Photographers' concern over new 'micropayment' system

Photographers have warned that their pictures could lose value due to a new ‘micropayment’scheme created by a picture stock library to license images online.

UK-based Alamy this month launched its Limited Use initiative, whereby contributors can allow bloggers, social networking sites, teachers and students to buy a one-off licence to use photos online, for as little as 60p for a 400k, or 450 x 300 pixel, image. Prices go up to £1.80 for files as big as 5.5mb.

The scheme is optional and contributors’ normal commission fee will not be affected, although many are wary of the impact the scheme – and any similar ones – could have on their livelihood.

Ian Homer, a photojournalist based in Wales, who has not signed up to the scheme, said: ‘In general, the rush to the bottom [on price] is not going to serve anybody in the long term.

‘All it does is turn photography into a commodity market – and the people who are the producers in commodity markets usually get the smallest cut.

‘The people further up the chain are supposed to add value to get more out of it, but are the people in this market actually adding value to what we do? I don’t know.”

One professional photographer and Alamy contributor, who asked not to be named, said: ‘I’m not sure I like the idea of prices being brought down to 60p. I feel very uncomfortable about the thing – I didn’t opt into it and I never would.

‘The concern with blogs is that it’s putting images into a domain where people don’t understand how licensing works. People buy a CD and they think they bought the music – but they just bought a licence.”

Photographer David Hoffman, a moderator of the Editorial Photographers UK website, was more welcoming of the idea. He said: ‘The internet and the unimaginably extensive range of useable images that became available has had a far larger effect than all previous changes [to the industry]. If we are to stay in business, we have to embrace that and find ways to work with it.

‘It takes me ages to chase up [smaller blogs and websites]. If I can exchange all that hassle for an effortless income stream of even just a few quid a week, I’d be doing myself a favour.”

Alamy chief executive James West said: ‘If we thought it would damage our existing business, we wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

‘Having said that, there are elements about it that are shocking – it’s a big departure from the lowest price we’ve ever charged.

‘It is a segment of our industry that is seeing its revenues grow and is here to stay and we thought it would be nice to find a way to let our contributors play in that market while at the same time keeping their hand in the high-value end.

‘We’re trying to make it easier for people who have found it difficult to license their material legitimately.”

West said the prices were around the same level as those paid by other competitors in the same field.

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