Why Do Stock Photo Companies Suck?

I have a growing distaste for stock photo companies. I remember trying to cancel my monthly subscription with Bigstockphoto.com — which took two tries and a call to their support. When canceling, they have three different prompts to ask if you’re sure, and apparently on one of those three screens, I clicked that I wasn’t, even though I swear that I clicked the right button. I do remember the wording with each of those prompts seemed worded oddly enough to try and cause confusion. It seemed pretty shady.

My latest run in with a stock photo company is at 123rf.com. It’s common for stock photo companies to have different “levels” of imagery prices, which has always annoyed me. Up until today, I didn’t know that 123rf.com had another tier, until I spent quite a bit of time finding the “just right” image, sent it off to my client for approval. Once approved, I went to purchase the image with my image credits, only to learn that the credits that I purchased aren’t actually for that image. I chatted with support — they do have a way to filter out their “premium” images, but it’s fairly obscure, and it doesn’t “stick” through your session, so if you do a new search, you have to go hunt down the filter to make sure it isn’t returning images that you can’t actually purchase unless you upgrade. 

Both of these seem like bad business practices to me. After this, I searched google for the phrase of “stock photo websites suck”, which brought up results from the other side where questionable business practices have been utilized in the past by several of the major stock photo companies to cheat photographers out of money. Even when they aren’t being cheated, the commissions earned seem to be astronomically low in comparison to the cost of an image, that many find that it’s just not worth it.

I always start scheming on how I would do things differently. Programming a stock photo website wouldn’t be that hard which lures me into thinking about such crazy ideas of starting a stock photo website. Of course the hard part isn’t building such a site, but in building the online presence and having it become known. This is especially difficult considering that it’s a two-sided marketplace. Not only do I need to attract people to purchase the stock photos, but I also need to attract photographers to submit their photography.

Who knows, but if I were running my own stock photo website, this is my naive thoughts on how to do it better:

All Photos are Available

There are no “premium”, “extra-premium” or whatever plans. If you purchase credits to purchase images on the site, you can purchase images on the site.

One Price Gets You the Best Quality and Sized Photo

All of the stock photo sites have multiple prices for each size of the photo. A small photo will set you back some number of credits, a larger version a few more credits, a large one a few more credits. Yeah, it’s not a bad idea from a business standpoint, so perhaps I should consider doing this with my fledgling stock photo company, but I kind of hate games like this too.

Photographers are Paid Well

As mentioned previously, it sounds like photographers aren’t really paid well through these stock photo sites. It would be nice if the photographers were integral in the development of a stock photo company. There needs to be a way to not only pay photographers a sizable chunk of the price for a photo, but also to help involve photographers more, so they can be a part of the growth.

Business Practices are Visible

While I’m sure that much of the price for a cost of a photo on some of the larger stock photo sites goes to administering the site, paying salaries, marketing, hosting costs, and all of that, you really have no idea. For many, I’m sure they think that the founder of such companies are counting their money on some private island somewhere….perhaps they are. It would be cool to run a transparent company, so everyone knows where the money is going.

It’s Easy to Cancel

As mentioned, one of my major issues with BigStockPhoto.com was the ability to cancel. I would make it easy. Perhaps it’s bad for business by making it easy for people to cancel, but perhaps having good business practices is better for business.  Actually, now that I think about it, there wouldn’t be a cancellation needed, pricing would be based on the image, not in a subscription plan.

Help the Contributors Grow

Perhaps the platform has better support for the contributors — their own pages where they can promote their work and their other services. For instance, many times when I come across a vector image on a stock photo site, it would be nice to be able to easily contact the creator and ask for minor modifications (for a fee of course). It would be nice if the site facilitated that, as well as making it easier for them to offer their other illustration services.

I Would Be Able to Find the Image I’m Looking For

Yeah, this one is hard, but on all of the stock photo sites, I still have to search, sometimes for several hours to find the right image. I already have a few thoughts for additional search parameters that could narrow this down.

Well, there you go, the beginnings of my stock photo company.  So, if you’re a photographer and this sounds good to you, let me know. I’ll need some good photographers!