Top Microstock Photographer Pressures Agencies by Launching His Own Site

Photography: Yuri Arcurs

Yuri Arcurs, microstock’s most successful contributor, has launched his own sales site. The Danish photographer who has managed to build an international business out of microstock contributions with offices in Aarhus, Denmark and Cape Town, South Africa, is now offering photos directly from

The site, which currently contains 70,000 images, is not a stock agency. All images are owned by Yuri Arcurs — even those shot by his assistants and in-house photographers. PeopleImages, however, is not accepting outside contributors and does not pay out royalties.

Only 6,000 of the photos on the site are exclusive. Most of them can be found in the “Premium” collection, a group of sophisticated photos intended for high profile projects that make up 10 percent of the site’s inventory. “Pureplus” — images that are rare, expensive to produce, excusive to the site or include top models — makes up 6 percent of the site, and “Micro” which includes much of Yuri Arcurs’s  microstock collection already available on other platforms covers the remaining 84 percent. All of the images contain people, the kinds of images for which Arcurs is best known and a niche he considers his strength.

Prices are higher than those typically available on microstock sites. An “XSmall” Micro image measuring 248 x 561 pixels costs $3, a price that rises to $15 for a 4.9 megapixel version and $35 for a full resolution 33 megapixel photo. Prices of PurePlus photos are generally about twice that of Micro images while the Premium collection has fees more in line with traditional stock but without either the exclusivity or the link to usage. Prices here start at $45 for an XSmall photo and rise to $670 for full resolution.

Buyers can also purchase additional licenses. Exclusivity is available on a monthly basis that ranges from $140 to $325 for Micro images and rises to between $1,000 and $3,000 for a ten-year buyout of a top-ranked Premium photo. Retouching services can also be included in the purchase, and PeopleImages — somewhat hopefully — provides an option for illegal users to purchase a late license.

How to Sell Your Own Stock Licenses

  • Focus on a niche. Yuri Arcurs’s site sells images of people because those are the images for which he’s best known. Sell your photos by their subject, not just their photographer.
  • Offer exclusivity. Microstock sites are poor at offering the exclusivity that some buyers need. Offer a range of options that will let you take the bulk of an image’s revenue up front.
  • Include services. Image retouching allows Arcurs to add a small premium to his sales but it also increases the flexibility of his compositions. Images that are near-sales can be converted into completed sales with an additional fee.

Stock Commissions Are Too Low

A stock photographer offering his images directly to the market isn’t new, even if PeopleImage’s retouching services and exclusivity options are unusual. But the move does send a warning to other photographers wondering whether they too can build a business — or even work full-time — as a microstock photographer. Arcurs hasn’t turned to his own site to create an additional revenue stream; he’s done it to ensure that the revenues coming in from the four million licenses he sells each year are able to cover the costs involved in creating them.

“Almost all stock agencies have been pushing commissions to an extremely low level for the past few years,” Alessandra Digsmed, Arcurs’s Personal Assistant told us. “If Yuri is to continue making a profit from doing stock, he simply has to look at new ways of approaching the industry.”

Microstock photographer Yuri Arcurs and founder of

The suggestion is that microstock has a problem that stock photographers have been warning about for years, including Arcurs: that the low returns paid by the agencies can’t cover the costs of a professional shoot. If even Yuri Arcurs, for years microstock’s most successful representative, says he can’t make a profit from cut-price images alone, it’s safe to say that the industry can only sell images by enthusiasts who don’t bother to count their expenses. That can only have a negative effect on the quality of the images on the site and on the desire of other photographers to contribute fresh photos.

But launching your own site might not be the solution for every photographer. Yuri Arcurs is as much a brand as an image-maker. Buyers know his name and seek his images out directly on stock sites. Some may be willing to pay a little more to do that more easily on a site that carries only his shots, especially when they can fine-tune the exclusivity and receive the images edited and ready to run based on their specific needs. Less-known photographers will struggle to bring in buyers who are likely to prefer the wider choice available on sites like iStock.

If All Stock Photographers Cut Out the Agencies…

Nor is it clear that a direct sales site can compete with the cheaper images available on microstock sites. Asked about take-up among buyers, Arcurs described PeopleImages as “still a very small player” and said that he hadn’t seen any effect on the sales if his images on other sites. If PeopleImages is to provide a solution to microstock’s tiny commissions though, Arcurs will need to persuade at least some of his regular buyers to abandon their microstock subscriptions and purchase from him directly.

It’s possible though that PeopleImages will have an effect not just on Yuri Arcurs’s earnings but on the stock industry as a whole. If other photographers decide that they should follow Arcurs’s lead, add a direct sales stream to their microstock contributions and try to wean customers away from the middle man, then microstock sites might have to work harder to keep their top contributors on board. That could mean higher returns for everyone.

“Yuri always encourages photographers to push for higher commissions,” says Digsmed. “He hopes that many more will sell directly, and in this way help send a message to the agencies that they are squeezing their producers too hard.”

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