Does the world really need another microstock site? With dozens already on the Web, including the Getty-owned giant iStockPhoto, it’s hard to see why anyone would want to enter a marketplace in which competition is so tight. Photographers are hardly crying out for another platform on which to receive a few cents for a sale and buyers don’t need more sites offering the same images they can find everywhere else. And yet at the beginning of August, Envato, a creative network, launched PhotoDune, giving the Web another place where photographers can upload images in the hope of making a sale and users can download pictures at prices that start at a dollar. It’s possible though that despite the platform’s familiarity, PhotoDune has one advantage that might just help it to deliver buyers that arrive fast and stick around: it has a market.
PhotoDune looks like every other microstock site on the Web. Royalties are a flat 25 percent for non-exclusive contributors and range from 50-70 percent of the sales price for exclusive sellers. Photographers though need to have produced more than $75,000 in sales to earn that top rate, and more than $3,750 to move from 50 percent to 51 percent. With prices that range from a buck for an image of 0.2 megapixels and rise to $7 for an image of 14.3 megapixels (or $15 for an extended license that allows the image to be used on products), that might take some time. Currently the most successful image on PhotoDune has just 35 sales. That compares poorly with iStockPhoto where many of the most popular images over the last three months have sales approaching 1,500 downloads but the site is growing at a reasonable rate. Two weeks after the launch of its public beta, PhotoDune was offering 230,000 images from over a hundred contributors, including Yuri Arcurs.
Photographers Won’t be Exclusive
Even Envato founder Collis Ta’eed though doesn’t expect those contributors to be exclusive. Photographers, he expects, will think of PhotoDune as one more place on which they can sell their products rather than the only place on which they’ll offer their photos.
“To be honest, although we have an excellent exclusivity program which I highly recommend, I think the majority of our contributors to PhotoDune are going to be non-exclusive,” he told us. “[S]o in that respect it’s more about why sell through PhotoDune in addition to usual outlets.”
And the answer to that question is that while PhotoDune is new, the company behind it has been around since 2006 and owns a network of nine creative sites that includes Themeforest, a marketplace for WordPress themes, Creattica, a design site, Rockable Press, a publishing firm, and FreelanceSwitch, a blog for freelancers. Together, its sites have more than a million members, many of whom are buyers as well as sellers. A WordPress designer, for example, may buy images on PhotoDune to use on designs sold on Themeforest, a trend that Ta’eed says is already happening with positive results all round.
“We have a lot of active buyers and it’s good for us and them if they never need to leave our network to fill their creative needs,” he says.
So PhotoDune differs from other new microstock sites by not running after a market already spoiled for choice but by offering a market its already to created to photographers looking for a more efficient way to find buyers.
Build a Microstock Brand
That’s a big advantage, and it’s helped by the way in which Envato tends to promote both its services and the individual contributors to those services. PhotoDune’s account system, earnings and balance work cross the network, the forums are integrated and all of the marketplaces are promoted across a series of blogs. These include the Tuts+ network which reaches some three million unique visitors a month, and AppStorm which reaches another million.
Those blogs sell the services as a whole but the sites also allow individual creators to promote themselves directly. Photographers, for example, can build a profile page which shows off their portfolio and — no less importantly — allows buyers to follow the authors they like, receiving a feed of new items on their home page every time they log in.
“That sort of thing encourages buyers to support their favorite photographers and item authors,” says Ta’eed.
It’s more important than it sounds. Yuri Arcurs has talked of the valuable role that returning customers play in his business, bringing a level of stability to his business from people looking for an image with guaranteed quality. PhotoDune’s ability to allow contributors to build a relationship with buyers then, even if some of those buyers are also sellers, could be another strong reason that photographers will place their images on the site.
When Collis Ta’eed began adding PhotoDune to his company’s network of sites for creative workers, he talked about the industry with his father-in-law, a photojournalist and stock photographer who photographed the Six-Day-Way and conducted photo shoots with Billy Joel and Isaac Asimov among others. It’s an industry that has seen a lot of opportunities, he told us, as well as” a few cases of big corporations not always doing right by the photographic community.” The Internet, too, he recognizes, has brought change to the industry.
Microstock is certainly one of the changes that the Internet has brought to the photography industry. Some of those changes, such as the opening to enthusiasts, has been positive, while others, such as the lowering of prices, have been less happy. Whether PhotoDune’s contribution is good for photographers remains to be seen but if it weakens the power of some of those larger corporation also involved in microstock and helps photographers make a few more sales then that can’t be bad. And if it also enables photographers to build relationships directly with buyers, and generate more stable income, then that has to be even better.
The Internet doesn’t need another microstock site. But if Envato’s million members need images, then photographers will need to join another microstock site to deliver them.