Is 20% of Something Better Than 88% of Nothing? Flickr, Getty Images, ClusterShot and the Future of Stock Photography

Getty to Offer Flickr Images for Sale

I thought I’d put out a post after I received my first earnings report (which I received today) from stock photography agency Getty Images. I signed up to have Getty represent 60 of my individual photographs as part of the recent deal between Getty Images and Flickr. The Flickr/Getty arrangement is by invite only and Getty initially selected about 90 of my images. I listed all of the images that they asked for that didn’t need model releases (which was 60). Most of the other images that they wanted where model releases were needed are of me or my family, so I’ll probably add those to the collection as well in the next few weeks.

So in my first month of production with Getty I sold two of the 60 images. Those two images totaled $689.97 in fees to Getty and $138.00 (my 20% cut) to me. At the same time that I’d signed up with Getty I also listed 24,917 of my photos with the upstart stock photography agency ClusterShot. ClusterShot, started by Canadian web development company silverorange which was co-founded by Pal Daniel Burka (who is also Creative Director at Digg), offers photographers an ability to list their photos there and pays them out 88% of the proceeds. Unfortunately in my first month or so with ClusterShot I didn’t sell any photos.

Which raises the question, is 20% of something better than 88% of nothing?

While I really, really, really like the ClusterShot model, and especially the fact that the majority of the sales proceeds go to the content creator, unless companies like ClusterShot are able to attract buyers to buy these photos, I’m not sure how successful they will end up being in the end. There is something to be said for Getty’s dominant role as the largest provider of stock photography in the world. Because Getty has the existing customers already signed up, at least today, it seems like they are far more likely to sell more images than ClusterShot. On the other hand, you can sell a lot fewer images at ClusterShot and still make more money because the payout there is so much higher. At present I’m trying both to see how they both work.

I think another area where Getty has a big advantage is in their reputation for clearing images. Especially in today’s litigious environment, image buyers are likely to feel more comfortable with Getty’s vetting of images for needed model and property releases than they might be for ClusterShot’s free for all. At ClusterShot there is no image review process where they determine if images need releases or not. And while in some cases (say an image of flower or a rose) no release may be needed, in many other cases a model release is clearly needed. Since the image buyer is ultimately the one on the hook for publishing images without correct releases, an image buyer might consider an agency like Getty as a safer place to purchase their images.

More than both Getty and ClusterShot though, the majority of my licensing income last month came from direct purchases. I sold five photos directly last month for about $2,000 total. I got to keep 100% of that. I was not marketing those images directly in any meaningful way, they were just inquiries that people sent my way after finding images of mine that they wanted to use on Flickr, Google Image Search, etc. The buyers were natural buyers of stock photography, a couple of magazines (including Popular Photography), a visitor’s convention bureau, a local newspaper and a private company for their brochure.

Now in the future things very well may change. Personally I think it’s more likely that you’d see ClusterShot (or a company like them) gain traction and market share than it is that I’d see Getty raise their payouts. In the meantime I’ll continue in the near term using both and watching and reporting on how things go.

I will say also that I’ve been pretty impressed with things from the service side of Getty Images. I had some initial glitches getting my photos on their platform, but they fixed my problem and I’ve found the Getty staff to be very helpful and responsive in the Flickr/Getty members only forum on Flickr. Late last week Getty also invited all existing Flickr/Getty members an opportunity to submit five new images to Getty in a promotion entitled “It’s Your Turn.” Apparently Getty is also in the process of inviting additional images into their collection both from new and existing Flickr/Getty contributors, although they have not invited any additional images of mine since the first 90.

I think one of the cool things also with ClusterShot is that they can use the Flickr API to pull your photos directly from Flickr for sale. This makes it far easier than uploading your shots directly to their site. They also pull over your tags and keywords in this process so that your photos are immediately optimized for search on their site. You can also set ClusterShot up so that they pull over all your new photos to their site for sale as you upload them to Flickr as well. That’s slick.

If you want to see my Getty Images presently for sale, you can see those here.

If you want to see my ClusterShot Images presently for sale, you can see those here.

Update: I emailed PR reps from Getty, Yahoo and ClusterShot regarding this article and asking for more specific sales stats. Getty said that they are not presently sharing any sales stats on this program and I got the following email response back from Dan James at ClusterShot:

Hey Thomas,
Thanks for the review. Overall we feel it’s fair and well balanced. A few of our reactions in point form:

– We take it as a huge compliment to even be compared to Getty. They are so well established. Our site is brand new.

– We want to build tools to easily facilitate and automate the sale of that $2,000 you sold privately. We’re going to be building more tools and features focused precisely in that area in the months to come. Hopefully they’ll be useful enough for you to use.

– Right now we are trying to not be perceived as a destination to come and look for stock photos. At least initially. There are many people much better at storing, searching, and sharing photos than us. We want to make the service that sells the photo and ties into all of those other great sites. We’re going to building a full API for this in the coming months. This API will also be encourage to be used by makers of self-hosted gallery solutions as well.

