Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't laugh at the istockers

A Clash Of Cultures

There has been a big reaction to istockphoto's recent announcement that their current business model 'is unsustainable' and the consequent drops in commission rate payouts they are introducing. It has ranged from a huge outpouring of disgust and hate from istock's microstock contributors to a lot of smug 'told you so' glee on the side of traditional stock photographers and agencies.

But you know who is really laughing, quietly, in the background? Getty Images. Because their ruse has worked, and both groups of commentators seem to have fallen for it.

Istockphoto was built as a community. The original very low payout of 20% was the direct result of a business model based on being cheap. To be able to sustain the business when selling a product very cheaply it was necessary to take a uniquely large cut of the low per-image earnings. However, the community was designed to reward its members. As they helped the business to grow and be successful, the community was rewarded with a larger percentage of the earnings from their stock images.

Then istock was bought by Getty Images.

Getty Images has a different business philosophy which has nothing to with community or recognising the value of their suppliers, it is purely about profit. I have no doubt that istock is hugely profitable for Getty Images, and that their profits are increasing year on year, but Getty Images sees it in a different way. Because the istock community is rewarded over time with increasing percentages, and even though Getty Images is increasing their profit, they see that their percentage profit of the total income is decreasing. And because Getty Images is all about profit, not about supporting a community, this results in a Clash of Cultures. Getty's business philosophy just does not fit with the istock community philosophy.

Supposedly the percentage payouts of istock (even though they are lower than just about every other agency in the business) are 'unsustainable'. The vast majority of non-exclusive contributors are having their royalties reduced from 20% to 15%. So Getty earning 85% of the earnings is sustainable, but earning 80% isn't? This just does not wash, particularly when they take a smaller cut on exclusive sales. There seems to be two basic aims of the royalty split changes at istock. The first is to increase the overall profit of Getty and reduce the payouts to contributors, and the second is to make it less and less atttractive to be non-exclusive. Why?

Microstock has become a race to the bottom. This is what is really unsustainable. 'Traditional' microstock agencies like istock are being undercut by sites offering 'all you can eat' microstock subscriptions. Another fly in the ointment are microstock 'price comparison' sites. These make it easy to compare the price of the same image across multiple sites, and this makes istock look (relatively) expensive. The only way to combat this issue is to have exclusive content, so that it cannot be bought cheaper elsewhere, and that is why istock is making non-exclusive less and less attractive to the contributor.

As far as I see it, this has nothing to do with microstock being 'unsustainable', it is simply Getty Images returning to their old tried and tested business model based on the 'frog in the pot' experiment. Put a frog in a pot of cold water and turn on the heat. When does the frog jump out? It doesn't, it just sits there as it slowly gets hotter and hotter, until it gets boiled alive. Getty has done this to their traditional photography suppliers and are now doing the same thing to their istock contributors, because they know the vast majority do not have the guts to jump.

Friday, April 23, 2010

BBC reports on "World's Unluckiest Woman"

For the past ten years the BBC, possibly the most respected news source in the world, has been following the 'fortunes' of an otherwise ordinary person who has been dubbed by the press "The World's Unluckiest Woman".

Dee Safortunado of Scunthorpe, England first came to the attention of scientists early in the new millenium when it was discovered that she was the only person to have actually caught the much-feared Y2K Bug.

In December 2002, when the BBC reported that British Telecom was the most complained about service provider in the UK, BT responded that "the majority" of complaints were from Dee Safortunado (pictured below). With Dee, if anything can go wrong, it does.

In June 2003 the BBC announced that Dee had unwittingly become entangled in the infamous 'War of the IM networks', and Dee was quoted as saying "It's enough to drive you crazy" which any sane person can fully understand.

In September 2003 the BBC reported on the MSBlast worm, and how it had "hit some users hard".

Dee Safortunado was quoted as saying that the vicious worm had in fact hit her so hard that it had knocked the wind out of her and left her with two broken ribs.

At the time there were some public questions over the fact that in photos Dee Safortunado always seemed to be in exactly the same 'stance'. A BBC spokesman responded that this was in truth the result of a freak workplace incident in which Dee had accidently superglued her hands to her head. "She isn't called the World's Unluckiest Woman for nothing." he added.

