Wanted: Photographers with $800 Photos


Is there a hole at the center of the photography industry? Is the current licensing model sustainable? Or will the open sourcing of microstock continue increasing image supply until there are so many pictures available, photographers can’t give good photos away and can’t earn even from those that sell?

In theory, that nightmare scenario should happen. Shutterstock alone already offers over 5 million royalty-free photos and, according to the company’s CEO Jon Oringer, the number of new submissions each month never drops below six figures. Because old images – sold or otherwise – remain available on stock companies, inventories will continue to grow without limit. As the supply increases faster than demand – the world has always contained more photographers than buyers – prices should keep falling.

In fact, you could argue that this is exactly what microstock has already done. There’s little difference between charging one dollar for a license (and paying the photographer pennies) and giving the images away.

But it’s not just the overall number of images available that photographers have to worry about. After all, it’s hard to see how prices can fall any further. They also need to concern themselves with the growing size of the competition. As supply continues to increase, each photographer’s overall share in that supply decreases, reducing their chances of being the contributor that makes sale. The same amount of money might be flowing through the photography industry but it will be shared among a growing number of photographers, leaving less and less money for each.

That, at least, is the thinking behind NoEquivalent Art, a new photo-selling service launched by Eugene Burtman, a photography enthusiast with a background in economics. The site aims to protect prices — and the income of photographers – by limiting the supply of its commercial and art images to just 200,000 pictures at a time. Only 1,000 photographers will be accepted and they will only be able to offer 200 photos each. You can think of it as OPEC for images.

One Image, One Sale, One Time

By itself, that kind of supply control is not unique. Ecard company, HarmonyWishes, also places strict limits on the number of contributors it accepts and the number of images they can offer. But to make sure that buyers are receiving unique works, NoEquivalent also restricts photographers to just one sale.

Contributors must state that their images have not been sold anywhere, are not available for sale anywhere else and that there are no other copies available. Once a sale has been made, the photo is removed from the site and all other high-resolution copies must be deleted.

“[Photographers] do get to keep low resolution versions of the image, which they may use for administrative purposes such as keep in their portfolio,” Eugene explained. “Photographers do understand that to truly sell a unique image they cannot keep a full resolution copy as that would make the image not unique and devalue it. Removing the full resolution version also protects them from liability in case someone steals the image off their storage media and publishes/resells it.”

The compensation for that single opportunity is the value of the sale. Because each image is unique, its rarity means that the photographer can demand a rare price. NoEquivalent contributors begin in a price band that ranges from $500 to $800, an amount that many stock contributors would be happy to earn over the lifetime of a photo. The photographer receives 40 percent of the sale price.

Good sellers will be free to raise the band but the pricing follows market research with companies and individual stock buyers  which found that customers are willing to pay different amounts depending on the image’s end purpose.

“This price strikes a balance between the premium concept of the product and the need to be affordable enough to not be prohibitive of most business needs,” Eugene told us. “Finally, this band fits well into the artistic wall décor industry.”

Giving Up Your Photo Rights

Image are offered in two categories: art and commercial. But they’re also delivered with all image rights short of authorship. Buyers aren’t just free to use an image repeatedly in any way they wish, they’re also free to resell the images they purchase in whole or as part of a product. Eugene reassured us though that the economics don’t really allow for an as-is resale market developing, presumably because if the images could sell for more money, they’d sell for more money on the site.

The company plans to open for sales in early 2009 but has been recruiting photographers since November and picked up the first twenty of its 1,000 contributors within its first month.

As for the type of images NoEquivalent wants to sell, the emphasis, not surprisingly, is on uniqueness.

“The simplest way to think of it is by asking oneself the following question: ‘Is my image either capturing a unique moment, difficult to replicate, or highly marketable such that someone would want to own it all to themselves?'” says Eugene. “If the answer to any of these questions is yes then you have a NoEquivalent image regardless of whether you sell it through us or not.”

Photographers can find out by applying for NoEquivalent membership here.

What they won’t find out for a while though is whether a model that allows a photo to be sold only once will provide more income than stock models that allow for repeat sales because there are flaws in the argument that underlies NoEquivalent. Even if real inventories do continue to grow, NoEquivalent’s own research shows that buyers are willing to pay varying amounts depending on the use. They can already choose from almost 100 million free CC-licensed images on Flickr but if they want a commercial image, they turn to microstock and for higher end uses, many are still prepared to pay for traditional stock.

