04 Jul 2009 Photographers Working Together in a Three Tiered Stock Photo Market

Jonathan Ross and his company AndersenRoss are well known in the stock photo market. He has experience selling photos at all levels of the stock photography business, giving him a clear perspective on how photographers are interacting.

I have been working in stock now for over a decade and have seen some big changes from Rights Managed (RM), to Traditional Royalty Free (Macro RF) and now to Micro. I have noticed that each time there is a new sales model added to the market to satisfy buyers needs, there is a backlash of animosity between the photographers that shoot for these different business models.

The Pattern

As a new model is created the original models volume of sales are directly affected by this new addition. There are a finite number of buyers and as much as everyone would like to believe, each new model does not create all brand new buyers. They do add some new buyers but at the end of the day each model’s revenue is affected by the addition of a new sales model. This happened when Macro RF first came on the scene. The RM business model took a hit on sales and the new Macro RF shooter was considered by some photographers in the RM business of stock to be the problem behind their diminishing sales.

Royalty Free Creates Tension

Competition Stock PhotoThis was the first time I had witnessed the tension between the two models and it created a rift between RM and RF photographers for a couple of years. Tensions would flare at professional photographers meetings and there was quite a bit of anger thrown from both sides. Fortunately with time the photographers grew to understand each others models and that it wasn’t the other photographers that were at fault. If they were to have approached anyone, it should have started with the new agencies. Talking with them in a professional manner to share concerns and grievances. Approaching the new agencies from a frustrated stand point was and is an unproductive effort at communication. It would have been far better to try and work with these agencies and see if the new model fit your company and if you could adapt to meet the changes.

Then Microstock Creates Tension

Now fast forward a decade and I see the same situation taking place between Macro RF and Micro RF. This is even a tougher battle since both models really have the same business framework, the only difference being the price point. So some photographers that were established and making a good living in the Macro market perceived their lively hood as being threatened by this new model, Micro. Once again the established photographers were the first to throw stones if any. They were seeing their income dwindle because of this new model. Some approached the situation with fear and frustration by putting blame once again on the other photographers instead of approaching the new agencies with their questions and learning the new model in detail.

The Micro model has now grabbed enough of the market to be an active part of the stock industry. Micro is not going away, it is in fact growing very rapidly. There are however some Macro photographers losing their income along with their businesses because of this new model and their fear of not being able to adapt or their lack of interest has kept them from investing in a market they didn’t understand or believe in. This is where I believe the problem began again with the finger pointing.

Not One Sided

Unfortunately the tension between Macro and Micro is not one sided. Some Micro photographers have felt territorial as well. Macro photographers started providing content to Micro and competing for sales with Micro shooters. The Macro shooter has the resources and knowledge to produce thousands of top sellers. Also the idea of this new competition sharing helpful information with Macro and Micro shooters about this new tier to the stock world and how to succeed left some of the Micro photographers frustrated and concerned with this level of competition.

Growth and Unity

Hopefully as time passes, I feel that all models will learn to coexist. Photographers battling amongst them selves is not the answer to growth and unity in our industry. Not just a waste of time but it is making a fun and exciting line of work less fun and exciting.

These models are here to stay, that is all I can offer. You are always free to protest if that helps with the frustration but I would love to see and believe we will with time, a point where all three models can find their place in a three tiered market based on price point that offers buyers of all levels an option for their image needs. This is a win-win situation as I see it and the greater the effort made by each photographer individually to support and learn from one another might actually end up giving us photographers a strong voice.

As long as the battle is kept alive between the photographers the chance for some form of unity will never grow. I feel it hinders photographers from joining together and having some form of direct involvement over the future of the industry instead of leaving those choices entirely up to the agencies.

Creating a Strong Future

Teamwork Stock PhotoThe opportunity to have representatives from all models working together to help educate the photographer as well as working closely with the agencies to help fulfill their buyers needs. This is what will keep our future strong and will allow us all to feel less fear and animosity towards one another while continuing to make stock photography a profitable investment for many years to come. I try to remember that photographers are artists and they quite often see life differently than the business side of our industry does. The more these people are empowered and educated the stronger our industry will become. Knowledge is power.

This article expands on observations Jonathan made in a recent presentation at the PACA conference. You can follow Jonathan on Twitter and see his Andersen Ross stock portfolio on his website.

  • Luis Santos
    Posted at 09:31h, 04 July Reply

    This is just too much to my knowledge at this moment..! I have seen your presentation at PACA few days ago and i have learned a lot, thanks and congrats…!
    I am happy about the increase of microstock photography on customer needs…

  • David Cox
    Posted at 09:59h, 04 July Reply

    A good summary article with plenty to think about it is nice to see the use of the word artists and not just photographers to include other stock media.

    looking in the independent microstock forums, there is a forth tier that many microstock artists fear more, as they now feel threatened by the low commission subscription models, sometimes imposed on existing artists by some agencies.

