Thursday, August 02, 2007


Many photographers complain that microstock agencies are ruining the stock photography industry. That they are charging too little and replacing quality with quantity.

They argue that it is a bad thing that you can make 500 photographs with your digital camera for the cost of re-charging the battery. In the same breath they complain that people are charging less for a copy of the photo than it costs to make the photo. Obviously both cannot be true. I think that the real answer is that microstockers are charging less than it costs traditional stock photographers to make the photos.

On bit of accounting that I admit I and most microstockers overlook is the cost of the camera and lenses etc. Most microstock photographers are probably not including the price of their camera as a cost of making the photo. Even if they did, the cost of the camera would have to be divided between all the photos that they take, or at the very least submit to the agency. For me, from what I have submitted to, each photo likely cost me around $10 in equipment expenses and maybe $2 each in my own time. I guess that means I have spent $12 per photo on average, to produce my portfolio. Over the last year and four months, I have made about $7 per photo selling them as stock.

That looks like a loss of $5 per photo on equipment, but here's the rub, the thing that the traditional stock shooters don't realize. Most microstock photographers had their camera before they started shooting for stock. The cost of their equipment is sunk. The money they spent is gone already. No matter what they do, that money is gone, they needed a camera to take pictures of the family and now they are using it for stock too. In the eyes of the microstocker, this is a $7 gain per photo.

I know how much I spent and realize that so far I am sitting at a $5 loss so far, but I have a spreadsheet that is predicting that I will break even at the end of November. If I shoot 250 more photos over the next year after that, my equipment cost will have dropped to $5 per photo meaning that suddenly the cost of my photos will have dropped to $7 but my profit per photo will have gone up significantly because on average it is likely the new photos will sell as well as the old photos and the old photos will continue to sell.

Another form of payment the microstockers get is hard to put a monetary value on. Many, many people love taking photos. Their friends enjoy modeling for them. They all love seeing the photos used. When a photo gets used it is an affirmation that you as a photographer are talented and that your friends as models are attractive. That is worth a lot. Self actualization, is worth big bucks to a lot of people. Heck, it is why I have the job I do, sure I would like to be making double what I am, but I love my job more than any other job I have ever had. I can't imagine a better job. I feel a lot the same about microstock. Over the last year and four months 2165 people have figuratively patted me on the back by purchasing my photos. That's almost 5 people per day, and it just keeps on rising.

Traditional shooters are moaning the death of stock as a viable career choice for photographers. What they don't mention is the high barrier to entry into the traditional rights managed stock photography agencies.

I looked into it several years ago, I can't remember what agency it was, Getty or Corbis, but they wanted potential photographers to submit a library of many thousands of photos and then, after a certain amount of time they would accept you or send you packing and by the way, don't apply again. Basically it was impossible for anyone except seasoned professionals with a huge libraries of photos to become contributing members of the company I looked at. Today I checked both of their websites and can't find a link on how to even apply anymore.

Now the barriers to entry to being a stock photographer are gone. Anyone can sign up at I've made almost $1600 since March 2006. $1300 of that came since the beginning of 2007. By the end of the year, all my camera gear will be paid off. Depending how hard I work making new stock photos, I will probably be able to buy a full set of studio lights as well. From only 240 photos so far.

1 comment:

Jon said...

Good thoughts there... I guess the traditionalists see it as encrouchment on their market, but hey, if they are not agile, then it is their own fault.