More importantly, stock inventories might grow limitlessly but the patience to search is very limited. Unsold photos are soon buried and old photos soon go out of fashion. Photographers happy with their stock income quickly find their revenues dry up if they stop contributing new photos.

There may be a hole at the center of the photography industry but it’s more likely to be the idea of endless, effort-free photography sales.

18 comments for this post.

  1. Brian Auer Said:

    Um... so they sell the rights to the photos... for $800 (of which less than half goes to the photographer)??? I've made more than that on single license sales, and I get to keep the images, and I get to sell them again and again. I've never sold the rights to any of my photos, but I know somebody who has -- and for a considerable amount more than $800 (like 10 to 20 times more, per photo). The price point seems awfully low to me.

  2. Tanya Said:

    This is a great concept, one that I think could be really successful. Personally I am unwilling to give up rights to any of my photos, but if you are primarily a stock photographer this could be a great advantage.

  3. Phil Said:

    The concept is interesting, and I think it has potential, but $200-320 for assigning copyright? That's way to low!

    There is the possibility of increasing your price "band", but how high can you go?

  4. Steven Rood Said:

    Anyone who would give up the rights to their photography is an idiot. And anyone who would ever sign an exclusive rights deal with a third party selling their photography is equally as stupid. Think of all the ways and all the places your images can be sold today. So why limit yourself to a one time rights grab for shit pay?

  5. Bryce Said:

    This does sound like a good plan, but, selling your rights is out of the question. Especially for $800. If I ever sold the rights (which I would never do) to any of my photos I would at least charge six digits. Because like what Steven said "Think of all the ways and places your images can be sold today."

    I'd hate to be rude but anyone who sells the rights to their photos for that low of a price is a complete idiot. You will never be able get that right back, unless you buy it back. Also your photos are more than just money makers, there documents and memories of where you've been and what you've done. Why would you not want to share to the world what you've done and where you've been and make money doing so?

    To sum everthing up. I think NEA needs to rethink their contract before opening their business.

  6. Lee Torrens Said:

    As per the previous comments, there's little hope of attracting any serious commercial photographers when the maximum photographer commission is $320 for the copyright. Any photo that's truly unique and valuable can earn MUCH more than that in traditional stock photo markets. Even microstock can generate more than that for a single photo in a single year, if it's good enough - admittedly the artistic ones rarely achieve that level of sales.

    Additionally, your initial comments about microstock don't take into account that microstock isn't only about the quantity of photos available, but the ongoing supply of fresh photos. Shutterstock's business model would not be sustainable otherwise. A year's subscription provides 9,000 photos. How many clients would they need to churn if clients weren't interested in access to new photos.

    Plus CC images are seldom (almost never) model released, making them unsuitable for commercial use.

    There will always be CC, there will always be microstock, and there will always be traditional (very expensive) stock. They all have different advantages.


  7. Giulio Sciorio Said:

    As an industry we need to expose this bullshit. The idea of selling a photo and copyright for $800 is ridiculous and that should be pointed out in this article. Instead what we have on this site is promotion for this business model that is designed for everyone to win except the photography.

    Selling your rights is stealing from your future.

    I'm calling bullshit on this article and site. This is short term, small thinking here.

    No thank you.

  8. Cole Scott Said:

    100 million images and growing.... and all can potentially be re-sold again and again and again, forever!! In practice, photographers would have been better off to have followed the sale/marketing practices of fine art painters: create it, sell it and move on to the next creation. Short term, small thinking is doing what is best for you right now, rather than what is best for the profession in the long term.

    Their price may not be right, but the concept will prove to be sound.

  9. Rick Lewis Said:

    So let me get this straight. I give up the copyright and promise to destroy my copy and promise never to produce a like image; all for $800....Am I missing something here???

    What if Nike buys my image? For $800 they can use my image, and call it their own, in a worldwide advertising campaign? I don't think so.

    But there are plenty of photographers that are willing to do it. Good luck!


