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Web sites such as iStockphoto grow because they make professional images accessible.
Published Jun. 24, 2007|Updated Jun. 24, 2007

Kelly Cline's photographs pop up all over the place - in grocery stores, on Web sites, even splashed on the wall of a supermarket in Serbia.

Cline takes pictures of food and sells them online through iStockphoto, a division of Getty Images. Her shots of hand-pressed olive oils, cheeses and California strawberries are available for anyone to purchase, and the response is so strong that Cline said she expects to make about $70,000 this year.

"I've never made this much money before," said Cline, 38.

Cline is part of a wave of change hitting the stock-photography industry. The business used to consist of high-end photographs that were licensed to advertising agencies, book publishers and other companies for hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars apiece. Those photos often ended up in catalogs, brochures or magazine advertisements.

Now, Web sites such as iStockphoto sell images online for $1 to $15, opening up stock photography to a new audience.

The result: Stock photos are showing up on Web sites and blogs, and small businesses with limited advertising budgets are suddenly interested.

The new business model is often called "microstock photography," and it could be categorized as a form of the so-called user-generated content (think YouTube) sweeping the Web.

With sophisticated digital cameras less than $1,000, even amateur photographers can break into the business, submitting their pictures to microstock photography Web sites and collecting a small commission for each image sold.

It's not a big industry. Microstock photography contributes less than 10 percent of Getty's sales. The company won't disclose an actual figure, but in 2006 it had $807.3-million in sales.

There are only four or five serious competitors, and Getty's iStockphoto division is by all accounts the 800-pound gorilla.

But business is growing fast, and some say they expect this to be its breakout year.

"We're just now seeing people look at the model and say, 'Hey, this is really successful,' " said Bruce Livingstone, iStockphoto's founder. "This is the year we're going to see a lot of competition."

Livingstone is widely acknowledged as the father of the microstock-photography industry. He started iStockphoto in Calgary, Alberta, in 2000 by giving his own images away online.

Soon, designers and other photographers joined and began trading images with each other.

Livingstone began charging money in 2001 to cover the costs of hosting the Web site, and iStockphoto has been profitable since. Now, it has about 35,000 contributing artists and 1.7-million images available.

Some estimates place the stock-photography market at about $2-billion worldwide. There's little chance of the microstock segment taking over the market, said Andy Goetze, an independent analyst tracking the industry.

"It is still a long, long way to go until iStockphoto will count for $100-million of Getty Images' overall revenues, if ever," he said.


Headquarters: Calgary, Alberta

Founder and chief executive: Bruce Livingstone

Contributing artists: 35,000

Available images: 1.7-million

New business: Now offering stock video clips

Source: iStockphoto

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