Bruce Livingstone Interview
With Stocksy (http://www.stocksy.com/) Bruce Livingstone has set out to produce a collection of “authentic” stock images unlike anything customers will be able to find anywhere else. When he uses the work authentic he means a photograph that doesn’t look staged, pretend, forced or unrealistic. Images can be processed, but the processing must match the content. It’s not Instagram.
Bruce took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions for Selling Stock.
JP – Jim Pickerell
BL – Bruce Livingstone
JP – Do we define Stocksy (and soon to be released Offset) (and maybe iStock’s Agency and Vetta collections and Fotolia’s Infinity collection) as Midstock or is there a better term to explain this market niche?
BL – These collections (Agency, Vetta, Infinity, Offset) are targeted to higher end buyers, true, but I think you’ll find some very key differences in our collection. (These product names are ridiculous, btw). These agencies are taking content that used to cost a dollar, (or less) and putting them into higher priced collections. Most of these images aren’t new content and used to cost a fraction of the price. If it is new content, it’s typically over-processed, inauthentic, forced and often represents some kind of hyper stock reality. With Agency, Vetta, Infinity, Offset you’ll pay around $500 for a XL size and at Stocksy it’s only $100 and the photographer still gets a higher royalty! From the little we’ve seen about Offset, it seems they are also moving content that used to be part of the normal subscription into an expensive collection, but I’m speculating. It’s a win for Shutterstock and double lose for customers since they used to get it as part of their normal subscription. Now they get to pay $250 for the same stuff. What’s important here is that Stocksy’s pricing is the same for everything, there are no pricing tricks and gimmicks to lead you in with cheap bad pictures, then make you pay more for slightly better bad pictures. The only thing that’s micro about the big, old agencies is the royalty payment.
JP – What are the distinctives from the customer’s point of view that will separate Stocksy from the rest in this price range?
BL – Stocksy has no subscriptions or credits or discounts on volume. A dollar is a dollar and you will always know the true cost of the image you’re buying. More importantly each photographer and image is curated after careful consideration by our creative research team, which I think is the best in the industry. Far better than any of the high end agency brands. Stocksy doesn’t play a numbers game. Customers don’t want 30 million images to look through and 11,146 results when they search for cheeseburger. Over supply is killing the market, furiously driving prices down and frustrating buyers that have to sift through all the junk.
BL – Yes. We are image exclusive, including sister images.
JP – Can a photographer submit other (non-similar) images to other agencies?
BL – Yes
JP – You started out with your cheapest file for web use being $25. I note that you have already dropped that to $10. Did you get a lot of comments from buyers that they simply wouldn’t pay $25 for an image they intended to use on the web? If not, why did you introduce this lower price?
BL – We have never dropped our prices or adjusted them. The Stocksy pricing has always been?$10 Small / $25 Medium / $50 Large / $100 XLarge??
JP– Even at $10 it would seem that not many customers interested in using an image on the web would be willing to pay that price considering all the other options available to them. Based on your experience what percentage of total microstock sales are for web use???
BL – The customers we work with have no issues paying $10 for a web sized image. They get it. They can see the difference immediately. Let’s talk about size and price. Our small size image is 867 x 577 which is the same size as a small 7 credit image on iStockphoto. A credit on iStock is now $1.61 – $1.78 so that prices the awesome iStock image at $11.27 – $12.46. Point of fact, Stocksy is cheaper than iStock, even with the deepest discounts on credit packs. If you look at Vetta pricing, (which I believe you could class all of the Stocksy collection in that higher tier) then we are still cheaper with Vetta pricing at around 35-50 credits (for small size), with a real cost of $40.60 – $89 for that small sized image. The other agencies keep creeping their prices higher and higher and moving the good content into higher priced collections.
JP – Initially when Vetta and the Agency collection were launched (and pushed to the top of the search return order) there were unanticipated high volumes of sales. But, lately, partly because of the high volume of good quality images available at lower prices, there seems a dramatic decline in the number of images licensed at these higher price points. Do you agree?
BL – Customers don’t like games in the search result grid. I’m sure that a good number of Vetta/Agency pictures sold because they were positioned at the top of the search results, maybe to corporate clients with loads of credits who weren’t checking the prices. When someone caught on that they were spending $35-$500 per image, they probably stopped buying.
JP – Many people who were initially anxious to offer their images at higher price points are now finding that the number of downloads has dropped so dramatically that they are better off getting a higher volume of sales at a lower price point. Why will Stocksy be different? Will your higher prices be high enough to offset the relatively lower volume of sales of this type of image?
BL – If you check the math, you’ll find Stocksy is less expensive than iStock and a superior product. With such a high royalty scheme, even at lower prices, photographers are still going to make more.
JP – How many images do you have in the Stocksy collection now?
BL – By the time you publish this, we’ll have over 25,000 inherently useful and inexplicably special images.
JP – How many photographers have been accepted and supplied images so far?
BL – 320 incredible photographers, who get it, have entrusted us with around 25,000 assets
JP – What percentage of the photographers accepted have some experience in microstock compared to those that have basically been assignment shooters and this is their first venture into stock? I have the impression that you have been looking for photographers with a much more personal, sophisticated and unique style than is often found in microstock (although there is certainly some that there too). My guess is that you are reaching out to a lot of photographers who would never have considered microstock. Am I correct?
