Microstocks

THE MICROSTOCK INDUSTRY

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1 History

The microstock industry is one of the most active new markets on the Internet. More than a trend, microstocks are now the exclusive image providers for millions of professionals within the media and communications industries. This massive global demand brings thousands of contributors all around the world new outlets for their work and revenues they never could have imagined before.

Prior to 2000, a few major providers dominated the traditional image market. By covering several image types (Stock Photos, Editorial Photos, People…) and by providing two kinds of licenses (Right Managed and Royalty free), they shared the largest part of the market. However, because of their pricing policies, only a very small percentage of these image users could afford their content. Several services have been created to decrease the price per image (collections, CDs…) but this price was still too high and the content too formatted to allow all image users to be able to afford a license.

In 2000, some people had the crazy idea to sell creative content at a price as low as £1. Their bet? Image users are much more numerous than people think and the sales volume will compensate the low price. Microstocks were born.

Many analysts and industry insiders forecast today that revenues from microstock have the potential to overtake the revenues achieved by traditional RF-stock and that the microstock market becomes as big, if not bigger, than the traditional RF-stock image market

2 How does it work?

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The microstock market originality is that image prices are a very secondary element of the business. Contributors’ revenues are indeed generated by the number of sales and not by the price. Thanks to online marketplaces and services that match buyers’ needs, microstocks offer their contributors a global visibility of their content to millions of buyers all around the world.

This business model, difficult to understand at first, has now shown its full potential to bring substantial revenues to photographers and designers who made this choice.
The point is not how much you sell, but how many you sell. And the best way to sell a lot is to continuously drive more buyers to your microstock. That’s why Fotolia provides offers and services that fit the needs of all buyers.

3 Buyers’ Needs

Of course, the first need of a buyer is to find the image he wants, at the time he wants, and for the purpose he wants. That’s why Fotolia has to provide a top quality images database, but also licenses that permit the legal use of images within a large variety of different contexts. Our offers and services therefore need to be more interesting than those of our competitors.

3.1 Images

Since Images are intended to be used in the communication and/or media industry, they have to be free from any intellectual property issue or technical problem and look professional.

- Intellectual property is certainly one of the most important criteria during the moderation process. Indeed, an image could be fantastic in an artistic/commercial point of view and be rejected because of a very small detail that might just be appearing in the very background (logo, trademark, protected design, people without model release, protected architectures…). We pay attention to this important criteria in order to protect our buyers and our contributors.

- Photography technique is also very important. Photography is an art but this art abides to certain rules (1/3 2/3 framing rule, contrast/luminosity, colours harmony…). It’s important to respect those rules because they will make the difference between an amateur shot and a professional shot. Of course, the rules may be short-circuited if they bring a creative improvement (speed feeling for example) to the image.

- They also need to correspond to the subjects and the style buyers are looking for. That’s why our moderation team only selects images that will interest buyers. Bestseller images are those images that may interest a large number of buyers and which may apply to a variety of situations/messages.

- Microstocks also need to maintain a balanced database and provide a large quantity of images on all subjects. Easy-to-shoot subjects may indeed be provided by a lot of contributors so they are very numerous and we therefore moderate them with a stronger severity to keep only the best images on those common subjects in our database. On the contrary, a complex and difficult-to-realize scene will have better chances to be accepted because buyers are generally more interested.

In order to find an image quickly, buyers require a powerful search engine where they can use keywords in their language. Image indexation is therefore one of the most important elements of the image selling activity. Keywords used to index an image have to be closely linked to the represented subject to maximize its sale potential. Indexation.

3.2 Licenses:

Licenses offered to buyers must correspond to the main uses of the industry. Those licenses must be flexible and easy to use. This is why Fotolia only allows buying and selling royalty-free licenses divided in 2 categories:
- The standard licenses are the primarily used licenses. They allow buyers to use images on all media for a variety of illustrations (Websites, Newsletters, printed advertising, Brochures…). Standard licenses are the most purchased licenses because they correspond to the majority of image uses.

- The extended licenses allow buyers to use the images to create derivate products intended for resale (ex: postcards, posters, templates….). They are sold at a higher price but it’s important to keep them affordable to attract the maximum number of buyers.
3.3 Offers

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Image buyers may have very different needs: Some of them need images occasionally whereas others use thousands of images each day. Some are freelances while others come from large, global companies…

Fotolia therefore provides two purchasing methods, which satisfy both buyer categories:
- The credit system: single downloads for freelancers and small companies. Credit purchases represent the majority of sales. A lot of buyers come from small and medium-size companies and need images occasionally. This is a flexible system and easily approved by a large majority of customers.