In June 2005, during the European Union's ultimately doomed attempt to 'metrify' time, Unions complained that "long hours increase stress" and the BBC quoted Dee as saying that being constantly photographed infront of her computer increased her stress almost as much as long hours did.

Dee went on to become a high profile member of the campaign to reject the 100 minute hour and return to the now widely accepted standard of 60 minutes.

Some years later, for their acclaimed December 2009 "Ten years after doomsday" report, the BBC revisted Dee's well-documented problems recovering from the Y2K Bug.

Dee told the BBC that while it was true that "Computer problems caused by the Bug were few and far between", at the time it had badly effected her health and had required a long and painful convalescence. However, in a fascinating twist, doctors have discovered that Dee does not age. "We have been studying Dee for more than a decade," her personal physician stated "and in that time she has not aged a single day. She looks just the same."

Earlier this month Dee returned to the headlines with the recent launch of Microsoft's 'fix it' program.

Knowing of her many well-documented computer related problems, Microsoft found a perfect Guinea pig in Dee and consulted her regularly during the entire development process. Dee said that "Many PC problems can be very frustrating to find and fix" but that between her and Microsoft this was likely to become a thing of the past. However when Dee added that "Windows 7 Was My Idea", sales of the new software reportedly plummeted and she was forced to make a hasty retraction.

The BBC has said that they will continue to follow Dee's trials and tribulations and are currently working on a major feature about her career and future plans once she retires from her role as a government Health and Safety consultant next year.

"One of the advantages of the fact that Dee does not age" a BBC spokesman said "is that we probably don't need a new photo of her for the feature. We actually have a team working on it as I speak... as we believe we may have an old picture on file somewhere which we could use."

Monday, April 12, 2010

train crash photos, Northern Italy, April 12

Following the train crash earlier today in Northern Italy near to the town of Merano, close to the Austrian border, one of our photographers in Italy Alex Rowbotham who lives nearby, has asked me to publicise his images of both the inauguration of the line in 2005 and the landslide, crash scene and rescue operation currently in progress.

Alex's images of the train crash in Northern Italy, April 12 can be accessed here and Alex can be contacted directly by press agencies and the media by email.

Rescue workers . Train hit by landslide in northern Italy 12th April 2010 0905

Alex's report from the scene:

"Just after nine o'clock I heard the air-raid sirens that every village has at their fire stations.

They sounded three times to signify there had been a major accident, usually a major road accident, a forest fire or house fire. They test these sirens each Saturday at midday so to hear them at any other time gives me the shivers.

Now I'm down at the crash site, I can see the train cab is not there at all and the train is hanging off the rails about five metres from the river. It is now only a few trees that are holding up the train and preventing it falling into the river.

The landslide looks like it happened on a bend. There would have been no way the driver could have seen it.

The train is on the wrong side of the river to get equipment to the site by the main road, so the cycle path along the river has been opened up to vehicles. Workers there are trying to build a pontoon across the river in order to get equipment over.

The main road was closed but is now open, although traffic is extremely heavy. There are a lot of fire fighters and ambulances coming and going but it looks like they have managed to get everyone out.

The emergency services have to be praised. Many of them are volunteers from the local communities and they are doing an incredible job with precision and total control.

The width of the landslide is about the length of a train carriage and it looks like it happened just after a bend. There would have been no way the driver could have seen it.

Northern Italy-based photographer Alex Rowbotham's report from the scene of the train crash, Northern Italy, April 12th

UPDATE: Alex has added a set of new images of the rescue operation taken on site today, 13th April.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Microstock: how to avoid Poisonous Pictures

There has been quite a big reaction to my previous article about the perils of companies using microstock images, with comments ranging from 'hilarious', 'there ought to be a health warning attached to all micro stock purchases' and 'I might just frame that and put it in my office' to... 'biased hypocritical nonsense'. I guess you can't please everyone.

Many designers and researchers have also said that providing their clients with a link to the article is a simple and effective way to show them that with photo purchases, it's not just down to price. Buying cheap can end up an expensive mistake.

