Digital Media Riddle: Where Are Prices for Digital Content Going Up Instead of Down?

A while back I posted about some counterintuitive trends in digital media. My example then was Colligent’s success at selling tools and analytics to support a new model of marketing for the digital music industry. Today’s example is even more surprising: despite growing inventories, increasingly transparent (and competitive) markets and frictionless online purchasing, prices in microstock photography are actually rising.

The most recent eye-opener came in this article from Selling Stock, an industry newsletter (subscription required). Here’s the quote that caught my eye:

“Traditional stock producers have long agreed there was room for higher pricing in the microstock niche. Now that microstock is no longer new, its leaders are testing those waters. Fotolia recently launched an upmarket offering, with prices in the range of $20 to $100. It also raised prices of its micro collection. As of 2008, prices are up as much as 50% in some categories at the Getty Images-owned iStockphoto.”

Year-over-year price increases of 50% are something you expect in monopoly-dominated industries, not in our brave new world of free online everything. But microstock is coming in underneath the much more expensive alternative of traditional stock photography, and as traditional stock buyers discover the market (and as image quality and rights packages in microstock improve to meet their needs) demand is shifting from stock to microstock at an accelerating rate. It’s not yet clear whether the net result will be a smaller overall market for stock photography (in dollar terms), or just an expansion in the total number of images sold. What is certain is that microstock marketplaces and market makers are in a great position to capitalize on the shift.