500px, the artistic photo-sharing platform, might just be about to launch a new revolution in stock photography. Prime, the site’s licensing arm, officially opened on April 3rd following a soft launch that started shortly after the beginning of the year. The service allows the site’s users to sell licenses for their images. Like microstock sites, anyone can upload and offer their photographs for sale. Unlike microstock however, the images are creative and artistic — and the fees and payouts are in three figures.
According to Evgeny Tchebotarev, 500px’s co-founder and CPO, Prime already has “tens of thousands” of images available on an exclusive basis and all of the site’s 37 million-plus photos can be licensed. Although unwilling to reveal precise sales figures, he did indicate that “it’s been better than we have expected.”
The submission process is fairly straightforward. Users upload their images, add them to the store, make them available for licensing and indicate whether they are exclusive or non-exclusive. For images that contain people, photographers can also upload model releases. The site’s editorial team then review and tag the content, a process that may take a few days, but the images then appear in Prime’s search results and curated collections.
For buyers, the licensing options are also straightforward and suggest a new trend in image sales. Photographers can choose to indicate whether they’re selling their pictures exclusively through 500px or whether they’re also selling them through other channels. The option affects the chances of making a sale but not the sales price, which is $250. Photographers receive 70 percent of the fee, a commission that 500px calls the highest in the industry.
While microstock contributors need to plan their commercial shoots and earn cents for each sale, 500px’s photographers are able to shoot the artistic images they want and earn as much as $175 for every license.
Software Developer Makes Seven Photo Sales, Earns $1,225
Despite the difference between the sorts of commercial images usually found on stock sites and the creative pictures more usually associated with 500px, the sales are happening. Rob Williams, a software developer and photography enthusiast from Ottowa, Canada, has already sold seven landscape photos through Prime, earning himself a total of $1,225. He doesn’t shoot with licensing in mind and attributes his success to good graphic design and strong colors, “although at times soft colours are very successful.”
Prices for licenses are closer to conventional stock than to microstock but all of the licenses sold through Prime are royalty-free. Buyers can use the images they purchase for as long as they want and in any way they want.
“The royalty-free licenses are the way of the future,” explained Evgeny Tchebotarev by email. “While some rights-managed licenses can produce higher monetary payouts for photographers, the complexity and rarity of RM licenses makes it extremely complicated for buyers. We opted for the best structure both for photographers (in terms of pricing and percentages) and buyers (simple, easy licensing structure).”
Buyers can also purchase a complete buy-out for a premium price and they can offer assignments for photographers to try to complete. Canon Canada, for example, has chosen to source images for a number of photo collections through 500px Prime. Canon photographers can enter pictures for the categories “At Play,” “Personal Connection” and “Getaway” and stand a chance of winning $175 for each image they sell.
“Agencies And Creatives Are Tired Of Stock”
The move towards licensing may be overdue for a photo-sharing site and has the potential to raise more money than the occasional print sales that 500px’s users have been able to earn until now. But the question is whether buyers will find a use for the heavily edited artistic landscapes, nature shots and boudoir photography that dominates on 500px.
According to Evgeny Tchebotarev, it’s that very difference between conventional stock and 500px’s inventory that will bring in the sales.
“A lot of agencies and creatives are extremely tired from ‘stock’ photos,” he says. “They’ve had enough. We want to bring them fresh, beautiful, authentic images from 200+ countries from 4 million photographers. This is something nobody else can match in the industry and that makes it better for everyone — our photographers don’t have to go and create boring stock photos on a white background in order to try to make a decent living. 500px Prime is the perfect platform to express their true creative freedom and make a fair living.”
It’s certainly a bold move. Even before the launch of 500px itself, buyers were trawling Flickr looking for unconventional photos to license. The process was clumsy and slow, and was supposed to have been enhanced by a partnership with Getty. Now that partnership has collapsed, photographers on Yahoo’s site can only indicate that their photos are available for licensing and hope that buyers see them. Searching for images remains difficult and each image sale has to be negotiated separately.
500px’s platform doesn’t just provide a simple alternative. It also sets a new standard for the licensing of images supplied by enthusiasts and wanted by professionals. The prices are relatively high, the commissions generous and the licensing rules are easy for both sides to understand. And most importantly, photographers don’t have to go out of their way to create images that have a chance of earning sales. If the images that are selling on 500px are exactly the kinds of photos that enthusiasts enjoy shooting anyway, as Rob Williams’ photos appear to be, then photography hobbyists really will be able to enjoy their photography and make significant amounts of money at the same time. The key will be to shoot not for the market but for yourself and as much as possible.
“You never know what’s going to sell,” says Evgeny Tchebotarev, “so I encourage everyone to enable their store and submit as many photos as they can. I’ve sold one yesterday, and it feels great!”