Microstock Photography and Me

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I think I would have tried microstock photography if I never worked in a traditional stock photographer house but since I have and know the old paradigm and I have been gun shy. So when I bump into a successful hardworking microstock photographer that makes a living via stock sales I find myself second guessing my choices of having not put my images out into the microstock arena.

So I go looking for information. I start reading sites and listening to blogs. I check out a couple books on microstock and all the while I have that same dull feeling of pointing the gun sharply at my foot and taking aim. So should I pull the trigger on microstock or do something different?

I think to answer this I should just lay out the facts as I know it.

I caught the photo bug as a teenager and wanted to make fine art landscape photography. This was before I took my first photo class, before I was formally introduced to the great linage of California landscape photographers. Taking my first photo class I fell in love and set my mind even further on traveling the world to take great fine art pictures. I worked at a one hour photography lab and went to collage and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in photography.

After collage I was working at a camera store and was asked by a friend if I wanted to assist a local auto photographer. I started assisting and soon found myself working in his stock photography side of the business, filing slides and answering phone calls and pricing the stock usage rights. I had no idea about how lucrative stock could be! At the time, the business had close to a million in stock licensing a year!

The photographer worked hard and had to move with the changing demands of his photo buyers, and that met scanning the 200,000 slide images and moving them from film to digital. What that did not mean is changing from rights managed stock to royalty free.

The nature of auto stock almost needs to be rights managed because even though a car owner might sign a property release the manufacture can come down and state they hold the rights to images of their car models. For rights managed you do have tracking data for all the usages of any particular image. It’s a lot cleaner to track down usage violators than royalty free. The business is still going strong today as a small stock photography company specializing in animals and autos.

When digital came on the scene in the late eighties early nineties, compact discs started holding digital music and as photography went digital it too found its way to the CD marketplace. I saw this as a great paradigm shift and a ground breaking change of how images were going to be used and sold.

In 1998, while learning Adobe Illustrator I made a mock up of a stock photography company that sold rights to images in CD collections of images. The idea was to make groups of royalty free stock and sell the CDs online through a website. By the time I had grouped enough images for a few CDs I still needed to scan the slides and get the rights to the name Pixtall two things happened.

    One a stock photography company started up and called themselves Pixtal.com. I signed up to follow them.

Two, iStockPhoto.com started giving away high res stock images for free. royalty free, later to start using a micro payment model.

I didn’t know what to do with microstock and still don’t. I’ve seen great success with traditional RM stock and Micro RF or microstock is just too big of a leap for me.

It took till 2005 to buy my first digital camera and have shot digitally since then. I also started following the microstock world. One guy set out to make a million dollars shooting stock and chronicle his journey along the way. I checked how he was doing and in six years he put over 4,000 images on microstock sites and made 25,000 in royalties. Not bad but not enough to make a living doing it. Yuri Arcurs, on the other hand is the top selling stock photographer in the world and he made it in microstock sales now he sells through his own sight as well as through the stock companies sites.

Should I pull the trigger on microstock or do something different? I’ll continue this some time in the future.

-John David Tupper

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