What I did not explain in the article (and I have had numerous queries about since) is how I found all these examples of the same image being used across multiple sites. With recent technological advances, it has become quick and easy, which is why companies are going to have to really think about the consequences of using microstock images to represent their brand and reputation.

The key is a website called tineye.com which describes itself as a 'Reverse Image Search', and I think it is a tool that every designer and picture researcher needs to make an integral part of their work. I will now set out a 'how to' on using TinEye in your picture research:

Go to the TinEye website, and download their TinEye plugin for your browser. It's free!

Once it is installed, whenever you see an image on the web, you just need to right click on it. For example, say you want to buy a 'headset' stock image for a website you are designing. You find a nice anonymous image you could use:

Just right click with your mouse, and on the dropdown menu you will see a new option: Search Image on TinEye. Click on that option and a new window will open in your browser, showing all the matches which TinEye has in its database:

28 results in this case. Now, the first thing you need to ask yourself is "is it going to be a problem using this image if so many other sites are using it?" Traditionally the general consensus has been that in many cases this is not a problem, as the odds of someone stumbling across the same image and then highlighting the fact are probably minimal.

But... now we have TinEye.

That means that if you use the image on your website, anyone viewing the image on your site can do exactly what you just did with TinEye. It now takes just one click to find matching images across the web. Okay, so still in many cases, if your client isn't particularly high profile, no big deal. And in this case it is a fairly anonymous stock image.

But what about this?

I have to confess that my Spanish is a little rusty, but words like 'erecciones' and 'eyaculaciones' suggest to me that this is not the sort of 'enhancement' product that you want your help-centre call girls associated with.

Maybe it's time to look for another headset photo.

What you need to find is an image that is not over-used and is not tainted by the 'Poisonous Picture' phenomenon we see above. The Caveat of course is that, while TinEye allows you to find these uses:

1) It is by no means comprehensive. TinEye's database of images is constantly increasing as their spiders crawl the web, so you never know when some 'interesting' new use for an image may turn up.

2) It only shows current uses. Someone may come along next week, buy the same image as you, and use it to promote their business or product.

There is no way you can completely protect yourself unless you 'buyout' rights to the image. In most cases this is going to be too expensive, so what it really comes down to is risk assessment:

You use microstock images to represent your company: there are going to be possibly hundreds if not thousands of websites/businesses out ther using the same 2 dollar images. Also, because they are 2 dollar images, the dodgiest, seediest, fly-by-night businesses will be using them, because why would they pay more?

You use non-microstock Royalty Free images. There may well be quite a few other websites/businesses using those images, but nothing like the same scale as the microstock ones, and the dodgiest, seediest, fly-by-night businesses will not be using them because... they like cheap! (Of course because they are Royalty Free you can't be sure that the same photos are not also being sold as microstock, but that is a whole other can of worms...)

You use Rights Managed images. Not many, if any, other businesses will be using them. As they are Rights Managed, you should also be able to find out if, and where else, they have been used and whether there is a possible conflict of use with a competitor, particularly if you license them direct from the photographer.

You hire a photographer to shoot for you. This is likely to be the most expensive option if you just need one or two photos, but if you need a reasonable number (for instance a variety of shots of your staff at work, your premises and your products) it could actually end up being more economical than buying stock.

Interestingly, I have noticed a growing number of 'high-end' businesses taking this last option, and starting to avoid stock completely, and I can see good reasons for doing so. But a discussion of that will have to wait until another time.

In many cases it may not be a big deal that the girl in that beautiful layout your designer created to promote your business...

...hangs out in some bizarro parallel universe of bad design,

but when it comes to a company as high profile and prestigious as Hilton Hotels ®...

... do they really want it to look like they use the same call centre staff as Viagra Genius dot com?

"Hi, this is Shelley at Viagra Geen... I beg your pardon, I mean at Hilton Worldwide, how may I help you today?"

Microstock photos may be cheap, but they come at a price.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Microstock: why would a reputable company do this to themselves?

I was looking at a company website today, with the possibility of putting some business their way, when something I saw there made me cringe involuntarily.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, this one has a lot to say. It says microstock. It says perfect-people perfect-world lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter pile-them-high sell-them-cheap image.

