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Evolutionary Development of Microstocks Libraries

It should be no big surprise, then, that the major stock libraries could command substantial fees to license the use of images to buyers. High prices were justifi ed by high production, cataloguing, scanning, distribution, management, and storage costs.

In the 1980s, a handful of major players grew to dominate the stock photography market, led by Getty Images and Corbis. The sales pitch remained much the same—high-quality pictures at relatively high prices. Images were not “sold” but “licensed.” The license would allow the buyer to use the image for the specifi c purpose or purposes agreed on with the stock library in advance. The price would be determined by a number of factors, such as image placement (front page, inside page, etc.), size, circulation of the publication, duration of the license, industry segment, and geographical spread.

The traditional licensing of images remains the backbone of the stock photography market. Many libraries offering licensed images also offer the option (at additional cost) of exclusivity so that a buyer knows the images he or she has purchased will not be used by a competitor.

That can be important. However, the licensed model of image use can prove restrictive, and in the 1980s, royalty-free stock photography emerged as an alternative. The title “royalty free” is misleading. The buyer does not have to pay royalties for each use of an image, but he or she still has to pay a fee for the image at the outset; however, once the image has been paid for, the buyer can use the image indefi nitely and for multiple purposes. There are usually some restrictions, which might include limits on reselling or print runs, but the buyer has much more freedom to repeat the use of an image. The downside for the buyer is the risk that someone else might use the same image in a competing publication. There is generally no protection against this with the standard royalty-free sales model.

Readmore: Start Selling Audio Files As Microstock

At the outset of royalty-free stock photography, prices were comparable to those for licensed images. The justifi cation for this was the same as for licensed photography as the cost issues were broadly the same.

The emergence of microstock include confluence of three events has led not to the extinction of traditional stock image libraries but to the sudden evolutionary development of microstocks.

These events involve the following:
  1. The Internet. The need for expensive catalogues of new images has almost vanished. Any buyer can search for what he or she wants online, which is where you’ll now fi nd all the major image libraries have a presence. Many libraries have their entire image collection searchable online; others have a selection only.
  2. Fast and cheap (sometimes free) broadband Internet access. Anyone with a computer can access stock libraries in seconds from the comfort of the offi ce or home. Download or order online what you want with no or little cost penalty for broadband usage. Of course, what can be downloaded can also be uploaded, and the microstocks have helped to pioneer the uploading of images directly to the image library database. From there, they can be checked online before being made available for sale.
  3. Digital cameras. With digital cameras, there are no film or processing costs to worry about. Digital cameras offer instant feedback and the opportunity to experiment and perfect technique. The cameras themselves are relatively expensive but no longer much more so than their fi lm cousins. The quality of digital cameras is now also very high.

In short, most of the costs that justifi ed high stock photo prices have been stripped out of the equation. The photographer no longer has expensive fi lm and development costs. Original transparencies do not need to be hand catalogued and stored. The drum scanner and its operator are no longer required. Glossy sample catalogues do not need to be produced and distributed to clients. Photography is cheap to produce, store, catalogue (using digital databases), manage, and distribute.

Also, mirroring the development of the Internet, broadband Internet access, and digital cameras, all of which have transformed the supply chain, has been a simultaneous explosion in demand for quality images from Web designers (pro and home), home desktop publishing outfi ts, community magazines, and the like. The combination of a transformed supply chain, new channels to market through Web-based technology, and the evolution of new markets has inevitably shaken up the slightly stuffy world of the stock library, the more traditional of which, in my view, took too long to react to the new market dynamics. Step forward the microstocks.

By the end of the 20th century, the market demand and the technology to serve microstock were in place. All that was needed was someone with a little perspicacity to see it. The first microstock library was founded by a Canadian, Bruce Livingstone, in Spring 2000 Called iStockphoto, at the outset it was free. It remains one of the leading microstock libraries to this day.

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