Microstock

Posted on February 27, 2012

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An e-mail was sent to me asking me if I had heard of micro-stock, what is involved, and how they were going to make a lot of money. Let me be up front: micro-stock decimated the stock photography market. Let me explain how this works.

Micro-stock is where amateur and professional photographers give images to a company who sells the rights to those images at a significantly lower price than what it was traditionally sold. The work is typically licensed royalty free. The argument from the Micro-stock community is that by being cheaper, more people will buy your images. Instead of licensing an image for $150 to be used in a regional magazine, you might have 10 people who purchase the license royalty free for $5 or less. With 10 people happy with your image, you are told they will come back to purchase even more images from you.

The companies aren’t nearly as difficult to get work into their database of images but you have to produce a lot of images to get a decent amount of money. These companies do have standards for the images you submit – they want quality images. The basics do apply. I have heard from people that do this type of program that they earn as much as $100 per 1000 images stored (on the high end) to nothing per 1000 images stored (on the low end). You may think your work is phenomenal. Even if it is, with micro-stock, it isn’t. Lately, they are starting to accept video clips, too.

Models hate taking stock images in general. It is the worst for them – they get bored while they are being taken. If you have people in the images, you will have to pay them MORE than other types of modeling work. They hate doing stock images. If you luck into someone who hasn’t done them before, you will be lucky.

As I have indicated, I am down on this type of marketing of stock images. This scheme devalues the works of skilled photographers. A typical stock image will cost more than what the return you make on the images that the companies sell the licenses. As a whole, I have seen the value of the work that photographers do get devalued in general. The number of friends who ask for me to shoot their weddings for free, the number of people who want me to match a soccer mom who shoots images at a rate that can’t sustain anyone plus they don’t pay their taxes or have insurance, and similar types of things all erode the market for those people who are professionals who do make their living as photographers.

If you are a professional, you shouldn’t be selling your images through micro-stock. It is that simple. If you are an amateur, have another job, and don’t mind wasting your time, money, and effort producing stock for someone else for a very small return on your investment, then sure. You will probably earn some pocket change that won’t even pay for the replacement costs of your equipment from the wear and tear. The arguments by the micro-stock companies that your images are more available and affordable are true, you are also making a LOT less for your images and you don’t have a residual income from them, either, because they are sold royalty free. The ultimate decision is up to you, though, because it is your work.

All information and images are ©2012 Don Krajewski on this post.

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