Why would a reputable company want to be associated with those words?

The problem with this image is that it has that.... 'Deja Vu' feeling to it, and for a good reason.

So, do these guys come as a package? Have they moved on from "Best of the Web" to form the Corporate Team at "123 Greetings"?

As you would expect from such a high powered team, they speak fluent German...

... and some East Asian language - you could probably find out which one if you bump into them at the:

and of course they come with a:


Now, this may all just seem a bit of a joke, just poking fun at the short-sightedness of companies using cheap microstock images to represent their... well, image, but:

About us? They didn't do a very good job of spotting this trouble on the horizon...

maybe financeme needs better financing if they don't have any headshots of their own staff and can only afford microstock images...

I think that should read 'Company Oversight'

...when it gets visibly misleading, you end up questioning the credibility of the company itself.

I don't believe these people really work at Targetti Poulsen...

...so why would I trust anything else that Targetti Poulsen have to say?

And if I am wrong and they do work there, are Targetti Poulsen aware that their 'people' moonlight at:

On a side note, 'Bad Credit Cosmetic Surgery Loans dot co dot uk' wins this month's prize for "dodgiest domain name".

My final example I think rounds off this topic in an appropriate way:

from their track record, getting these 'good people' to stay does not look promising...

Okay, so HireView Magazine used the same silly microstock image. But that photo at the top? That's them. That's the team at HireView. I am confident about that because it isn't a perfect-people perfect-world lowest-common-denominator cookie-cutter pile-them-high sell-them-cheap image that has spread across the internet like a nasty virus. It is an honest picture, and because of that, I think I can trust HireView Magazine.

Which is more than I can say for the rest of these companies.

Companies need to think more carefully about the stock images they use. I suspect many businesses are unaware that the stock photos their designer has sold them are spread a-dime-a-dozen across the web. There is a good reason that microstock's original catchphrase was "the designer's dirty little secret".

At the very least, reputable companies should look at using rights-managed rather than royalty-free images, so they will KNOW if the image is being used elsewhere and whether a competitor (or sometimes something even worse: "Cosmetic Surgery for mens, Get your Dream Shape like stars")  is using the same 'team' to represent their company. Or maybe they should follow HireView Magazine's lead and actually hire a photographer to take real portraits of real people who work at their company. They may not be perfect, they may cost a bit more, but they will look genuine, and honest. And not just... cheap.

UPDATE: April 5th
To address questions regarding how all these image uses were easily found across the web, and how companies can prevent this problem with picture use on their own websites, I have written a follow-up piece about avoiding poisonous pictures.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

PurestockX: Unfair Trade for photographers?

One of our photographers forwarded me an email he received this week from a stock photography agency called PurestockX:

Dear Alan,

I have been studying your photography on-line and decided to get in contact with you. My name is Johnnie and I work as a picture editor for Ingram Publishing, a leading European royalty free image provider based in London. We are currently looking for talented professional photographers to contribute work to our subscription website PurestockX, for single image distribution and possibly a DVD collection.

Like many professional photographers, you may have a back catalogue of unused and potentially profitable images. For example this could be personal work or offshoots from your commercial practice. We would be interested in distributing these images on your behalf in exchange for a commission.

As a contributor you would benefit from direct marketing in nine European countries. Typically our marketing includes mailing printed brochures as well as telesales campaigns to promote DVD products and our subscription service, PurestockX, throughout the year. The revenues our contributors receive can be substantial.

Ingram Publishing has hundreds of thousands of images available for direct sale within the UK and an international client base; comprising direct customers and a network of third party distributors. The mission of Ingram Publishing is to provide high quality, fully released imagery at competitive prices – without underselling the value of photographic work.

Please feel free to give me a phone call or e-mail to discuss this in further detail. Meanwhile please visit www.ingrampublishing.com and www.purestockx.com for a better understanding of our company.

I look forward to hearing back from you.
With best regards,

Of course, it is quite flattering to find an agency has been "studying your photography on-line" and considers you a "talented professional photographer", but I suspect this is a standard 'fluffer' email they send to anyone, with just a personal name stuck at the top (on a side note it would be great to hear from photographers who may have received the same email!)