  10. Sheila Smart Said:

    No photographer in their right mind would join up on these terms. This is aimed at the gullible new photographers who are happy to sell images for 25 cents on microsites. What the site did not mention that once copyright is sold, the buyer can then onsell the work to whomever they please and at whatever fee they like. Selling copyright is totally unnecessary when the alternative is to sell the image on an exclusive basis for a period of time and in a particular country or even worldwide. The fee is normally 10x to 15x the normal FotoQuote price. Their pricing is a complete joke.

  11. kellie sutton Said:

    It seems this article was written to promote the NEA site and the concept rather than being objective about the facts. For Dean to write such an article puts Photopreneur's reputation in disrepute. And to Cole Scott maybe you should become a painter rather than a photographer.
    The customer ends up buying your photo and can onsell it and do commercial work with etc... since he is buying the copyright of it. The photographer gets a good kick in the A... for selling his shot for $200.00. To be selected you must obviously submit pretty good work! So you are basically selling your best shot for $200.00!! And Dean and Eugeune think this is a good deal for the photographer!!!
    What a scam....

  12. Belle Media Said:

    It's true that the supply of photos continues to rise. But the price of the microstock has risen, too.

    You can't just look at a market and see the supply side and say the market is unsustainable; you have to look at supply and demand. Currently, the microstock sites have *increased* their prices. This would mean that despite increased supply, there is still plenty of demand.

  13. Meg Matlach Said:

    Hello All,

    I just came across this reference to us in Dean's blog and just wish to clarify what HarmonyWishes is since we were used as an erroneous example of what we actually are and our purpose as it relates to artists.

    The main purpose of HarmonyWishes is to promote positive imagery around the world. We are a fine art E-Card company who started with proprietary images. We found as we grew that we had many subscribers who were artists themselves and asked if they could submit images for consideration. We thought it was a brilliant way for artists to promote their work in a very cost effective way. Not only can they use our platform to send gallery announcements, general marketing cards, etc but each one of our users has access to send the images as ecards which results in further interest of their work.

    Dean is correct, we do limit the number of submissions per calendar quarter to 6 per artist (if we didn't we would be flooded beyond our staffing capability and need to control workflow).

    HarmonyWishes is a subscription based service that only costs $19.95 USD a year to send an unlimited number of ecards. Once a member, you are free to submit the 6 images per quarter for consideration. If selected, your image is shown with a link back to your portfolio website which drives traffic back to you.

    We are trying to help you market. We are not a service that expects any sort of exclusive rights to an image (our art director is a professional photographer who understands and appreciates the rights issue)... Our artists and photographers grant us the right to use an image in a specific and non-exclusive way as an E-card.

    I hope you will check us out and if you feel it's something that would serve you, go ahead and invest the $19.95 and start submitting 🙂

    For any further clarification I would refer you back to our original mention on Photopreneur in June 2008.


  14. Oliver Said:

    I think that most people commenting here are living in a fantasy world. Whilst I'm not 1005 convinced that NoEquivalent is going to work I'm also well aware that the world is changing. The image is being cheapened through over-supply; you can't argue against that statement.

    Many established photographers are riding on the ever lower crest of a doomed wave; they are refusing to see the big picture. I am still relatively young; I graduated only a few years ago, and I know lots of creatives my age. They are all finding it impossible to make a living from their work. Selling isn't a problem - its selling at a fair price that is.

    This site is about the future. Nothing annoys the younger creative generation than these middle-aged photographers and artists who had it (relatively) easy during the pre-broadband days, and who now still grow fat on the 'old ways' because they have the right contacts in the 'old boys clubs' of the creative world.

    The future is bleak indeed for the creative industries in the western world, so I for one applaud NoEquivalent for at least attempting to address the serious and catastrophic issues that are facing the industry.

    The core problem here is attributing values based on completely unsubstantiated potentials. Sure; keep your rights and you may be able to sell an image a thousand times on various platforms; but you will probably not, and if you do you will probably get just a few pence/cents for each image - plus you will have to put in much more effort to adminsister all the different outlets and platforms. The simple truth is that with the marketplace changing so quickly the only real monetary value an image has is what someone will pay RIGHT NOW; not the 'potential lifetime worth.'

