Let’s do a little role-play.
Character No 1: a photographer.
Say you’re a struggling (or an established) photographer that is looking to earn some money from your content. Your first idea may be to try selling it on a stock photo platform, such as Shutterstock, Getty Images, Deposit Photos, and others.
They license photographs for specific purposes. Every time someone purchases a photo from a stock media platform, the photographer gets a certain share of the revenue. The amount of this share is set by each platform and listed in its terms.
Character No 2: a customer.
Now let’s say you want to buy a photo (or more) to use in various kinds of marketing and business-related projects. Whatever you need, chances are, you’ll find it on a stock photo platform.
Sounds like a sweet deal, doesn’t it?
It is for the platforms. Not so much for the creators and end-users.
A not-so-pretty picture
Despite seeming like a convenient way to get their hands on some nice-looking photos, traditional stock photo platforms carry some disadvantages that may not be obvious at first glance. These downsides include:
1) Mounting costs
Stock photography pricing is often complicated for the buyer and can get out of control if they’re not careful. Depending on how they want to use the photo(s), the prices can add up quite quickly. Sometimes, these prices may even come close to what a photographer would charge to go out and take photos themselves.
The trouble begins with the licensing fees, which can end up being very high depending on the quality of the image(s) and how often the customer is planning on using it/them. Some licenses even have time limitations, so after a certain period, they’re worthless to the user or require additional payments to continue using the photos.
Some of the popular stock photo platforms offer subscription-based pricing models which vary in price and length (e.g. monthly, bimonthly, annual, and so on). Unfortunately, they are limited to a certain number of photographs the user can download, which is why they’re not such a good idea if they need hundreds. On top of that, the price of subscription packages grows with the longer duration and the need for a higher number of photographs.
So if the customer suddenly realizes their already purchased subscription isn’t enough for their needs after all, they will have to cash out for a bigger, longer, and more expensive plan.
2) Commercial use limitations
Sometimes, the end-user has to adhere to some pretty restrictive rules in terms of using the stock photos. Usually, these rules are listed in some very fine print so the user has to make sure to read all the license restrictions carefully and fully understand them before purchasing.
This is especially true if they’re planning on using stock photographs for advertising as some photos are only allowed for editorial use and not marketing purposes. They may also not be able to use the stock photos on products they plan to resell, like mugs and T-shirts they designed (yes, even though they designed them).
If they want to use these photos in items for resale, they will have to get an extended (and typically more expensive) license. Here and here you can check out the typical license types offered and restrictions on stock photo purchases imposed by a traditional stock photo platform.
3) Less creator control means less revenue
Currently, listing on large centralized stock photo platforms is the only way for photographers to get their content published and earn some income from it. Unfortunately, by doing so, they are forced to give up their ownership rights over them, losing control over how the photos are sold and priced.
As a result, photographers are selling their ownership rights at prices that are substantially lower than what the photo may actually end up generating. The flashy claims of billions of $$$ paid to contributors paint the wrong picture. In fact, the photographer may receive as little as 15% of the total revenue generated by their content.
One of the examples of this is Shutterstock. Introduced in 2020, its new earnings structure (the old one wasn’t very lucrative for photographers to begin with) slashed content creators’ earnings by half or more. Currently, you start by earning only 15% of the image price. For a photo selling for $12, this means you’ll only earn $1.80.
The company increases your earnings to 20% after 100 of your photos are sold. If you hope to earn at least 35% from your photographs, you’ll have to wait for this number to surpass 2,500. Other platforms have similar rates.
Such difficult starting positions and hard-to-reach thresholds are often enough to drive away many photographers with great potential.
Building blocks of better stock photo future
So what could be the ideal solution to the problems plaguing the stock photo market?
The answer is simple – blockchain.. And for many good reasons.
Using the peer-to-peer exchange system facilitated by this technology would allows content creators to sell directly to the consumer on a one-stop stock content marketplace. Such a system is already in development by Envision.
This way, the outdated centralized middle-man is removed from the equation, which also removes hefty fees and the need for the creator to forfeit their ownership rights. Finally, the power can be placed back into the hands of content creators who can set the pricing of their content themselves and receive the full commission – right where it belongs.
For the buyer, this means a more straightforward procedure and the assurance that the costs won’t spiral out of control.