Stock Image Services: A Clearer Picture
Today’s art directors and editors are faced with a dizzying array of stock image services from which to choose, with more and more companies offering royalty-free or rights-managed photos for increasingly competitive prices, including Adobe’s relatively new, integrated software option serving as a one-stop shop for images. Publishing Executive examined a few of the more popular services, which offer very different options for helping your creative department find the right image for your publications.
Comstock Images, which was acquired by Jupitermedia Corp. in 2004, is among today’s most popular stock image firms. The 25-year-old service offers royalty-free photos ranging from about $90 to $600 per image. Royalty-free images remain a favorite among magazines, as once an image is purchased, it can be used as many times and in as many ways as the buyer wants—in print, online, in advertisements and other marketing materials, and so on.
Art directors and editors who use stock photography heavily can opt for a subscription with Comstock, enabling up to 50 downloads a day. The subscription runs $299 per month, and the standard image available for download is a 1.7 MB file (approximately 2 inches by 3 inches at 300 dpi).
Another stock image juggernaut owned by Jupitermedia is Photos.com, which offers more than 180,000 royalty-free images available by subscription. For a one-month fee of $139.95, up to 250 images—which are available in three different sizes—can be downloaded each day. The site now features a “search-by-color” option that enables art directors to narrow down search results more quickly.
the community approach
iStockphoto stormed onto the stock image scene in 2000 with unparalleled low prices and an entirely new approach. The service was initially free, but download bills in excess of $10,000 per month quickly forced the site’s operators to begin to charge a fee, says Kelly Thompson, iStockphoto’s vice president of marketing. In the site’s youth, designers and photographers were required to upload one image in order to download five in return, so the collection began to grow quickly. Yet some designers complained that they were not particularly good photographers, but still wanted access to downloading the images. Once the small download fee was introduced, this challenge was remedied as well.
Today, iStockphoto has some 22,000 photographers around the world submitting images to the site’s collection—which contains more than 750,000 images—meaning the company has no photography expenses. This keeps image downloads inexpensive. So inexpensive, in fact, that iStockphoto sells an image every three seconds—or about 10 million this year alone.
Art directors point to the site’s immense collection of images and inexpensive cost as its biggest draws. “I’ve been a member for a while, but only switched for good in the last few months,” says Anthony Gordon, creative director for Virsitil, a small, California-based graphic design company.
“There are finally really good images—at a good price—on iStock,” he says. “I used to look here first, then have to buy somewhere else. Now I can look here and stop searching at other places.”
Photographers apply for an account, are trained on a number of legal and technical issues, complete a quiz, and upload a few sample images in order to be eligible to earn between 20 and 45 percent on each of their images that are sold. “ ... It’s been very viral, very word-of-mouth,” Thompson says. “We have more photographers applying than you can believe.”
Another unique characteristic about iStockphoto is that the site allows for interaction between photographers and designers. “We created this [model] where the photographers see how their work is being used because the designers will actually upload it to show it off,” he says.
“I really like the interaction with other designers and the photographers,” says Gordon. “I have not seen that on the image sites I used to use.”
Thompson points to the site’s affordability as the key to its popularity, with a membership of more than 700,000 that is growing at a rate of about 30,000 per month. “I think most [designers] come and look at our site first, before they’ll spend a whole lot more money somewhere else.”
He admits the company’s model has come under fire for its cheap prices more than once by others in the stock image industry, but he believes iStockphoto fills a need in a previously overlooked market. “We think we’ve created a new market for stock photography that just didn’t exist before. It was just unfathomable for [some companies] to buy a [stock image], so they used bad clip-art from inside [Microsoft] Word. Now, all of a sudden, for $1 or $3, they have an unbelievable image that they can work into their marketing [campaign],” says Thompson.
One red flag for potential iStockphoto users is the issue of copyright and trademark infringement. The site accepts photos from many unknown photographers and admits it does not check the source of the content. Any liability is then passed on to the person using the images, by way of user agreements.
Access Stock photos From Indesign or photoshop
Adobe Stock Photos, launched one year ago, offers art directors and designers a single interface from which to browse a diverse database of stock photography. It includes more than 650,000 images from numerous traditional stock distributors including Getty Images, JupiterImages, Masterfile, Blend Images, Stockbyte and others, making it even easier for users to find the right image without leaving the Adobe application (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc.) they are using.
“I don’t really think there’s anything else out there like it,” says Stephanie Lewis, manager of publications and graphic design at the American String Teachers Association, a non-profit group catering to string orchestra teachers, performers and enthusiasts. “[Before Adobe Stock Photos], I was going from site to site. I have a list of bookmarks that I’d have to go through and search [to find an image].
“Adobe Stock Photos is so convenient because … it pulls from all of the major stock photo sites. … It saves me a lot of time, which in turn saves us a lot of money.”
Users can search for, download and purchase royalty-free stock imagery directly within the Adobe Creative Suite family of products, eliminating the need to open an Internet browser, log in and search multiple sites.
Another popular feature is the ability to insert a comp image into your artwork, enabling you to preview the entire piece before purchasing the image.
Image prices are in line with what the online firms charge individually, Lewis says.