Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ahh, the Joys Watching Maturation Happen

A colleague forwarded to me Lee Torrens' post - Microstock Full Circle, from last week.

What's remarkable is just how two-faced microstock photographers can be. The refrain that is laughable on it's face and just plain insulting when contemplated even for a minute, is the notion that microstock photographers don't do it for the money, they make pictures so they can see their work in print, and maybe their name as a photo credit, but now they're complaining because prices are getting too low. (as if $0.20 net per image isn't already too low!)


(Continued after the Jump)

Torrens' article is insightful, and talks about petitions being signed by some microstockers to opt out of the models that microstock agencies have turned to - subscription models, because they wanted to differentiate themselves. What used to be $1 per image, can now be silly prices like $150/month for "all you can eat" use, meaning those earning $0.20 per image are now maybe earning a few pennies.

And I am supposed to feel bad about it? Not likely.

Torrens makes the point that silly petitions won't make a difference, and he's right.

In the end, differentiating yourself as a photographer from the rest of the pack is going to win you more clients, more repeat business, and insulate you from the "everyday photographer" and their downward spiral.

Torrens does make one flawed argument, with bad numbers:
If you're in the business of selling photos, you'll be equally happy with an agency that sells 50 photos for $100 as one which sells 300 photos for $100.

However, if you're in the business of improving the industry for the benefit of your fellow photographer, that's very noble of you. You'll likely drop the second agency as they're not paying you as much per sale - they're not paying 'fair' prices. But will this help your cause? Not likely. One of the other 29,999 microstock contributors will get your sales.
The problem here, is that where images are priced at either $2, or $0.33 per image, it's not about the $100, it's about the fact that the license that both models promote is an extensive rights package for next to nothing per image. I'd much rather license one image for $100 than even 20 for $5 because I know that, over time, I will earn more per image because the person who licensed one once will need to come back again for a license to extend or expand the license.

That discrepancy aside, I enjoyed his piece. In fact, I enjoyed even more hearing whiners complaining about prices getting too low. Next they will be called pennystock, because you'll be first able to get an all rights package for $0.05, then $0.01. Next up will be agencies thinking that if they can get images "placed" in certain places, they will pay for that opportunity.

What then, about side deals? Consider you have great pictures of people using bicycles. It would be really easy for someone from say, Schwinn, or Huffy, to locate all their bicycles in an agency, and then offer a placement deal to the agency where by, whenever those images get used, the bicycle manufacturer pays the agency a placement fee. In turn, the agency offers to incentivize possible clients to use the photos, so any search for bike/bicycle returns these images to the top, offering them for, say $0.01 when the standard price is $1. The fee the microstocker gets is 1/20th of a penny, because they are only entitled to their percentage of the license. The fee that the bicycle manufacturer pays the agency is not a part of what the photographer gets.

Movie companies have done this forever, with proactive product placements. How likely is it that there are, say, coke cans in photos? Coke could cut a deal to get those images placed higher up, and thus, placed more. This could be done with logos on shirts for Nike, Adidas, and so forth - any branding opportunity could benefit the agency and not the photographer, and the photographer not only would not be entitled to a piece of the deal, but they would never know about it!

Enjoy continuing to be taken advantage of microstockers. Don't bother to read your contracts, they're non-negotiable, and however they read, those who own the servers where your images reside will do everything they can to preclude you from profiting from your efforts.

Happy Shooting!

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


Duane said...

Good point and good information!

One thing interesting about this is that the original poster is Yuri Arcurs who is a full time microstock photographer with a staff assisting him in producing his images. He has also been sponsored by Hasselblad and has recently switched from using Canon 1DS equipment to the Hasselblad H3D-II-39.

John it would really be interesting if you could connect up with Yuri to really get the inside scoop on this and that view of microstock.

When I started researching this topic I was surprised to find that it was basically a business complaining... I was not able to find if Yuri started out as a new photographer with microstock and has had great success or if he was a long time shooter than switched.

Ryan R. Dlugosz said...

Instant gratification is the biggest attraction to Microstock for new photographers. You sign up, upload some halfway decent pictures and within a few days to a couple weeks you'll start making sales.