- The subscription system: daily downloads quota for big companies, media industry… This system is dedicated to image buyers who have a daily need for a large amount of images. The volume they need is so high and they can’t afford to spend thousands of Pounds with the credit system. To prevent this kind of customer from going to the competition, it was necessary for Fotolia to provide dedicated services for them. From this point of view, the subscription was a good compromise for them.
In addition, it is also a good way for contributors to diversify their outlets even if the revenue per image is less important. It’s the same logic that applies to the entire market: what counts is not how much you sell but how many you sell. The more you sell the more visibility you achieve. That’s why it is important to allow sales in subscription.

3.4 Tools/Services

In order to secure their loyalty, Fotolia provides the customer with different essential tools/services like the comps, the non-disclosure of their personal information after a purchase, corporate features… Those services may of course have an impact on contributors but it is necessary to comply with the internal rules set by the majority of our customers and companies.

For example, some important well-known agencies need unwatermarked comps for their projects. Without such features, they lose contracts and finally don’t buy the images they had bookmarked. That’s why Fotolia may offer certain buyers the option to download unwatermarked comps required for their business (which has a direct impact on ours). These customers are strictly selected by our Customer Service who are sure that they won’t use the images without first buying them.

Another important point concerns the buyer’s personal information. We used to provide this information for each purchase to our contributors but had to remove this service after many complaints from our buyers. Some contributors actually contacted all the buyers to get information about the use of the image. This was very time consuming and a bit disconcerting for the buyers who contracted with Fotolia. It also became and issue regarding our privacy policy. We therefore decided to remove the buyer’s information like on all microstocks and the majority of photo agencies.

Finally, we offer our buyers all the corporate services they need. We have dedicated sales teams available by phone in all countries and provide them with useful features (sub-account, API…). Thanks to those services, buyers are sure to get excellent information/service at the time they need it. It’s as simple as a phone call!

By covering all professional needs, Fotolia pleases the majority of customers, and the more buyers Fotolia attracts, the more revenue is generated for contributors.

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4 Fotolia Contributor Advantages

Fotolia is the leader of the European micro-priced images market. Its website is used by more than 1,600,000 users around the world and contains over 8,000,000 images, vectors and video footages. Fotolia offers to its buyers a large choice of high quality creative contents and to its contributors a powerful sales force for their works.

Moreover, no other agency advocates their artists externally as Fotolia does using press releases, marketing actions, events… Also, we are recognized as the fastest growing image bank in terms of customers’ acquisition, portfolio growth and sales.

The Fotolia model has already shown its power, because in just a few years, it has established itself as a major player in the marketplace, which is to the benefit of all of its’ artist community.

5 Tips

Volume and price strategy
As previously explained, the main microstock market rule is volume. Revenue is generated through sales volume, not through price. This important rule leads to different conclusions:

1. To sell a lot you must meet the majority of the buyer’s needs. Your content should apply to a variety of different situations / messages. Sometimes we refuse images because the represented subject is so specific or niche, that nobody (or a very small number of buyers around the world) will have a requirement for it. The commercial potential must be high (regarding the number of potential buyers) for all your content.

2. To sell a lot you also need to meet the means of the buyers’ majority. Indeed, it’s important to keep an affordable price for your contents because the competition is fierce. A buyer facing a choice between two similar images will certainly choose the cheapest one unless the other one has a real and strong value added. It’s particularly important for Extended Licenses, which may differ largely in terms of price. To ensure not losing potential customers, it’s important to maintain a reasonable price for all contents/licenses.

3. It is quite the same logic for sales in subscription. By allowing sales in subscription you ensure to offer your images to both small buyers (credits customers) and big buyers (subscription customers).

Visibility
By following the rules above, you will achieve a better visibility. But there are further tips to increase your visibility:

1. By allowing the sales in subscription you will improve the ratio sold/views for each one of your contents. When a subscription customer wants to buy your image and you don’t allow the sale in subscription, your content will be marked at 0 sold for 1 view. The ratio sold/view is an important criteria within our search engine. Images that are sold each time they are viewed receive a better visibility in the results page.

2. Another important aspect concerns the series. It’s completely useless to send dozens of images representing the exact same subject. It can be justified when the subject is a person in different positions/scenes, but it’s absolutely counterproductive when it concerns a very common subject (landscape, building, animal…). In fact, it’s better to sell the same image 100 times than to sell 10 similar images 10 times. By offering multiple images based on the exact same subject, you divide your sales potential by all those images and don’t benefit from the visibility of an image which has been sold 100 times.

3. Keep in mind one last important success key: always maintain originality and complexity. The more detail a represented scene displays and the more realistic it looks, the more buyers will be interested. It’s true for a multiple of subjects. It is therefore important to use good models, great equipment and the excellent positions for a given subject (ex: a plumber without his professional clothes/equipment and his appropriate working conditions won’t look credible enough to generate a lot of sales). Also, don’t forget that a subject you find already largely represented in the database won’t have as many chances to be sold as a completely new concept.

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by Daniela (Fotolia.com)

(original article - http://blog.fotolia.com/uk/guideline/microstocktips.html)