One of the biggest trends for professional and semi-professional photographers has been the fast-growing sector known as microstock photography, and Thinkstock is a market leader in this still emerging genre. The stock photography market is not new. Companies like Getty and Corbis have filled this niche for decades. In the traditional stock photography market, photographers allowed the stock agency to represent them. Media publishers needing a specific image would search these agencies and pay hundreds of dollars for a license to use the image. The photographer got paid a percentage of the sale.
In 2000, a new business model was created by a hobbyist that charged 25 cents for images called iStockphoto. Soon competitive sites started up and by 2005, this new microstock industry was catching on. The idea was that selling 100 images for a quarter was easier than selling one image for $25. Initially, the traditional stock agencies and professional photographers fought against the model, but eventually market pressure caused the traditional agencies to take a second look.
In the latter part of the decade, Getty began buying up some of the more successful microstock sites including Jupiterimages and the granddaddy of the industry, iStockphoto. In 2010, Getty launched its own microstock site with all of its acquisitions under its umbrella. That site was Thinkstock. Since its beginnings, Thinkstock has been an innovative market leader.
Part of the problem with the microstock industry is the way it operates has been all over the place. Some agencies charge a flat fee per image, some sold bundles of credits which allowed the buyer download images, and some sold subscriptions which allowed subscribers to download a certain number of images per month. Thinkstock settled on its own variation of the subscription model that is one of the most attractive in the industry, especially given the huge library of images it acquired.
Thinkstock has a flat-rate subscription package that allows the user to download as many as 25 images a day, every day for a monthly fee. If the subscriber commits to an annual subscription, they can get a significant discount over the monthly rate. For purchasers that just need a few images, they also offer a five-image pack for a flat rate. Obviously for heavy users, the annual subscription is the way to go.
From the photographer's perspective, it is a good source of residual income. Photographers sign up with one of the sites, such as iStockphoto or Jupiterimages, and upload their photos. When one of them is purchased by a subscriber on Thinkstock, they get paid a commission based on a sliding scale dependent on how popular their image is. Images that become popular can bring a nice payday to the photographer. Because of successful marketing by Thinkstock, it is not unheard for a photographer to sell dozens of images a day. The most successful photographer on the site sold one million images in her first nine years at Thinkstock.