BL – Yes and no. We have a professional stock photographers that also shoot for Blend, some incredible Corbis/Getty shooters like Hugh Sitton and Gavin Hellier. Then there are people like Hugh Forte who I think never considered stock because it isn’t in their ethos. Many great photographers like Trey Ratcliff were invited by founding members like, Thomas Hawk. We’ve got a high percentage of people you haven’t heard of because they have been mistreated by stock agencies and never tried selling stock again.
JP – In general the imagery I’ve seen seems to be similar in quality and style to some of the best currently found on other microstock sites in the higher priced collections. Some photographers think you are looking for angles and styles that are very specific to Stocksy and exactly opposite from what other microstock agencies are doing. Thus, they have two fears (1) that if they produce images in a Stocksy style and it is not accepted there will be no where else to sell it, and (2) will there be enough demand for the Stocksy style to justify the expense. How do you answer these photographers?
BL – We purposely do not ask for artists to be exclusive with us because we know that some images are just better suited in lower-end microstock collections. If one tries to shoot in a “Stocksy Style” we probably wouldn’t accept those images. More than anything we’re looking for authenticity which is vacant in the stock industry.
JP – Is going to Stocksy’s Pinterest site the best way to get a sense of the kind of imagery Stocksy is looking for?
BL – Yes, it’s a great resource for inspiration. It would probably make sense to start looking at our actual website though and see what we currently have on offer.
JP – Are you concerned about unlicensed uses of the images posted there?
BL – Not really. It’s part of our social strategy. We encourage social sharing of all our images.
JP – Will you consider publishing the inspector guidelines so photographers will have a better idea of what they need to do to comply with Stocksy standards?
BL – Once you’re part of the co-op, much of that information is available. We don’t have inspectors, we have curators. The point of our application process is to find out if we can work together to produce the kind of content we’re looking for based on your existing style and expertise. It’s not a test. We work hand in hand with photographers from workflow to marketing. Our goal is to help co-owners make the most authentic content they can with personal dialog, and even offering video chats and creative direction sessions. Part of our training includes a modernized workflow and a grass roots marketing effort that everyone takes part in. It’s not for everyone.
JP – Why must photographers wait a year to re-submit?
BL – We actually changed that to three months as of last week. We don’t want people resubmitting over and over again. We don’t have the manpower for that. The co-op only has room for so many members each year, by design. We have a very hands on approach with our co-owners and we want to have a personal working relationship with each of them. We can only take on so many new people per year, so the ones we have are very special to us. You need to stand out and you have to be authentic.
JP – Is every contributor a member of the co-op? As I understand it, at the end of each year all co-op members will share in the profits (if any) based on the share of total revenue that their sales generated. Is that correct?
BL – Every contributor is a member of the co-op and therefore a co-owner. We payout a performance based dividend from a pool of 90% of the profits at the end of the year.
JP – It is my understanding that becoming an accepted photographer is a two step process. The photographer must first ask to be selected for consideration. What percentage of those requesting information have you accepted or rejected so far?
BL – Photographers can show us their work in our Call to Artists page. If we love what they’re doing, we’ll send them an invitation to apply to get to know them even better. Founding members of the co-op can also invite other photographers and skip the Call to Artists page altogether. I don’t have the statistics on applied/rejected, we didn’t feel it was an important number to track. I know we had over 5,000 people show us their work and there are about 320 co-op members today.
JP – Those who pass this first test are then asked to provide a link to their portfolio. What is the ideal number of images in such a portfolio?
BL – We love to see a lot of work in portfolios, but I would say under 100 images of your best work is my suggestion.
JP – Rather than directing Stocksy to their regular web site, some photographers are producing a custom web site that only contains images in the style they believe Stocksy is looking for. Is this a good idea?
BL – No. There seems to be some idea out there that we are looking for Instagram style processing, which isn’t the case at all. We are looking for photos that look authentic. When I use the word authentic I mean a photograph that doesn’t look staged, pretend, forced or unrealistic. The processing has to match the content. We also are adverse to anything floating in white space.
JP – What percentage of the photographers who have submitted portfolios are you rejecting?
BL – I’m not sure… but it’s a lot.
JP – It is believed that you are looking for a type of imagery not normally found in microstock. What percentage of those accepted so far have never sold microstock?
BL – I’m not sure of the percentage. We have a lot people that had never sold a license to an image until they got to Stocksy. Many people had looked at the stock photo industry as unfair and too competitive until they heard about Stocksy. Our model is what convinced them. The point to all of this is we want to sell images that don’t look like stock and compensate artists fairly while we’re at it.
JP – There are indications that many who have been asked to submit portfolios and have submitted them have not heard back as to whether or not they have been accepted. I expect there is a big backlog because so many people have asked to be considered. Can you give any indications as to when there might be a normal turn around and what that might be?
BL – There are still around 300-400 applications we haven’t reviewed yet. We do reviews everyday, but it seems that number stays about the same. Stocksy only has eight staff members, so we were a little overwhelmed at first. We didn’t send replies to many of the first applicants who didn’t receive an invitation simply due to a technical oversight.