Selling traditional stock photography vs. microstock
This can be a touchy subject amongst photographers and has caused a few arguments. Is selling images for $1 a time “selling out” and giving photography a bad name by harming the traditional ways? Some think it is.
Whatever your thoughts on either, you must, first and foremost, think of your needs and in which direction you want to head. Before we dive into that, let’s just explain a little about both industries.
A few years ago now, this was the only option available to many and the requirements put too many people off. After all, you needed top equipment in the days of film:
- Good SLR
- Good lenses
- Good negative/slide scanner
- Good PC etc
…and this was in the days when PC’s were relatively new (and costly) and SLR’s were quite expensive too, and not so much made for the masses like they are now. It was all more specialised then (or so it seemed).
As your images were selling for upwards of $100 a time right up into the tens of thousands of Dollars for one, licensed photo, you needed to make damn sure they were the absolute best they could be or of something quite incredible (newsworthy).
It was a tough market to break into for many.
You had the option (and still have) of selling your images as Royalty Free, Licensed or Rights managed (more on that in a bit) and deciding which would pay the most was a hard gamble to make.
In a nutshell, if you shoot an image that is very hard to replicate, such as a politician hitting a policeman (could happen ; ) you should sell it as licensed or Rights Managed. As you are extremely unlikely to get a model release from either party, this image falls into the realms of “editorial” and what a scoop it would be.
Personally, I would sell the rights to that shot exclusively to one tabloid, glossy or newsroom (Sky News etc) for as much as I could and then move on. Alternatively, you could license it and hope that a few journalists, newspapers and newsrooms pick it up and make more money that way. Bear in mind though that within days some editorial images will become old news and not very desirable.
Nowadays, you could get in touch with “go between” agents like Mr Paparazzi and hope that they could get even more money on your behalf in a much quicker time frame, although a fair chunk would be taken in commissions.
I have sold a few editorial shots of famous actors through Mr Paparazzi with no problem…here is one showing the Eastenders cast filming in Weymouth:
So, traditional agencies have been hard to get into in the past, especially agents like Magnum and Getty and this is what not only put people off but made them not even consider shooting stock.
I have been a photographer since about 1980 and never did I consider getting into stock until around 2004! Too much like hard work back then. In 2004 I uploaded a huge amount of images to Alamy and almost immediately started earning. We cover some of those earnings a bit later.
Fast forward a few years to now and the availability to the masses of the internet, I have been “tinkering” online since 2001 and have watched it grow since then. This tremendous growth and popularity coupled with higher bandwidths made it possible for anyone to upload images to the web…and boy did they do just that!
I would hate to hazard a guess as to how many images are now online but it must be in the billions if not trillions and many of those will be bought and paid for stock images. I know I have used a few for my websites.
So, with the web now acting as a portal for our wares, thousands if not hundreds of thousands of photographers saw this as an opportunity to make more money from their shots. A few savvy internet entrepreneurs cottoned onto this and at the turn of the century, Microstock was born.
Now, as I was already online and paying close attention to trends and such, I looked into this further even though I was already on with a traditional stock agency and doing quite well.
The more I delved, the more I could see the benefits of microstock much to the annoyance of many people. One traditional agency shunned me once they found out I was uploading to microstock and made me choose between them. As I had never made a sale with them the choice was clear.
Call it foresight, intuition or just plain “what the hell” but I started uploading everything I had at the “big 5” agencies (more on those later). Almost instantly I started earning a few Dollars and bear in mind that this was when most agencies had just 30,000 images online (now they are well into the millions).
However, a few month later and I had a change of heart and started deactivating all my images from Microstock. I don’t know what caused it but I just didn’t feel right. Maybe it was all too new and I felt somewhat “abused” at the low prices they were charging for my work?
Whatever it was, I soon got over it and reactivated my accounts : ) and I then spent a couple of years uploading images. Best thing I ever did.
Even though I only had around 1200 images at each agency, the income was stable long after I stopped uploading and to be honest, that income has saved our bacon a few times!
Since I made that decision, Getty have bought out iStock (one of the leading microstock agencies), other agencies have merged and even Alamy started twitching and introduced a cheaper subscription system. A case of if you can’t beat em, join em!
Anyone wishing to follow and push for the more traditional route shouldn’t worry too much for now, there is still a market for rights managed and licensed images but beware, the microstock sites are on it and now offer exclusivity and buy out rights for their images.
That means, should a multinational company wish to buy the rights to an image for a particular ad campaign, they can see if it has received many downloads and then decide to buy the rights for a few thousand dollars. As this would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in the past, they are onto a good thing especially as the quality of work being produced for microstock these days is stunning.
Once you have read and watched everything we have on offer, you need to choose where and how you wish to sell your images. Of course, you could go it alone and do your own marketing setting your own prices but that is a huge undertaking but we will cover it a little later on.
Next Page – Agencies