I’m going to present you a rank of the main stock-photography agencies with which I am collaborating, based on their results from this year. The last ranking I made was 3 years ago. From then, the stock-photography systems suffered a lot of complex changes. I am going to write another special article in which I will present my opinion regarding these changes.
This particular classification is related to my personal experience and relationship with different agencies. This also can be seen as a case-study and cannot be interpreted as a general analysis of agencies’ improvement over time. Other stock photographers present their personal results in different ways. By analyzing more such type of articles, an overview of image agencies can be developed. Moreover, by comparing in time the evolution of different agencies related to my portfolios, some conclusions can be drawn.
As you may know, I am active in stock-photography since 2004, by the time when the microstock system had produced a revolution in this field. My portfolio is varied and diverse, with over 20.000 images. I am collaborating with a great number of agencies of various sizes and fields of activity. My ranking will not provide exact values of agencies’ incomes nor will it specify the range between the generated incomes by different agencies. However, it will offer an overview of the evolution of different agencies.
Over time, I have reached the conclusion that for a stock photographer who collaborates with agencies there are 2 important factors in defining an agency:
1. the income produced by the agency
2. the stability of agency, characterized by its capacity to produce an acceptable income for a sustainable long period of time without major strategic changes that can determine a lower income. As for instance: changing the criteria of image selection; deleting images already accepted; introducing new diminished commissions; the frequency and severity of technical incidents encountered as well as the capability to get them solved in a rapid and effective way; the modern techniques etc.
The income is a very precise benchmark. The stability is a relative factor because it depends very much by my personal interpretation. By combining these two factors I believe that it generates the „perfect measure” for agencies’ classification.
Depending on these 2 parameters, I’ve included some grades based on which the agencies can be sorted quickly:
A. GOOD- Agencies with this rate ensure an acceptable income and a good stability. If the agency’ rules and the requirements are met you can be sure that you will get a reasonable income.
B. MODERATE- Agencies with this type of rating can ensure a reasonable income but this is not very sure. For some reasons, the income is not a constant one and it might happen anytime to get undesired results although following their specific rules. There are agencies which often change their requirements; have frequent technical defects, which affects the purchasing capacity; have commission policies regarding non-performing photographies; random changes of these policies; they introduce with a negative impact the new technological updates and new sales techniques; randomly deleting already accepted images or changing the selection criteria of images, etc. This particular category has 2 main sub-categories:
B1- Positively moderate- These are agencies which offer a reasonable income without certain stability but they show up in progress and are future potential candidates for A level.
B2- Negatively moderate- These are agencies whose income and stability are in a downfall. This rating shows that in those respective agencies something is going wrong, although in previous periods of time they improved well.
C. BAD- These agencies have a constant bad evolution; on the one hand they generate a reduced but constant income and on the other hand they have a really great instability or both income and stability are affected.
The results will be presented briefly in a table which will offer an overview of agencies’ evolution. Clicking on the name of each agency in the classification below the table you can see my opinions about the evolution and improvement of that particular agency in 2017.
For 2017, Top 8 RaduRazvanPhotography will look as below:
For a long period of time, this was the most stable agency generating predictable good and constant results. They have a solid team of specialists and implement new technologies with great responsibility. In time, they developed and improved very well; they gain a great number of images and a consistent supply flow with new and fresh content. The number of photographers also grew up incredibly in the last period but the clients' number has not grown with the same proportions, especially because other agencies appeared with a new aggressive marketing policy. Technically speaking, their system has shown sometimes errors, but they managed to keep them reasonably well under control.The introduction of the varied AI modern technologies leads to the agency's necessity to continuous and significant supply with new images. Therefore a great number and constancy in submitting photos are extremely necessary for collaborating with them.
Under these conditions, their commissioning system for photographers suffered all kinds of undermining processes. Initially, there was an equitable system which offered a reasonable percentage of big commissions in relation with those small ones received from subscription sales. At the end, they could reach a satisfying income. Lately, the number of sales which generate big commissions decreased so much, and their amount was reduced through disadvantaged adjustments. This thing generates an important drop in their generated income. However, their "luck" is that the competitive agencies have more serious downturns or they do not find suitable and new solutions of procuring a real sustainable income. Considering these, Shutterstock still maintains his position as a great leader in this rank.
iStock by Getty Images: B2-Moderate-
istockphoto is the agency which has created the microstock „revolution” around 2000. Things went very well up to a certain moment when, because of a managerial error, the agency was purchased by Getty Images. GI is a trust, meaning that is the greatest stock-photography agency from all times.
