributors who’ve proven their quality over time? When agencies market their portfolio size as a selling point, it’s frustrating for contributors who can’t get them online.

It’s difficult to take an agency seriously if they don’t read IPTC data. This is a massive time saver and standard feature on all good microstock agency websites.


Contributors prefer no categories. Some buyers obviously do, so we’re understanding if an agency’s research suggests they help sales. When used, they need to be easy to use and cover sufficient subjects. It’s frustrating when you need to assign three categories to a photo but you can’t find a single one that’s relevant.

CanStockPhoto, one of the least sophisticated microstock agencies, guesses categories based on the keywords in the IPTC data. Contributors are then presented the opportunity to make manual corrections. This is an example of making it easy.

An Efficient Interface

Make the website straight forward. Microstock contributors are sophisticated users of technology, but that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate interacting with a logical and clearly structured system. LuckyOliver is a good example of an agency website that’s simple, clear and a pleasure to use.

Easy model release management makes a big difference. Having a separate store for model releases and being able to attach multiple releases to a photo is great. Having to combine releases and upload individually for each photo is not so convenient.

Browser session timeout periods need to be longer. We realize it’s a delicate balance between account security and user convenience. However, it becomes annoying having to log in many times throughout the day. An eight hour timeout would suit the majority of microstock contributors, while still providing sufficient security.

Give us Helpful Statistics

Show us how we’re doing. Statistics help us monitor and improve, and they’re great fun. Clear is good, charts are great. Exporting the data is a dream.

iStockphoto provide live charts of daily sales, monthly sales, and per photo sales. They enable us to sort our photos by upload date, last sale date, total earnings and earnings per month. These are statistics we can use, and they’re well presented. Many other agencies provide some of these facilities, but iStockphoto is currently the best model.

Show us how you’re doing too. Agency wide statistics are also of great value for us to see how we’re doing relative to other contributors and how the agency itself is doing. Useful statistics include the total quantity of photos for sale (if it’s an authentic figure!), number of photos in the review queue, top selling photos, top contributors, and top search keywords.

Make it Easy to Get Paid

Give us payment options. PayPal, Moneybookers and check are sufficient, but any less is insufficient.

A week is a sufficient delay for online payments (PayPal and Moneybookers) to be received after they’ve been requested, but two weeks is concerning.

Payout limits need to be relative to the performance of the agency. $100 at iStockphoto and Shutterstock is fine because they produce consistently high earnings. $50 at Fotolia and $30 at BigStockPhoto are also well set limits relative to their sales performance. Contributors would prefer new agencies launch with a low payout limit and then raise it once sales start growing.

Automatic monthly payment when our balance is over the payment limit, like at Shutterstock and now SnapVillage, is no problem if it helps the payments come through quickly.

Protect our Property

Don’t let our photos be stolen. Have a solid watermark that is difficult to remove and that also protects photos where the subject is off center.

Thumbnails don’t need to be large. That’s the purpose of the watermark – to protect larger versions of the photo. Keep thumbnails to a size that doesn’t encourage theft.

There’s More!

Allow us to edit our keywords and descriptions. Yes, this requires some form of quality control, but this is the biggest facility for us to ensure our photos get the exposure they deserve. Locking the keywords appears to be a lazy solution.

Offer a worthwhile referral program. All contributors talk to friends, email photo makers and buyers, so we could all make use of a referral program. One that rewards us based on the quality of the referred customers (quantity of contributor sales and value of buyer purchases) are obviously preferred over one-time payment models.

Review photos in a consistent timeframe. We understand there are busy periods and that reviewing is a wholly manual process. This is just something that requires management to keep it consistent. Fast reviews are always great, but we’re less concerned about whether it takes a day or a week than we are about it being consistent.

Offer a functional Application Programming Interface (API). Partnering with companies that can help sell photos is great for everybody. But on the contributor side of the system, programs like ProStockMaster and Microstock Monitor that take advantage of APIs, FTP and RSS make contributing much easier and more fun for us.

While not a deal-breaker, we appreciate seeing where are photos are used. We understand buyers’ need for privacy and that thousands of requests for tear sheets is inappropriate, but it can be done. Fotolia show us some limited detail of the buyer or their account. Dreamstime allow the buyer to note where the photo will be used when they download, which is even better.

StockXpertAsk and listen. Many agencies engage contributors in open microstock forums and get great feedback. StockXpert have done this in the past weeks when designing their subscription strategy. They got clear and unbiased responses from contributors which they used as input in their strategy decisions. The respect this earns from contributors cannot be over-valued.

What Else?

What do you think? Does this match what you want from a microstock agency?

  • Josh - Crestock.com
    Posted at 10:13h, 15 October Reply

    Thanks Lee,

    This is a great summary of things to keep in mind for us. I agree that its really important to consult as much as possible with contributors in making a stock site function better. Its hard to keep everyone happy, but I think the things you’ve listed would make a great start.

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