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Stock Imagery's Shifting Landscape

(January 2008) posted on Thu Jan 10, 2008

As microstock continues its move forward, other trends also emerge

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By Clare Baker

Microstock is also on the rise due to the demand for Web-size images, which is fostered by the influx in websites, blogs, and social networks as well as the increasing popularity of Web advertising. "Many people with websites and blogs cannot afford to pay huge amounts of money for stock imagery," says Oleg Tscheltzoff, co-founder and president of Fotolia (, another microstock site. "We [offer] them a product that is affordable and within their budget." What’s more is these Web-size images are generally high quality as well. "While many of our clients are Web-based," explains Feinstein, "we don’t just aim for the Web standard. We want to have a higher quality expectation so we can satisfy our clients who are doing those larger kinds of projects."

Cathy Aron, the executive director of the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA, also notes that the growth in microstock can be attributed to the increased ease of entrance into the industry. With the days of needing a location to house large transparencies and the resources to ship images in the past, Aron acknowledges that, now, "If you’re able to get digital images, you can have a virtual business in a matter of weeks." However, she adds, that there is still some serious work involved in running an online agency: "It’s not, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Just because you put up a site with great images, you still have to have a way to get the buyers."

This growth of microstock, it appears, has set the stage for some changes and shifts in the traditional licensing models of royalty-free and rights-managed. While microstock images are arguably not yet interchangeable with high-end royalty-free images, the line between the "lower" end of royalty-free and the upper tier of microstock is beginning to blur. This overlap is creating what is being referred to as the "midstock" range of stock imagery.

Adam LeVasseur, director of product marketing at Getty Images ( explains, "If photographers want to do really high-quality royalty-free, they can’t afford to charge microstock prices for it. There’s just no economic incentive to do that. So there is still a viable space at the high end of the royalty-free market. However, you’re absolutely seeing a shift at the low end and the emergence of these midstock players."