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.


  1. I just checked into this. Sadly, this is the direction that many stock agencies are taking. I could find no evidence that Superstock owned this agency. Ingram Publishing is listed as the owner and they are certainly not alone in building these small seemingly autonomous agencies. And sadly, the rule rather than the exception seems to be that they are concentrating their energies on partnering with and providing content to larger agencies (Corbis and Getty come to mind). It is an easier model than pushing work out through their own portal (not to say they do not still do that but that they are pushing hard the other way). So yes, in the end the large agencies sell the works, split the fees with the small agencies and it is from that cut that the photographers derive their cut. So yes, in the end it is like getting 40% (a common royalty rate these days) of 50% of what X agency got from Corbis/Getty. This in and of itself is obscene. But to offer a 20% is outrageous. Every one of the agencies seem to have forgotten that they exist only through our efforts. No pictures no agencies. This status quo cannot go on forever. The whole system is going to implode some day.

  2. Hi anonymous - all the connections between these companies can be hard to trace - but the headlines I can find:

    "JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- a21, Inc. ("a21") (OTCBB: ATWO), a leading online digital content marketplace for creative professionals, today announced it has acquired Ingram Publishing Limited..."

    "a21 Opens New London Office to Integrate SuperStock UK and Ingram Publishing Teams."

    tend to point to Superstock/A21/Ingram/PurestockX all being in reality one company - though this info may be out of date of course.

  3. Alan - here. In UK the 10 credits is £45 on their website. That is their 'worst' deal for their customers. Buying more credits works out cheaper, which means even less for the photographer!!!!!

  4. sorry about that Alan - I guess I am seeing a different version and different pricing here in Canada!

    best regards

  5. I got this same exact email this morning - obviously a chain letter with a custom name. Thanks for posting this as it seemed sketchy to begin with - I appreciate the info you've discovered and posted.

  6. Hello,

    I have just been made aware of this blog post by a colleague and would like to take a minute to correct some of the information you have written about our company and explain how we work. Firstly PurestockX is owned by Ingram Publishing, we are no longer run by Superstock. We have two sites www.ingrampublishing.com and www.purestockx.com which hold over 200,000 photographs, illustrations and fonts. Ingram Publishing sells single images and DVDs whilst PurestockX is our subscription service. A high-res single image sells for £129, DVDs go for between £100 and £200 and a yearly subscription is £429 (please see our sites for more details).

    Our standard commission rate can seem low compared to certain other picture libraries (although about the same as others - Getty, iStock etc.) and there is a good reason for this: We have very expensive marketing strategies which include mailing printed brochures across Europe with telesales follow up. These methods are not undertaken by our competitors and should mean the responses and royalty per image are better for the contributor. The revenues our photographers receive obviously depend on the quality and quantity of their work held in our collections. Some of our better contributors make around £400 – 500 a month. One contributor made £15,000 last year through 5000 images.

    We have a large direct client base around Europe buying our products. We also distribute images through our network of picture libraries and this can result in numerous sales and good revenues for a contributor. However the priority is most certainly our own platform and customers – thus our direct sales team.

    I have sent the above e-mail to a number of professional photographers after viewing their websites. The idea being that we edit, keyword and make available pictures that would otherwise be ‘gathering dust’. In an ideal world I would like to be writing personal letters to each photographer I contact however I’m afraid this isn’t feasible.

    I would also like to add that Alan wrote to me on a Saturday and then called me on the Monday before I had time to return his e-mail. He ended our discussion abruptly once I mentioned the commission rate - not giving me any chance to explain this in more detail.

    The world of stock photography can be a difficult place to make money at the moment however I believe Ingram Publishing offer great opportunities for photographers. The last thing we want to do is rip them off, as has already been mentioned they are the basis of our company. To reiterate we have been going for a long time now and wouldn’t be anywhere if it wasn’t for the good relationships we have with our contributors.

    With best regards,


  7. Thank you for the detailed response Johnnie, and I am sorry for the time it has taken to respond. I can understand that if PurestockX/Ingram have high direct marketing costs, and these efforts do result in good sales, then it makes sense (although comparing yourselves to Getty Images and Istock, which are know for 'setting the bar' on low payout rates, seems a little disingenuous).

    However, if you are passing images on to other agencies, you have zero marketing costs. So how can you justify paying photographers only 20% of what you receive from these 'partner agency' earnings?

  8. This whole thing makes me sick. Photo Researchers have lost jobs due to the Microstock and Royalty Free images on the web. The poor photographers that have their images on page 17-50 won't even be seen by the researchers and are at a clear disadvantage from the get-go. The only companies that are getting anything out of this are Microstock and Royalty Free images. How are photographers supposed to make a living?