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... 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 and 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.