    I think the creator of the site was very clear in stating this general idea and that most people posting here are in serious denial.

    Good luck.

  15. Rob Diffenderfer Said:

    I have to agree with Oliver and I am an over middle-aged professional photographer. I don't see what the problem is with some people thinking this is a bad idea because their losing their copyrights....blah blah blah! How many pictures do you guys take....it is not abnormal for me to take 300 RAW images in one morning. So....what is the problem with letting one or two shots go....I don't believe that anyone said you couldn't sell other pictures in other places just not the ones you assign to them. I sell a great deal of photography on the internet and even more in private galleries but If you want to make a living in this industry you need need to spread your photos around and expand your possibilities....I belong to over 30 online galleries, I have sold photos to major magazines, I have sold 8 x 10 prints for 15.00 each at small community art shows, I have given free art to local restaurants...so what does it hurt to give up 2 or 3 photos ....really!

    It is the digital age of photography and the art has gotten easier (sorry guys) and with this "ease of use" the market has become entirely flooded.There are lots of great photographers out there but very few of them are original....believe it or not! Flood the market with your art if you want to make a living. The nice thing is that No Equivalent will only allow QUALITY photos in and this way buyers don't have to sift through the garbage. Look if you think you are really something special just go to Flickr search a topic and amidst all of the junk you will fine thousands of great photos just as good as anything you can shoot so the hell with your copyrights. If you don't change the way you think you will never survive in this ever growing, ever-changing environment.

  16. Rick Newby Said:

    I'm still struggling why I would want to limit myself so severly for such a small return.

    Also explain to me why I wouldn't want to resell one image more than once if I could.

    And yes, there are a lot of images out there, but I don't see how that impacts a sale. If your image is what the buyer wants, then they will buy it regardless, unless they don't have a budget it for it. So what if its not unique?

    And whats keeping the buyer from reselling the copyright at a profit multiple times? Nor do I think the current stock market is doomed to failure. Seems to be working pretty good as far as I can see. There will always be a demand for new and fresh images. There was a lot of stock available in the 1950's. Don't see much of it selling today. Even if it was digitized.

    Lastly, what defines a "like" image or a "unique image"? Limiting what you can reproduce in the future by a very grey definitions "like" seems downright dangerous. My thinking is the guy that shoots 300 images a day won't exactly have 300 "unique" images. I can shoot thousands of images in a day but that doesn't mean I show them all in my portfolio.

    The age of digital has no bearing on vision and creativity. Just because you have a digital camera doesn't mean your a photographer. Bottom line is if your a good photographer with a good esthetic and you're in tune with trends you will sell your images.

    Maybe I'm missing the point, but I just can't find any real reason to do this.

  17. Rob Diffenderfer Said:


    You obviously need to wake up. The over-flooding of the photography market along with the introduction of micro-stock sites like iphoto.com have destroyed the number of individual sales in this industry. So much that sites like Artistful have recently shut down. Imagekind.com has been forced to give away what used to be payed memberships for free. Other art sites are on the verge of collapse. Why? People will not stay active on sites that are not selling and nothing is selling. I own Graphical Media Services and we have been continually successful. Why? Graphical Media Services has continued to stay in business because we recognize these things as they are occurring and find other means of revenue before they can put us under.

    I am not disagreeing with you I am just asking, in this over-flooded market within this economy why not? They have raised the price on their "Unique" art to be more attractive but I believe in just a short time they will revert to a Red Bubble, Imagekind, Art Break, type of site and will struggle like the rest.

    Also, When I mentioned digital photography I was simply referring to the cost advantage over digital and film. I was not speaking of the creativity of photography. I have sold literally hundreds of pictures all based on my creativity so you are preaching to the choir.

    I realize there is a gray area between "like" and "unique" and yes I agree with you that it is dangerously scary.

    And as far as being a good photographer with good esthetic's and being in-tune with the trends...I will show you hundreds of them...all hungry for sales!

    Spread out your work, Expand your horizons, Don't be afraid to try something new even if it goes across the grains of what you believe...and you have a chance of being successful....anything less is just an exercise in futility!


  18. Tina Said:

    I captured a photo of lightning on my iPhone, and was told I could sell the image and rights to it.. Not sure how to go about it. Any suggestions?

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