From that moment on, things started to go bad for istockphoto agency. Instead that the new influence of the great agency to be functional, it was exactly the opposite. In this moment, istockphoto is unfortunately in a dead point.
The main problems that they are now facing are technique ones. Although the competitors already have very performing systems which run perfectly, they do not succeed in creating a modern system, designed to micro-stock section.
The main issues are related to the difficult way of uploading photos and the impossibility to create a real-time system of reporting the photos’ sales. Besides all that, there is a commissioning policy which extremely disadvantages the photographers. Despite all these, they are in high top in my rank probably because the Getty Images client’s database is extremely consistent and can compensate with success the incredible technical errors the agency is now dealing with.
Adobe Stock-Fotolia: B1-Moderate+
Fotolia was also a great and successful agency at the beginning of the microstock system. At a certain moment, when complex managerial changes took place, it became one of the most dangerous agencies, with a pretty aggressive attitude towards photographers. Then, Adobe, the famous icon-software company decided to get involved in stock photography and purchased the Fotolia Company.
Adobe’s involvement in the stock-photography market brought some new concepts in developing a stock agency. Hopefully, these new ideas and trends will be usefully used for a real success even for all the photographers this agency is working with. From my point of view, a big minus for them is the fact that they don’t succeed in creating a system that accepts and encourages also editorial material. This is a target for the current top photographic agencies. It’s hard to explain how they are not doing something in this respect. They’ve introduced some special agreements with some classic and famous agencies, but I am referring to process of the „neo-classic” editorial content which all great agencies are accepting. Their attitude towards editorial content is extremely worrying and can hide similar attitudes towards all those that transformed the classic Fotolia Company into an enemy for the photographers that so far supported it.
Dreamstime is part of another category of agencies than those already presented. They are smaller, no that „corporate” style as the first three ones. Over the time, they had a pretty linear evolution with a sales policy unique and interesting. This agency succeeded to balance the reduced number of sales generated with a certain amount of success. This way, the generated income was about the middle, between bigger agencies and smaller ones.
Unfortunately, in this moment there is a descending trend extremely worrying for this agency and can go closer to its limits when this agency can become unprofitable regarding also the effort needed to sustain and develop a portfolio there. It would be a shame to lose the fight.
Still, their pretty high position in my rank is due to the fact that lower agencies did not find yet the right methods through which to increase their efficiency. However, the distance between them and Dreamstime is pretty low and it can happen that in the following ranks Dreamstime to not even be present in the first 8 agencies.
123rf: B1 Moderate+
This is an agency which actually never shined. In the current situation, their level of income reduction was small because they already had a diminished income. However, lately, it seems that the descending trend is stopping and a new tendency towards increasing its efficiency aroused. It will be interesting to follow how they will evolve in time because it’s very likely to represent one positive and a big surprise in the following ranking.
Depositphotos: B1 Moderate+
Is an extremely debated agency, mostly because of the lower commissions offered to photographers. The generated sales number is not big enough to compensate the reduced value of the commission. However, it seems that lately can be noticed a slight increase in agency’s efficiency due to the increased number of substantial licenses compared to subscriptions. Until more efficient agencies will appear, they succeed in maintaining a good position in my records. Also, their positive trend is hopeful and it would be interesting to follow the evolution of their activity. Still, they are on a knife edge: in time they could shine or simply vanish.
it’s an agency which went down lately. Initially, it was one of the best agencies. Still, at a certain moment, Shutterstock purchased Bigstockphoto.
From that moment on, things went down dramatically for their evolution. It’s so weird to see that an agency, supervised by Shutterstock, which is practically the best one in this moment, to have such catastrophic results. I don’t know how I will proceed in the future. It is likely to combine it with Shutterstock and interpret them like a single agency Shutterstock-Bigstockphoto. Or maybe I’ll simply refuse to continue to develop my portfolio there. It depends on their evolution.
this is a special agency with an evolution quite similar to the classic stock agencies. This means that the licenses acquired through it are big but rare. However, the number of these licenses decreased and price policy suffered a lot of changes, probably because of the competition between agencies, which lead to increased number of licenses with small prices. This way, the income of photographers dramatically decreased as well.
However, they are still in my rank but as my last position, which is pretty fragile. Their profile should enable them to have a much better position in this chart
If you find interesting my report, I invite you to follow my Facebook page, to find out when I will present my following rank, probably at the end of the first quarter of next year. By then, new types of agencies could also be included in the charts, if their performance is proved.