Is There A Living In Stock Photography Today?

It has been awhile since I have posted but that does not mean that I have lost my passion for photography and selling images online. I think we live in interesting times and big changes are taking place in stock photography.

But first how did we get here? The history:

The change in stock buying and thinking started with royalty free stock and that gave the consumer of stock a venue of not having to deal with the stock library with every usage. Graphic designers and image buyers could use the stock they bought whenever they wanted. At that time in the history of stock sales, this was big! There was no web so image buyers would buy a set of images on a CD and have 30 to 100 images at there finger tips to use whenever they wanted. Great but there was never enough images to meet all the needs of the buyers and even if buyers owned many CDs they could never find that needed image.

Along came the web and buyers now could buy one image at a time as needed. They liked not to have to deal with royalty rights and still wanted the freedom to use images as needed without having to negotiate a price. This let the buyers to not have to stock up on CDs to be able to use an image at 2AM to meet the deadline the next morning. With the web they could search for the image and buy and use the image without little difficulty.

Stock sites too liked royalty free images for the same reason the buyers liked it. It gave the image buying and use power to the consumer. Customers would buy what they want when they wanted and strong images would sell more. The only thing the stock sites could control is the price for the royalty free images they sold along with the search tools for the images.

Pricing killed the photographer and the stock photography business as companies new to stock photography came into the game and started selling way below the industry standards. Digital photography was in the hands of the mainstream population and film was on its way out. Everybody was going to be using digital images if they were not yet using them it was just a matter of time. The new comers to the stock photo business looked at image rights as something relatively inexpensive to sell and the thought was that why not sell the images for a dollar or two and open the market to the people, both buyers and photographers.

Anyone with a digital camera could take a great picture and many of those pictures were as good or better then the images out in the stock sites. This new market let those casual photographers make a few dollars with the few good images they had.

Buyers as they became comfortable with using digital images looked for images for neighborhood flyers, bake sales, BBQs, car washes as well as uses for there own small business advertising. No longer were the sales of images just in the hands of the professional image buyers, graphic designers and ad layout people had new company everybody!

So that is where we sit, history lesson over. What is happening now?

Professional stock shooters are wondering what to do about the current market place. They are like me wondering if they can realistically make money in the new RF market place, also know as microstock, or should they sell rights managed or higher priced traditional RF?

I hear about a photographer that is making good money selling to microstock each time I ask the question.

But wait! Let’s ask a more important question. Who is buying stock and what are they using it for? As I wrote earlier everybody is using or potentially using digital images. They are using them on there blogs, there websites, or there small businesses. They are beginning to share images with social media tools on You Tube, Facebook, MySpace Twitter, and other new uses. The world is becoming more and more comfortable looking at images on screens rather than in print.

Working as a photo assistant, four of the last five jobs I worked on were images just for the web site.

Flickr and other photo sharing sites are attracting more and more people looking for cheap images that users don’t have to pay for. Not good if you have the general public thinking that image rights should be free, if you are want to make a living in photography.

So what to do? As the best marketers say give people what they want and you will do well in business. Listen to the customer, hmm, what a thought!

Apple did it with iTunes. The customer was getting use to not paying the rights for music use. People didn’t want to steal music but $15 dollars for a CD and then having to create the MP3s to listen to them was too much when all you had to do is download it for free from Napster. There was no market for what people wanted till Apple gave it to them. The IPod was and still is one of many MP3 players on the market. iTunes gave people a place to simply buy the songs they wanted and listen to them without having to buy and own the CD.

People don’t want to steal images they just have the same thoughts around image rights that they had with song rights. Give them a platform to buy digital images, like iTunes and the maker of the platform will do very well in business. Stock photography is not dead it has just changed.

You might be saying: “Oh great he is telling me that I need to be a Micro stock photographer to be in the game! But there is very little money in micro stock for the photographers regardless of how many successful stories I hear!” I agree.

Micro stock photographers make 10 to 30% of the money their images sell for. The rest of the money goes to the micro sites. So you need great images and lots of sales to make any money at this. For you to do this full time, let’s say for example, you need to make $40,000 a year. That means you need to sell $400,000 to 133,000 in sales to make that. You better have some very great and useful images and lots of them!

Let’s contrast this with music. Apple takes 30% from the Ap developers and 35% from music sales. Apple gives a bit better percent of sales than photographers get.

What photographers need to do is find a stock site that pays them fairly and meets the needs of the image buyers. If you don’t want to do that give away your images and ask for a donation for the image rights, make it easy.

I think 90% of image users just want to use an image online so make low res images that people can license for next to nothing and I think you will prime the pump for your image sales!

What do you think?

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