Beware 500px’s (Very) ‘Flexible Pricing’

Are you a freelance photographer like myself? Have you already put up your masterpiece on 500px? Maybe you’re trying to share your photos and sell them at the same time in case some stranger admires your work? If you’ve answered YES to all these questions, I’d like to share the terrible experience I had with 500px.

First off, by choosing to sell your work on 500px, you must agree to all the terms and conditions specified in a document called the Contributor Agreement. Then, you will see a list of prices next to each picture indicating how much each license costs if sold.

Of course, I’m completely okay with 500px earning some sort of commission in order for the platform to function properly. However, the real problem for me lies in a paragraph written in the Contributor Agreement.

Company (and its Distributors) shall have complete and sole discretion regarding the terms, conditions and pricing of Selected Images licensed to customers without the need for any consultation with Contributor. Company and its Distributors may enter into licensing arrangements for a quantity of Images, and may need to calculate royalties based on a ratio of Contributor Images licensed to the total number of Images licensed.

At first glance, this agreement didn’t present any issues for me, but unfortunately that all changed after a recent experience. When I reviewed my sales history, I realized that I’ve fallen into a trap by signing onto the Agreement.

Two pictures of mine (named “Chrono Cross”) were sold for three different licenses.

My photos titled “Chrono Cross”

A $149 Large picture was sold for just $27, a $299 Unlimited Print was only sold for $3.96, and a Products for Resales purchase that was priced at $748 only earned me $8.

($27 + $3.96 + $8) x 2 = $77.90.

$77.90 was my total pay for the three different licenses for each photo that were priced at a total of $2,392. Payment was done through PayPal, and my total take-home earnings were $54.54! As you can see, the price gap was quite significant.

The Agreement does not specify the selling price and royalty ratio. In regard to setting prices for buyers, 500px has 100% control! Below is the response I received from 500px after I filed a complaint:

Some clients come to us asking to purchase a large volume of images so our sales team will often negotiate a discount; other times we offer promotional pricing to incentivize new buyers. Being flexible with our pricing gives us leeway to entice more clients to do business with us, clients that will pay full price the next time they make a purchase, and the time after that! As a business, this is why we need full discretion over pricing and ask that our contributors trust us to manage their sales effectively. We value all contributing photographers and we are proud to license your work.

After reading this reply, it’s difficult to see that the hard work and dedication of a photographer goes unnoticed because 500px decided to sell my pictures like scrap papers! I feel as if I were a garment factory worker being squeezed dry by the fashion industry, or a coffee bean farmer being treated unfairly by a coffee company.

Second, I do not know the actual price my photos were sold for or the percentage I was paid in royalties! All I saw was that the price list showed a much, much higher value than what I actually got paid.

After emailing them multiple times, I received the same response every time. 500px kept on telling me that with the Agreement in hand, they had done nothing wrong.

From the morality standpoint, I believe the Contributor Agreement is extremely unreasonable. I’ve already demanded that 500px remove all my photos from their site. To all the freelance photographers out there, think twice before you sign that 500px Contributor Agreement.

About the author: Ajax Lee is a fashion photographer based in Taiwan. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, and Instagram.