    Istock to their credit seem to be more proactive in closing the gap to the traditional agencies, with the Vetta Collection and their customer pricing, lets hope some of the other big players follow the leader.

    As you say microstock is not going away, so rather than another artists association it would also be nice to see one or two of the big associations of digital artists, take stock and move with the times and trends, open up their doors and welcome all styles of digital artists full or part time, rather than being selective, and set affordable affiliate fees that will allow part time artists to be active and included, only then we may have a huge collective voice on all styles and tiers.


  • jonathan Ross
    Posted at 13:40h, 04 July Reply

    Great point David,

    I do think we need to approach the organized already existing artists associations and talk about a decrease in fees so more part time or beginner’s can also be part of this communities voice.
    Thanks to Lee for all his efforts in this industry on educating the masses and the opportunity to give this concept some legs.


    P.S. You can find me on Twitter under jonathanjross, you have to add the j in the middle. Please join me.

  • Rasmus
    Posted at 17:05h, 12 July Reply

    I think the way for micro and macro to co-exist, is through the differences between the two. In the post, you say they are the same, “the only difference being the price point”. I strongly disagree with that. Microstock has a very special culture, which makes it different from macro.

    Microstock is based on a large group of contributing photographers of whom only very few have a professional background. Some even shoot micro as a way to learn (I certainly did). This creates a strong community, as people grow their portfolios together, sharing experiences and tips in forums, on blogs, twitter etc. along the way. It’s also one reason why the minimum quality requirements are lower in microstock. By contrast, the macro market is based on contributors who are already professionals, many with distinguished careers, fully equipped studios and so on. The standards are higher, but the community is limited by comparison. And because microstock is open to anyone, more people will be attracted at least to try it, dabble or be a part-timer, and so microstock is expanding at a rate macro, with its current structure, can’t possibly keep up with. If we’re speaking sheer volume, at least.

    I’m not sure how, but I have a feeling this could also be the key to eventually creating a more harmonious relationship between macro and micro. I think there is room for multiple price tiers in stock photography, and life would be better for everyone, if photographers and agencies alike could learn to work together, rather than keep warring and pointing fingers. That being said, there is always a fall-off, when an industry undergoes major change, which the continued growth of microstock is.

  • Ernie Bernard
    Posted at 13:28h, 14 July Reply

    I found this article v. helpful. I’m returning to photography after a long hiatus, having retired from photojournalism in 1998. Last stuff I shot was film.
    I have a macro agency that handled my material in the past and is resurrecting after the death of the owner, but I want to try microstock. I’m finding it difficult to find an agency that I trust with my pix and I can see this web site will be of great help.

  • John Griffin
    Posted at 02:23h, 15 July Reply

    I really agree with Jonathan and was lucky enough to spend an hour on the phone listening to his insights and soaking in his perspective about the struggle between the two camps and how he approached the situation. I obviously really like his strategy and looking forward to seeing how his experience plays out.

    “Now fast forward a decade and I see the same situation taking place between Macro RF and Micro RF. This is even a tougher battle since both models really have the same business framework, the only difference being the price point.”

    Same business framework, yes, and lots of the same clients. In addition, I would say that there is a another big difference between how you described macro and micro besides just the price and it includes the license restrictions that are added to a standard micro contract like print run limits and seat licenses for example so they can set the prices lower and attract a buyer who aren’t concerned with needing a large print run limit or removing seat limits. I see and talk to a good number of both buyers.

    The traditional RF contract offers more rights for the buyer, thus costing more than a micro license which restricts the buyer from doing certain things if they dont buy an extended license (sort of RM style but that is another thread). Micros added the extended licenses which they upsell to large buyers who require it or when a user has a special usage request and that adds to the cost of the image.

    Micro license + EL = Traditional RF and in some cases will cost around the same when you add it all up. So it is about more than price. It is about the rights that a buyer needs to clear and sometimes the peace of mind they need when they add the downloaded file to their digital asset management system. Or maybe it is about the rights that a copyright owner is willing to sell.

    obviously more rights will cost you more but their is a distinct difference bw rights you get from traditional RF and micro RF that buyers and sellers are very concerned with. The price is what really hits home for most of us. i have a lot of theories on where i think the EL market is headed based on this. I hope that wasnt a ramble 😉 and nice work Jonathan. Love to hear your thoughts.

  • Steve Weinik
    Posted at 10:24h, 31 July Reply

    Good points from everyone and let me just add that it’s nice to see a sane discussion on the rapidly evolving world of stock photography.

  • jonathan Ross
    Posted at 22:23h, 16 December Reply

    Hi All,

    Thanks for all the great feedback positive or not Ii learn a great deal from all of you.

    Thank you,

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