Why your best images should never be on Microstock

I recently came across an interesting discussion on the crazy MicrostockgroupForum, where a contributor was approached by a prospective client to license some of her images directly.

She was wondering how she should approach the negotiation and price her work, considering the images are also licensed at Microstock sites (within the prospective client’s knowledge).

Why is this an ideal situation for a contributor?

First the positives. This is an ideal situation since, if the deal goes through, the poster would get to keep all commissions, in contrast to giving away 60-75% royalties to greedy Agencies. She would also have considerable more flexibility in terms of contractual terms such as: pricing and licensing restrictions.

According to the poster, the client found her on a Microstock site and contacted her directly for those 250 images (no idea what kinds of images they are). Seems like a lot of images and could be a scam, but let’s assume it’s a legitimate client.

Starting negotiations

First and foremost, what is the expected usage of the images?

Since this is a direct license, there’s no issues with licensing as Rights-Managed (pay once per usage). In fact, it may be preferred since the photographer would have more control over the usage of images and once the usage duration expires, it may be renewed after an additional fee. Exclusivity is reserved for this model. A handy Rights-Managed price calculator is available by Getty Images.

However, overwhelmingly, clients prefer the Royalty-Free model (pay once and multiple usages). It’s just more hassle free.

For how much are the images available at Micros?

The fundamental point is that the same images are available on Microstock image banks and the prospective client knows this. This puts a dwarf-house sized ceiling on prices since there’s little wiggle room between Microstock prices and what the photographer can offer. Too high and the prospective client will just go down the Microstock Agency route.

To price her images, she would need to look at the “competitor”, which ironically is herself! Looking at Microstock prices, a client under a basic Shutterstock usage monthly subscription plan can download up to 350 images a month for $125 (basic usage). So, 250 images would, in theory, be worth $90 ($125 minus $35) or 36 cents per image.

The photographer can perhaps ask for a little bit more, perhaps 25% which would bring the price to $112.50 for those 250 images.

So, what’s the alternative?

Doesn’t matter where you’re based, licensing 250 images directly to a client for $112.50 is not only a bad business practice but bad for the industry, as it devalues the hard work of photographers. Depending on the type of image and usage, that many images should be licensed for AT LEAST $1,000.

So what’s the alternative? Well, supposing those images were not already at Micros and instead at one of the bigger Midstock agencies (at the very least Alamy), the photographer would be able to negotiate a much higher price close to the price offered at those Agencies (of course depending on usage and other times). RM would also be a real possibility, should the alternatives within the Agencies only be RM.

You have a choice of where to upload your best images and please please please don’t put premium images on Microstock, as it’s just another way to devalue those images indefinitely.  

This is related to the general theme of Microstock being increasingly an unsustainable business – see previous post on this topic.

Many clients are smart and may be able to locate your images, if displayed in a portfolio, at Microstock image banks with a simple Google Reverse tool.

Drafting the contract

Lastly, supposing you strike a deal, going at it alone means that you’re responsible to legally protect your copyright and sure you’re compensated as per the agreement. This means drafting a licensing contract.

For more information on getting yourself a template to draft your own licensing contract, see this link.

The lesson for the day is:

Take pride in your work!





  1. Hi Alex. Of course you know I am going to disagree! First, it is really, really hard to decide what a premium image is – is it something you like as an artist, something that has commercial value, something difficult to take? As we have all experienced, the most boring shots can be licensed on Alamy and other sites for quite a lot of money and our artistic premium shots sit unwanted and unsold for years. Also, in my 9 years in this business, no-one has approached me to buy multiple images, so holding out for such an event might be like waiting for Godot.
    I’m of the opinion that few buyers search widely – they see the image on their chosen agency and buy it. And unless you have an image that is almost impossible to reproduce (such as ones from North Korea perhaps) then you might as well put them on all sites, micro and macro…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Steve

      Thanks for your comments.

      As for clients approaching, you’re right that it’s rare, but when it does happen can be very lucrative. I’m actively searching for ways to license directly and avoid giving away so much commission to these agencies.

      I had a potentially embarrassing situation averted a few months ago. I sell some of my images as prints at a fine art photography gallery in London and it was also available at one of the Microstock sites. This image is being sold for many 100s of $ at this gallery and then can be downloaded as a sub high resolution. As soon as I found out I quick deleted the image. A smart client could easily download it for cheap and frame it for a fraction of the price. Doubt someone would go as far as do that but I would potentially affect my reputation.

      Interesting discussion!



      • I’m with “Steve 1” here, the chances of this happening are pretty rare. I do get approached to license my images directly, but all of those requests are for images on my web site that are not suitable for stock. I’d rather cast my net wide.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Two Steves! I’m outnumbered 😀

    The above post is just one example, which I agree is rare and may not apply to everybody.

    However, I can think of many other situations when putting premium images on Micros is not a good idea, which I’ll write about in the coming months. I’ll try to come up with more relevant examples as I’m still building a case.

    The fundamental reason why I believe “premium” images should not be on Micros is not monetary. From my experience, I’ve witnessed that generally Micros has a poor reputation within the wider stock photography industry. As written before, I’m looking to diversity my income away from Micros and am in constant contact with photo editors which unfortunately often look “down their noses” at Micros. Some are pricks and fk them but I still need to be strategic about my brand and how to move forward. I’ve applied to Stocksy recently and I wonder if submitting to Micros is a factor that harms my application.

    To be continued 🙂



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