24 Nov 2015 Which Microstock Agency is the Best API Partner?

Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs, are now a core component of the stock photo industry at all levels.

Images flow between agencies who sell each others’ content, more so in the traditional space than microstock, but this is almost all via API.

Businesses with photo-buying traffic, like free image sites, upsell paid images which they display via API.

And agencies enable other businesses to sell images to their own customers, like printers, website makers and ad-supported social media platforms.  All also via API.

Knowing how APIs work and how they’re being used in the stock photo market is helpful to anyone involved in the industry, and anyone interested to see where it’s heading.

Why Are APIs So Important in Microstock?

The most important reason for having an API is to enable access to the customers of other businesses.  This is huge, and represents a big portion of sales for many microstock agencies.

They also help leverage other traffic with affiliate programs by enabling website owners to display paid images with affiliate codes on their own website, instantly monetising their traffic.  This can be even more lucrative for stock agencies than reselling given the agency keeps the customer relationship and affiliate commissions are much smaller than resale profit shares.

And APIs reduce scraping, which is where someone who wants the data from the website creates a script to crawl the website and save all the data.  Scrapers can place a lot of load on servers if there’s enough of them as they tend to request pages very quickly.  A single scraper, if not optimised to be gentle, can be like have 10,000 people viewing your website – a heavy load for any sized server.

APIs are also:

  • Secure because they require an API key which the agency can control
  • Reliable compared to scraping
  • Scalable compared to posting hard drives and manually managing updates

How Are APIs Used in Microstock

Microstock agencies exploit APIs in a variety of ways. Distribution partnerships and affiliate programs are the most common. Distribution deals are much easier to handle with APIs, but strategic partnerships with other businesses have proven to add value for growth. 

Being super protective with their APIs, iStock and Getty Images still made some interesting deals. In 2012 iStock partnered with iGoogle to bring their images to iGoogle users’ full-pages designs. That same year Getty teamed up with PR Newswire to offer their users Getty assets for press releases. Their latest partnerships this year include one with Microsoft to integrate stock imagery offer into their various productivity suites, though it seems that from time to time everyone in the industry has a deal of two going with Microsoft.

Although entering the API space last, Shutterstock closed some important deals too. In 2013 they partnered with Facebook to integrate Shutterstock’s images into Facebook’s Ad Creator tool, and in 2014 they closed a similar integration deal with Salesforce.

With their history of success as an API partner, Fotolia has a very long list of partnerships though with fewer high-profile names like Google and Microsoft.  Highlights from the list are Wix, the free website builder, and SAP.

In 2014 Depositphotos partnered with the app design platform MakeItApp to offer developers easier access to stock imagery. And at the end of October this year they closed a good deal with Joomag –a media publishing hub managing around 300,000 publications– to be part of their imagery supplier base.

Startups and small microstock agencies have also benefited from API functionality. In 2008, Pixmac surprised the industry with an innovative approach to solve the supply side of the two-sided market problem.  By seeding their collection via API partnerships with Fotolia, Dreamstime and various other small agencies, they were instantly able to focus on getting customers.  Since then, a lot of other startup microstock agencies have used this model including the interesting Brazilian startup I recently profiled, CrayonStock.

Unfortunately for us contributors, agencies have not been forthcoming in building API for contributor-focused functionality for various reasons. The only exception is iStock, which has contributor functionality in their API, but has only ever given access to a single application.  That is Deepmeta, a contributor-built app for surviving the excruciating iStock submission process, which iStock later purchased.

Which Microstock Agency is the Best API Partner?

This is a common question among businesses interested in working with a stock photo agency to incorporate images into their own product.  There’s a lot of confusing differences in the legals, the technology, and the finances.

Most serious microstock agencies have APIs these days, as do most traditional agencies, mobile agencies, and even some free photo sites as well.  With only a few exceptions, they all support searching, generating thumbnails with affiliate links, and reselling licenses.

Shutterstock – was late in developing its API, but what has kept its quantity of API partnerships small more than timing is their policy to not whitelabel their collection.  The company only partners with big businesses where it’s the exclusive image provider and the collection is branded as being Shutterstock.

iStock – even before the purchase by Getty Images, iStock was very picky about who they partnered with, but now even more so with a strong preference for big partnerships to go to the lead brand Getty rather than iStock.  The API is relatively clunky, the team slow at closing deals, and the terms are usually unappealing, so they rely on the perceived superior quality of their content to get partnerships over the line.

Fotolia – always the easiest company to do business with, Fotolia has a great API that’s easy to integrate and well documented.  They’re fast deal-makers, and while they’ve become more demanding with their terms, they’re not yet as unreasonable as some.  Historically Fotolia won most API partnerships for these reasons and is likely still leading the industry in API traffic.

Dreamstime – until recently required that every user account making purchases through the API was approved to do so. Normally there’s one API account and any user account can make purchases through it. This meant they could only partner with resellers where only the API account was doing the purchasing. That and a consistently “difficult” negotiation process – as frequently described to me – left Dreamstime out of the race completely.  Today the complete absence of initiative, development and growth at the company make Dreamstime a non-starter, despite having fixed the crazy policy about API accounts.

Depositphotos – is winning most partnerships today thanks to a solid API, easy negotiation, reasonable terms and a respectable collection.  Despite their portfolio being well behind that of Fotolia, their eagerness to bring on more sales channels makes them today’s partner of choice.

So there’s my verdict – Depositphotos taking the lead from Fotolia as the current API partner of choice.  What do you think makes for an attractive API?

  • Bob Davies
    Posted at 18:22h, 24 November Reply

    Going to tip my hat to Fotolia and Depositphotos here. Both excellent APIs, well documented, reliable, and the few changes that have had to be made over the years have been handled without a break in service and with plenty of advance notification. \o/

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