– Currently we have ~1,000 photographers with 160K images for sale. Virtually all of our sales (which is in the dozens, not hundreds) are from photographers who are using ClusterShot as a place to feature and promote their work to previously established offline customers.

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  1. Jeff Clow says:

    I also received my last month earnings report from Getty today…..I have 65 images in the Flickr Getty collection and I sold 7 photos last month.

    5 were to USA buyers including a couple of big ad agencies. Two were to foreign companies in Germany and Spain.

    Sale prices ranged from $49 to just shy of $400 per image – and my earnings (commissions) were almost $300 for the month.

    So, for me, the sales and commissions for my first full month on Getty exceeded my expectations considerably.

    And – as comparison – even though I have over 2,000 additional images up on Flickr not represented by Getty….I only sold one of them for $75.

  2. DaveZatz says:

    What about iStockPhoto instead of ClusterShot? They already have a market established.

  3. Pascal says:

    Thanks, Thomas! After recognizing that I would never make it to Getty it was great to see a stock site that seem to be exactly like I ever wanted one (flickr auto import, user can chose price and gets most of it)!

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    Dave, iStockphoto does not feel that it is for me. I don’t think that I’m interested in selling my photos for $1, $3 and $5. This works for some people I think though. I think I just feel like my photos are worth more than that. Who knows though, iStockphoto could in fact be the better call in the whole “make it up in volume,” case. Certainly it’s something that I watch, but I doubt I’ll ever participate there.

  5. Adam Singer says:

    Try Shutterstock, IMO – been using them for awhile and love it.

  6. DaveZatz says:

    As soon as I posted it occurred to me that iStock might be well below your level of artistry. But in the name of science, might it be interesting to throw a dozen pics up and see what happens?

  7. Dave Wilson says:

    I submitted 10 of my invited images to Getty just to see how things would go and am happy to say that I’ve seen a sale already. This is not exactly a statistically relevant sample but, given that I’ve had about 300 images on ClusterShot since around the week it opened and have not seen even a single enquiry during this time, I have to wonder whether my 20% at Getty is not a better looking deal just now too.

    Don’t get me wrong – I’m not bashing ClusterShot. Their model is great and their user interface makes it very easy for me to get my images on sale. It does appear, however, that Getty has the mindshare and, as a result, the eyes of buyers while ClusterShot has still not picked up sales momentum. Getty also do a great job of keywording images and offering advanced search options which make finding the image you are looking for very easy indeed.

    I’ve just submitted another dozen or so images to Getty including a few that I was considering sending to other agencies so I’ll see how these do.

    While I like the percentages at ClusterShot, as you say, I would rather have a smaller percentage of something than nothing at all.

  8. DaveZatz: It might be worth noting that part of the reason behind ClusterShot is due to the high level of rejected photos being uploaded to iStock. The model behind ClusterShot is more that the buyer should decide what is acceptable and not the company approval staff.

    Dave Wilson: At the moment, 20% is better then ClusterShot if the expectation is to wait for buyers. As Dan mentioned above in the update, “Virtually all of our sales (which is in the dozens, not hundreds) are from photographers who are using ClusterShot as a place to feature and promote their work to previously established offline customers.”

    A good example of a site that has had success with ClusterShot as a checkout tool is:

  9. I somehow end up getting caught in the decision of which pics are “fine art” which go for limited edition archival collector item prints and which should go in for stock photography.

    I am one step behind the next decision which is whether 20% of something is better.

  10. PB says:

    What about iStockPhoto instead of ClusterShot? They already have a market established.

  11. Darryn says:

    I just received my first Getty statement, for the month of May and was pleasantly surprised to see my cut for the month was $675. I didn’t have high expectations (I only had 3 of my Flickr pics on Getty) and was prepared to accept small sales to finally tally up to my $50 minimum payout. Will be interesting to see how things progress from here.

  12. Jon says:

    Thanks for the article. I really appreciate your balanced review, your candid disclosure of payments received (why do so many people shy away from this?), and your other readers’ similar reports. I have been opposed to trying Getty because I don’t like how they got started in the business, or their 20% policy, but hearing the remarkable sales figures I’m struck that I need to give them a shot.

  13. Trent says:

    Great article.

    As a former Getty employee, just thought I’d point out that Getty’s customers don’t simply ‘already exist’, but are looked after by a large and dedicated sales staff. The cost of this enormous, global staff (who actively SELL pictures to clients) is also a factor in the 20/80 split. The cost of a global team of editors who curate the site also factors in.

    Just thought I’d put that out there!

  14. Dan James says:

    Thomas, perhaps it’s time for an update to this post?

  15. Thomas Hawk says:

    Good point Dan. I think Getty reports our latest sales numbers later this week. I’ll work on an update then.


  16. […] few months back I wrote a blog post detailing my experience selling stock photography through both Getty Images’ Flickr Collection […]