Alan forwarded the email to me asking for "information/awareness/comments", but having never heard about Purestock, I asked him if he could find out anything more from them about the commission splits they offer talented professional photographers.

Alan sent Johnnie at PurestockX an email with a list of detailed questions.

No response.

So, Alan took the initiative and phoned Johnnie, which is always a smart move as you can tell a lot from someone's 'on-the-spot' answers to difficult questions. Alan reported back:

Johnnie claims they sell hi res images for £150 down to £100

Photographer gets 20%.

When I asked how much after going via a distributor, was it 20% of the total or what they got?

He mumbled a bit and then said '20% of what we get'.

So.... if Purestock sell one of your stock images direct to a buyer, you get paid 20%. If they sell your images thought their "network of third party distributors" you get... what? I am guessing 10% at best.

And who exactly are this "network of third party distributors"? Doing some research online, I find that PurestockX is "a division of SuperStock Inc.". What I would really like to know is, if images you submit to Purestock are sold through SuperStock (which seems to own PurestockX) what percentage of the original sale price do you receive?

What also does not add up, as Alan pointed out, is that PurestockX is a subscription site, advertising "10 high res credits for 45 pounds". That is 4 pounds and fifty pence per high res image.

Having got this info, Alan said:

"I left it at that as it is plain to see what it is, as his claim for £150 does not match 10 hi res image credits for £45."

"The photographer gets about 40p - 80p per image according to my sums - if they are lucky!"

This is another example of the contempt with which some agencies treat photographers. Offering just 20% of earnings for direct sales, let alone the even lower sub-agency rates, cannot be justified in any way.

PurestockX seems to be another 'front agency' for the shady 'death by a thousand cuts' network of distributors out there designed to part photographers from as much as possible of the earnings from their creative work.

For these reasons, Fair Trade Photographer has this verdict:

PurestockX = UnFair Trade.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our photographers in Chile after the earthquake

Just wanted to write a quick note about our photographers in Chile after hearing the news about the massive earthquake there last night. Chile is used to earthquakes and is well prepared, but the huge size of this earthquake is rare, and we hope all is well with our photographers there, particularly Ricardo Carrasco Stuparich, who lives very close to the epicentre in ConcepciĆ³n. I emailed him last night when I first heard of the earthquake but have not had a reply yet.

I have vistied Chile three times, and it is one of my favorite countries. I hope to take my family down there to experience its extraordinary beauty sometime in the future. Wishing you all the best! Hasta Luego!

A beach near Concepcion, Chile 2001

UPDATE: I have just heard from Ricardo, and he and his family are all fine, but he says the situation looks bad in other areas.

Friday, February 26, 2010

BEWARE! Living Science Competition IMAGE RIGHTS GRAB!

Yesterday a new Image Rights Grab competition was launched by the UK Department for Innovation, Business and Skills. Reading the small print in the terms and conditions for photo submissions to their Living Science Competition on the 'Science, so What?' website, we find that:

By entering, all entrants licence News International, the Department for Innovation, Business and Skills, and their authorised representatives, a worldwide, irrevocable, royalty-free licence to publish and use each entry (including all images and text submitted by the entrant as part of the entry process) in any and all media (including, without limitation, print and online) in perpetuity.

This means that News International (The Times, The Sun, The Sunday Times, The News Of The World), the Department for Innovation, Business and Skills, and 'their authorised representatives' (ie anyone else they choose), can use your images for anything, for all time, without any payment to the photographer.

Following the huge success of our campaign to persuade Great British Life and Archant Publishing to change the terms and conditions of their website and competitions, we now ask our loyal supporters to help us in publicising this new underhand Rights Grab on photographers' images.

If you have your own website, blog, newsgroup, whatever, please copy and paste this link into your site:

What will happen is that anyone searching for info about the Living Science Competition is likely to see a link to this blog and be warned about the Image Rights Grab attempt.

