I read a good article about royalty free stock photo websites today. I found it interesting for lots of reasons, especially because they highlight success stories.
There has been some concern over the fact that microstock agencies are devaluing stock photography. I've read a few articles by people worried about this very topic.
I think they are missing the point and that they aren't really discussing what is bothering them. Here is a quote from one of the more thoughtful of the articles.
"Like many photographers, John sees new shooters moving into the field every day. They have their expensive new Nikons (or Canons) and are more than happy to blaze away with a piece of long glass on auto-everything and practically give the shots away for free."
The proliferation of high-quality digital cameras is diluting the profession right into the ground. Everyone has always wanted to be a photographer, and now everyone can. Sort of."
I think what photographers like John are worried about more than the fact that people are selling shots for a dollar rather than hundreds of dollars is that his photos are having to compete with tens of thousands of other people's photos who are doing it in their spare time.
In the article John even went on to complain about people putting free tutorials online that allow people to learn from someone else's 20 years of mistakes.
The business is changing. But more than that, it is changing in a way that allows more people to become customers of the business. Proponents of royalty free sites such as istockphoto.com all say this.
Kelly Thompson, vp of marketing for www.istockphoto.com says, "What's really exciting is the small and medium businesses, the nonprofit groups, the church groups, —they flock to us by the tens of thousands, and they’ve never bought a stock photo before."
Antagonists of royalty free like, Betsy Reid, executive director of the Stock Artists Alliance said, "If IBM wants to use an image for an international campaign, no photographer in the world was ever going to offer it for a dollar,"
This is disingenuous at best. Companies big enough to international campaigns can get in to trouble by using non-exclusive stock images. Microsoft has had several screw ups because they cheaped out and didn't get exclusive rights to stockphotos on various occasions. Had microsoft purchased exclusive rights no one would have been the wiser. Large companies with international campaigns need to be sure that they are the only ones using the picture. Royalty free does not do that. If a right leaning political party use a royalty free photo of a family, there is nothing stopping a left leaning party from getting the exact same photo for their ads.
In anycase, I would like to be making something from my photos rather than nothing. Sure it might not be worth pouring hours and hours into it, but it is worth having as a hobby and doing it little by little to build up a portfolio big enough so that it doesn't matter how little each download pays.