I am starting a new series of blog posts, going into details for each of the agencies I am submitting to. What I like about them, where they could improve, and how to make working with them easy for us. First of them will be my personal favorite among the microstock agencies: GL Stock Images, formerly known as GraphicLeftovers.
Website Design and Customer Experience
The website of GL has received a very modern look and is both straight forward and appealing in my opinion. The changing hero image links to interesting galleries with more collections being linked below on the homepage. The sign up can easily be found along with the base information about their regular price range.
File Types, Search Results
I did a few test searches, both with generic keywords like “people” and “objects“, seasonal words like “Easter” to local searches like “Berlin” and “Currywurst” (1 result!). In general, the relevancy of the results is very good. Though the number of images is quite limited yet and part of the results quite often is a series of images from the same contributor showing up side by side. As a customer I’d wish to get more variety of imagery on any single screen, so some more shaking up of the results would do well.
Also, the limitations of the imagery can be seen the more specific you search. Berlin images were partly not as relevant as I would have wished, and the single result for Currywurst clearly shows what is missing in the collection. For us contributors this could be a great chance to get make a mark in special areas while GL still is in its early stages.
Finally, there is a heavy bias towards Vector Illustrations in search results. I can not really judge if the reason for this is a) the history of GL with vector images having had a better chance of selling; b) because this is what average buyers actually like to see; c) the simple amount of vector images vs. photography available in the library so far. I will watch this part closer as I – as a photographer – surely would wish more photos to show up in the top spaces of the search.
When going to a single image, the price is clearly shown in Dollars, the prices in general are very affordable. Prices can vary from image to image (chosen by the contributor) and though there is no explanation for the differences they are not big enough to require much talking about it in my opinion. There are only three sizes to choose from and the smallest one is bigger than what you usually would get at other sites and the large version is a full size that can reach a double-page spread in high resolution.
A link to similar images is automatically generated as well as links to the contributor portfolio in case a buyer wants to see variances of the same topic.
All in all there is not much standing in the way of the buyer to find and get the image he wants, almost the best you can say about any selling website. The minimum purchase is for $10 with whatever is not used for the current download remaining in the buyer account for future downloads.
Remarkable: The standard license only covers up to 10,000 copies which usually is enough for small and medium businesses to produce their corporate merchandise. However, it is well below what other agencies are allowing. To overcome that limit, you will need to buy the “Ultimate License” which is priced significantly higher at $85. While it certainly still is affordable to large advertising campaigns, there might be a mid-tier segment of the market that will be turned off by this model. I like the low print limit in general but maybe a mid-sized license (like the Merchandise License that is available at $45 for resale products) for a certain range of print runs would be a good idea.
I can’t really say much about acceptance standards of most agencies, though GL’s collection in general looks like they are asking for more than just snap shots. I was accepted without problems but not to my surprise as my years at iStock certainly have taught me a lot about technical issues and how to avoid them.
Once accepted as contributor, the submission process is as simple as it can get: Upload your images through FTP whenever you want and they go directly into the queue. I assume most independent contributors are using JPG metadata to store keywords, titles and descriptions. There is no need for categorization, corrections to adapt to a given vocabulary or much else.
The model releases are just uploaded into a different section and do NOT need to be attached to images. Even more easiness here. And basically for an agency all they need if they have good reason to trust their photographers. In case of doubts, a certain image can be assigned to a model release when needed by direct communication between agency and photographer.
There is a “daily upload limit” that can be determined by the reviewers. But honestly: I have no idea what my personal limit is, most likely this is only being used for photographers who supply… let’s say “doubtworthy quality”. I feel like GL is trusting me and the acceptance rate of about 90% tells me my submissions are matching their standards most of the times. So when I have a batch of 300 uploads, I found it no problem to submit them all at once.
There are three price tiers that photographers can choose from: Images can start at $1, $2 or $3 at the small sizes and reach $6 to $15 for the largest version. I decided to go for the mid tier, though I don’t see much objection to choose the highest level: Image sizes are larger than common at other places, so even the $3 file looks cheap compared to some other places if you are looking at the size.
GL Stock is very open in explaining that title and description have an impact on search ranking for images – this is most likely the case with other agencies as well but here they are explaining why a file will receive a higher search rank for keywords also mentioned in title and descriptions. This shouldn’t be misused as it represents a true fact: You might add a lot of conceptual and technical keywords but what also is part of the full text describing an image certainly deserves to be weighted higher.
What makes GL Stock different is their royalty rate: It is set at a flat 52% for any sale. Well, the “more than 50%” would not have been necessary in my opinion, a 50:50 share would be special enough compared to other agencies in the market. I’ll take the extra 2%, though. It is a clear signal that an agency can pay a higher percentage, given that storage prices are dropping and internet connections have gotten cheaper, so the major cost of an agency is for their people working on the site and selling to clients along with the marketing cost. Both can be kept lower than average by using a “smart” approach, and I think GL Stock is on a good way in that aspect.
What they could do better – customer side
Well, from a customer point of view I am missing the width of choice yet that other agencies are offering. This will certainly come over time as a number of contributors seem to be signing up and bring more variety to the collection. However, it might take quite a bit of time until this is properly represented in searches, too – we will see how long it takes for some new uploads to overtake the “relevance” of older images which probably had an advantage by getting downloads when the choice was much more limited.
Also a bit confusing is the old watermark on some of the imagery. This could be re-done in due time as the old logo looks a bit outdated and the modern version much better in my opinion. Certainly a minor complaint and probably quite a bit of work to be done eventually.
What they could do better – contributor side
It’s hard to find things to complain about. The sales are not quite promising yet but I think the whole concept of GL Stock creates enough sympathy to give them time to find their market share. They will certainly stay on top of my preferred agencies for a long time, and the easiness to submit new images helps a lot in keeping them there.
Summary – what makes them special
The GL Design Blog is one of the highlights of the site. I hope it attracts as many potential buyers as I would assume. It’s a great resource that can easily be linked to from other places.
The modern design along with an affordable pricing should work well on the customer side while the contributor-friendly environment and high royalty rates are absolutely unique.
In my opinion, GL Stock deserves our support – by submitting our best images and by helping them with spreading the word wherever we can. Anyone complaining about the tough market, agencies cutting royalties, the lack of value given to the artist should stop complaining if they don’t submit to GL Stock. It is a place that could help us to show that an agency can exist and succeed while treating their contributors fair and making our submission as easy as possible.