I'll admit to (very) briefly flirting with the MS idea - until you get to reading about it on sites like John's you don't realize how bad of a deal it is. That is, presuming that you're a newbie to the world of selling photographs... There's a lot of mixed information out there for people new to the game.

I'm glad I found sites like this, the many books I've read, and the podcasts I listen to (though a few of those tend to pimp MS via advertising). They've taught me to look past the instant gratification and consider the long term goals of my business.

It is hard sometimes to listen to other photographers talk about their relative "successes" on the MS sites. Still, while I've licensed fewer images than they have my net income has been about the same... The difference is that in the long term I've got a lot of room for growth - while the chances are good that they've already hit a maximum output on the MS sites.

That & the whole "not feeling like a whore" thing. :)

In 5 years from now it'll be interesting to see who is still around & doing well with photography. I tend to think those depending on MS sales don't have the best odds.

Anonymous said...

Your thought about product placement is very close to being prescient, Ford seems to be moving quite quickly on this:

GothamTomato said...

What the microstockers (and the royalty free shooters) don't understand is the value of their work over time (which is what stock is all about). They need to put aside the instant gratification and look at the bigger picture - because the corporate interests sure are.

The corporations, who are the ones who are really benefitting from microstock, are building their business models on photographers going for that instant gratification instead of behaving like professionals. In fact, they are counting on photographers acting dumb.

Here's some reality of the value of marketable stock images: I've been marketing some work as stock for almost 15 years. I won't say how many images I have on file with agencies, but I will say that just 55 of those images have, in that time, sold repeatedly enough to buy me the apartment I live in (a Manhattan apartment).

That would NEVER have happened if my images were marketed as microstock or royalty free.

Photographers need to wise up & grow up.

hemcd said...

A few quick things; 1.) Any microstocker who says they aren't in it for the money is a liar. I don't mind saying that I'm a microstock illustrator myself, and it kills me any time I come across another microstocker who pulls that crap about seeing their work in print being payment enough. B.S. No one uploads and keywords images for the fun of it. 2.) GothamTomato, I have to disagree that you never would have been able to buy your place with microstock earnings. Some people make good enough livings from microstock to buy a house or apartment, and I am one of them.

And lastly, I'm reasonable enough to see the flaws of the microstock pricing models and the hypocracy of the related discussions taking place recently about them. What baffles me is that very few people on the other side of the fence can even see any benefit or potential in the microstock model at all. There is some good in the microstock world, and some companies have gotten it right and pay reasonably well. As illustrated above, I'm living proof of that, and there are many many others who have been far more successful than I have.

Nick said...

Yes, youre really missing the point here: Yuri Arcurs (for example) is making a living from this, not because he gets a kick out of seeing his images on the web or whatever you imply.

fotokew said...

great post!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Yuri Arcurs is surely an idiot. Imagine, if he's making over $100,000 a year now, how much he could have been making if he had just tried to break into the high-level photo biz as a poor college student. But I wonder if as a poor college student he could have broken into the big-time photo world using the same equipment (Canon P&S) and models (friends) he used when he started in microstock. And if not, how could he have afforded the right equipment short of going into tons of debt? I guess he could have taken out a hundred thousand in business loans (as a poor college student) to pay for it. Personally I think he needs to get out of microstock now, but could he have had any chance of being where he really belongs now if he hadn't started in microstock?? And apparently Hasselblad must have a bunch of idiots on staff for sponsoring him as well.

Andy Frazer said...

You wrote, "Next up will be agencies thinking that if they can get images 'placed' in certain places, they will pay for that opportunity."

Hey! That gives me an idea for a great business model!!!

Just kidding.

But, seriously, here in San Francisco photographers and artists are already paying galleries for the opportunity to have their work displayed both in galleries and restaurants with the hope that they might lead to bigger sales. I think we will see the model that you joked about.

Andy Frazer

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, Yuri Arcurs is surely an idiot. Imagine, if he's making over $100,000 a year now, how much he could have been making if he had just tried to break into the high-level photo biz as a poor college student."

If he had enough insight to produce the same volume of images with the same quality a few years ago, he could have easily made millions through a distribution network of libraries. And he might of even been able to sell his collection for TENS of millions.

Walter Dufresne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walter Dufresne said...

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