Does this have any effect? Our previous campaign rose as high as the number 3 search result on Google for the search term 'Great British Life' and as a direct result Great British Life and Archant Publishing liaised with Fair Trade Photographer in rewriting their terms and conditions to make them fair to photographers.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Great British Life do the right thing!

Screenshot from the Great British Life website:
IMPORTANT: This blog page is an update of Fair Trade Photographer's campaign to publicise the formerly unreasonable terms and conditions for photographers on Archant's Great British Life website. To view the original blog post there is a screenshot here.

UPDATE: 25 February 2010
As a result of the support of numerous photographers for this campaign, along with support from The British Institute of Professional Photography, Copyright Action and Pro Imaging's Bill of Rights, Archant Publishing and the Great British Life team have revised their terms and conditions to take account of our concerns.

Whereas the previous terms gave Archant a royalty-free license to use any images uploaded to their website for anything they wished, without payment, the new terms state:

3. Use of Images

By submitting a photograph You grant Great British Life worldwide license to reproduce, publicly display, distribute, publicly perform and create derivative works from Your submitted materials on the Great British Life websites.

If submitted as a competition entry, in all media, in connection with the administration, judging and promotion of the competition and future competitions. We shall have the right to grant sublicenses to the press and publicity agents in connection with the promotion of the competition. Full credit will be given to You in connection with image usage.

You will retain copyright and if we wish to use your photograph for any other purpose Archant will ask your permission and obtain your consent before doing so. Any commercial opportunities that arise following the publication of the submitted photograph will be notified to You, and You will be free to negotiate terms independently.

Fair Trade Photographer considers these terms reasonable, and are grateful for the Great British Life team's co-operation in listening to our concerns about photographer's rights to their images, and the right to receive fair payment for the commercial use of their images.

Archant said to us:

Archant are always happy to work with any groups or individuals, if they have concerns in relation to our websites or any of the terms and conditions.

Archant's magazines provide many opportunities for British photographers to gain recognition and reasonable payment for their creative endeavours and we look forward to working with them in future in promoting the Great British photos of our many talented contributing photographers.

The new terms and conditions can be viewed here.


I now have to bring a new Rights Grab competition to your attention, this time courtesy of the UK government Department for Innovation, Business and Skills and News International. Please take a moment to read about their Living Science Competition Image Rights Grab and find out how you can help.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Does Getty Images have any respect for the photographers they represent?

all images copyright protected

One of the developments at Getty Images which has caused a lot of buzz among photographers recently is their new "Flickr collection".

Basically Getty has employees who trawl through the images on Flickr, cherry-pick ones they think have good potential as money-makers and then approach the photographer about representing the image.

Great for photographers you may think? A chance to be noticed, to be represented by the biggest and best known photo agency in the world! Except for the small print:

  • Getty demands exclusivity. You can't sell your images elsewhere (except as personal prints I have heard). But that is normal isn't it? No, probably the majority of images on Getty Images are NOT exclusive.

  • Oh, and Getty keeps 80% of the earnings.
Isn't 50% the norm? It used to be... but then Getty Images' agenda is to squeeze bigger and bigger percentages from photographers. The longer you do it, and the more photographers you get to cave-in, the harder it is for other photographers to fight it, and the more likely it is to be seen as the norm.

What is particularly interesting about Getty Images' new Flickr collection is that they are promoting it with a HUGE advert on the FRONT PAGE of their website. Why would the do that? Surely they should be promoting the work of all those talented, hard-working, highly experienced professional photographers who have been loyally supplying Getty with high quality stock images for years? Surely Getty should show them some respect?

But Getty only seems to care about the bottom line. With the Flickr images they get:

1) exclusivity
2) 80% of the earnings

and therefore it makes sense to push buyers towards these images where Getty will take the biggest cut.

And it gives them future leverage against their other 'loyal' photographers: we pay Flickr photographers 20%, why would we pay you more?

A dream for Getty, a nightmare for the photographer.

Getty does not seem to have any respect for their photographers. They are just a commodity. To quote a previous comment on Fair Trade Photographer from that very talented photographer (and recently photographer to HM the Queen) Rod Edwards:

"It's no longer an honour to be represented by Getty, it's an embarrassment."