The biggest liar in the world is a politician.
And the second biggest liar is a statistician.
Over the past several years, the popularity of stock photo subscriptions has skyrocketed. Nearly every stock photo agency offers some form of subscription plan these days. And the ads for these subscription plans remind us of another truism.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Get this photo for as little as 16 cents! Download 750 images per month for only $249! Really? That equates to 33.2 cents per high resolution image. Aren’t they paying some of their photographers 35 to 40 cents per sold photo? How could any stock agency sell photos so cheaply and not go bankrupt?
The answer is, they can’t.
When a stock photo agency sells you a subscription, they know ahead of time that you will never download that many photos. They depend on you failing to get your perceived money’s worth. And they go out of their way to make it as difficult as possible for you to download your full quota.
A common technique is to combine your monthly download quota with a daily download quota. Sure, you could download 750 images in a month. But you are limited to 25 image downloads per day in a normal 30 day month. If you download only 10 photos on Monday, you can’t make it up by downloading 40 on Tuesday. Those 15 photos you never downloaded are gone forever.
Not working on the weekend? Too bad. There goes another 50 or so lost photos. Out of the office for a week? Another 175 downloads lost, with no opportunity to get a refund.
Nobody is Talking
As you might guess, the stock photo agencies aren’t telling anyone how many downloads per month subscribers actually use. However there have been some troubling rumors in recent years.
In a 2008 post to the Microstock Group forum, one of the world’s most successful stock photographers and businessmen, Yuri Arcurs, quoted an unnamed industry insider who claimed stock photo buyers use only 15 to 30% of their quota per month.
Yuri is a straight shooter in public forums, and as intelligent as he is talented. The math makes a lot of sense, and supports the claim that 70 to 85% of the stock photo download quota is lost.
If we assume only 15% of the downloads are used by the subscriber, then the $249 deal is for only 113 images, not 750. The cost per photo rises to $2.21. Now consider a photographer is being paid 33 cents per download. That yields a paltry commission percentage of 15% to the artist, while the agency keeps 85%.
They place barriers in front of customers, preventing them from downloading enough photos. And they keep the artist in the dark as to how low their commission really is.
Do Buyers Care?
If you are downloading stock images for you blog or your design business, you probably care quite a bit that you aren’t getting your download quota in your stock photo subscription plan.
But what about a person tasked with purchasing photos daily for a large business? The appeal of the subscription plan is strong for the business owner, who can set a budget of $200 to $250 every month for photos and simply forget about it. It wouldn’t be difficult to believe that the owner of a large business would be completely insulated from whether or not the business is getting its money’s worth.
The person further down in the company hierarchy, charged with downloading photos, probably has little to no concern about downloading a full quota. It’s not their money, right? Who gives up their lunch hour to catch up on stock photo downloads?
Stock Photo Subscription Recommendations
When considering if a stock photo subscription plan is right for your business, evaluate if you will be able to download anywhere near the quota given to you. Are there daily limits? If so, can you catch up on Tuesday if you don’t reach your quota on Monday?
Do some realistic math calculations to determine how much you are really paying per stock photo. Are you better off purchasing photos individually? Most people would likely save money by purchasing photos on demand, rather than racing against the subscription clock.
Talk to other stock photo buyers. How many photos did they download last month? How many did they pay to download?
We hope for transparency in the coming years regarding the statistics behind stock photo subscriptions. Buyers and artists each deserve to know what they are signing up for. Until then…
Let the Buyer Beware