Microstock photography—is it worth it?

Do you want to sell stock photos and have your doubts about the microstock industry? Read on for the lowdown on microstock and see if micropayment photography is right for you.

What is Microstock?

First let’s define what a microstock or micropayment photography company is. There are three basic criteria that define this type of company: First, the sources of their images are almost exclusively via the Internet. Second, the images come from a broader range of photographers than the traditional stock agencies (these companies are more willing to accept images from “amateurs” and hobbyists). And, third, they sell their images at a very low rate, anywhere from 20 cents to 10 dollars for a royalty-free image. Many of these companies include video stock as well, following the same criteria. As with any market, there are differences from company to company (they may have different requirements, pricing structures, and policies), but that’s it in a nutshell.

The History of Microstock and iStockphoto

iStockphoto asian elephant

iStockphoto was a trailblazer in the microstock industry and is now owned by Getty Images.

Now, a bit of history: microstock started back in 2000 with iStockphoto as a backlash against the ever-increasing commissions the big stock house were taking. Also, the big stock agencies wouldn’t even consider taking on a photographer without a solid very large collection of quality images as a client. iStockphoto broke down a lot of the walls, helped launch a few careers and became a big player very quickly, with several similar companies popping up over the first few years. These upstart companies had a strong six-year run, then feeling the pressure, and seeing there market share shrink, Getty acquired iStock for 50 million dollars. Over the next few years the rest of the upstarts also fell to the pressure of big pay days.

Today, the microstock industry has both a positive and negative effect on the stock photography market, depending on whom you talk to. The idea still exists and is much more relevant now as the demand for content keeps growing. Many of the microstock companies offer value-added incentives such as portfolio management services and metadata practices that take greater advantage SEO functions, vastly improving the discoverability of images in web searches. The big negative is the dilution of the stock photography industry as a whole. This attitude is mostly shared by seasoned pros who feel that competing with emerging and/or amateurs photographers is reducing their incomes. While this may be true to some extent, the demand for content has grown ten fold since the advent of microstock 13 years ago. So, in my humble opinion, there’s plenty of room.

Sell Stock Photos: Is Microstock Worth It?

Now the big question is, is it worth it to sell stock photos on the microstock market? This is a question you must answer for yourself. If you have been shooting awhile and hold the copyrights on say 10,000 images, you would do well in both a traditional or a microstock company, but you would see a better income stream through one of the big boys. If you’re new to the game or don’t have a large collection, microstock is the way to go. There are generally no fees to load your work, and you can choose the type of services you wish to use. Your out-of-pocket cost will very minimal and will help you get your feet wet if you’re on the fence about entering the stock photo market. In either case, this not your ticket to the easy life, but, with good management and perseverance, it can produce a nice supplemental income.

Ric Deliantoni is a professional photographer and director with thirty years of experience, with a focus on still-life and lifestyle imagery for advertising, design and publishing. He has developed a unique style that has been described as impressionistic and bold. Ric has also spent much of his career teaching and mentoring students of all levels to better themselves as artists.


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