Saturday, December 5, 2009

Monkey Business & Photography

Q: Why is a monkey smarter than 98% of all microstock photographers?

A: Because the monkey can feed herself by taking photos.

Sadly, this isn't a joke, it's the truth. Paul Melcher, over on his "Thoughts of a Bohemian" blog (here), shares the news that a 33 year old Orangutan earns a raisin for every photo taken.

Let's see - why don't we do the math: reports from some photographers suggest a ratio low ratio of images "snapped" to images "accepted", and it's not unreasonable to believe that 100 or more images are taken at a shoot. So, you shoot, say, a gross of 500 images and get, say, 10 accepted. Your monkey competitor has earned 500 raisins. That's about equivalent to 9 15 oz boxes of Sun-Maid raisins. A 15 oz box of Sun-Maid raisins sells for $2.50 at So, after 500 photos, the monkey has earned $37.50 in raisins. In order for a microstocker to have $37.50 to spend on food (i.e. a personal item), they have to have earned $75 in taxable income because between federal, state, and self-employment/social-security taxes on their microstock income, they are paying 50% taxes on their profits, and we all know that microstockers argue that it doesn't cost them a thing to make photos, so whatever they earn is profit, right?

(Continued after the Jump)

How long does it take for those 10 accepted photos to make $75? Quite awhile, when the average per-sale figure is about $2, according to Jim Pickerell, in this article.

The numbers could be even worse. According to the iStock Contributors site here, the TOP contributor, Yuri Arcurs, in 4 years only has 5,006 files uploaded, which equates to 104 images a month, on average, that are accepted. the site lists Arcurs as having 136 new files in the last 30 days. In his profile here, it is suggested he shoots "hundreds of 39mp files per day...", so assuming he shoots 5 days a week, and let's say 200 images a day, that's 1,000 a week, 4,000 a month, and he's only getting 136 accepted - and he's the TOP guy? That's a 3.5% shoot-to-acceptance ratio.

So yes, this generalization of math and microstock income provides the rough estimation that even a monkey is smarter than almost all microstock photographers.

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...

Wow, interesting post.

I wonder how Yuri Arcurs is running a microstock business using Hasselbald equipment and flying models to Demark and paying them $50-100 an hour for shoots. It also appeared that he has a complete staff and a studio. Is that even possible??? All that information was on his site that was liked from your link.

I wonder if he is taking a different approach to his business model and making a living doing this a different way.

I did a search on his iStock portfolio and you're right he has 5003 images with over 740,000 sales... I read somewhere else that folks were making about $1.68 an image, so if that's the same with him then those 740k sales made $1,243,200 in 4 years... Hmmm, I'm not sure but if he did smilier with that dreamstime site then that means he made $2,486,400 in the same time... Even if that is average for the year, and i would imagine it isn't because most businesses start at a loss and then make money would mean he is doing $621k annually...

That sure sounds like a lot of raisin... If I misread the links please let me know. This is a very interesting topic and I would love to see this issue looked into more.

Thanks for bringing it up!

John Harrington said...

Arcurs falls into the 2% of people who are earning more than the monkey, relatively speaking, however using his numbers as the top producer lets you figure out - generally speaking - that the remaining 98% are not doing as well as the camera-toting monkey.

I concur with you that the equipment and investments he is making is substantial, and while I am surely not privy to his business plan or books, it seems that the churn is what will keep his bills paid.

-- John

Nonja said...

Q: Is orangutan a monkey?

A: No, an orangutan is a hominid (great ape). Hominids are primates, but technically not monkeys.

Colin said...

Yuri Arcurs has admitted repeatedly when interviewed that he's not making money on microstock—he's barely covering his expenses. (And only very recently reached that point.)

And this isn't exactly unexpected; you can't incur the kinds of production costs he does and then turn around and sell the shots for $1 in commission.

Where the real money's coming in are (1) his seminars where he teaches you to be as "successful" as he is, and (2) his exclusive listing service claimed to give your microstock the same "success" as his.

The distinction between revenues and profit is thrown out the window when he's advertising those services, of course. Nobody wants to hear the reality that he made several thousand dollars when he can instead whip out a million dollars in revenue (which are offset by a million dollars in expenses).

John Harrington said...

Nonja -

Indeed, and of course, I've taken a bit of literary license to make a point, but not very much as most people would incorrectly id a orangutan as a monkey.

- John

John Harrington said...

Colin -

I've not seen Arcurs has said that anywhere - please provide a few links. If this is the case, it would be interesting to see comments about one of the most prolific microstockers as being in this state. To be honest, again, if this is the case, I am not only not surprised, I submit "what took him so long?"

-- John

seanlockedigitalimagery said...

"we all know that microstockers argue that it doesn't cost them a thing to make photos, so whatever they earn is profit, right?"

Printing half truths and incomplete data does not really lend much credence to your argument (whatever it is - I can't really find a point in today's article).

There are many thousands of contributors, and while some may fill their portfolio with found snapshots, many others spend considerable amounts of money on all the elements needed to create a successfully (or sometimes not) selling stock image.

Also, Yuri contributors to more than a dozen sites, so trying to make up a number based on his rough iStock downloads doesn't mean anything aside from a rough number he might have made on iStock.

"Arcurs falls into the 2% of people who are earning more than the monkey, relatively speaking, however using his numbers as the top producer lets you figure out - generally speaking - that the remaining 98% are not doing as well as the camera-toting monkey." Again, making up data and using it in your insulting analogy does not help to lend much credence to your discussion. In any case, in any business sector, a small amount of people might prove to be financially successful to the wider group that is not able to compete as well. Why do you assume stock photography would be different.

Anyways, those these rants about micro as a selling platform seem like they are coming from 2 years ago. A convergence in pricing between "micro" and "macro" is evolving. And that's a good thing, eh?

tyler olson said...

I thought this whole discussion was 'au passé'. Do we really have to go back to this again? I am constantly surprised at how strong of opinions people can have about something they know so little about.

Yuri uploads so little to iStock because of the upload limits. His portfolio size on Dreamstime (and at the other 10+ sites) is 3x as large. Yuri makes a crazy amount, and has high overhead. I could believe he has made 0 profit, but I will also add it is very easy for a company to make $0 if you pay yourself a healthy wage.

Others have moderate overhead and make good livings from microstock. Yes, 95% of everyone submitting to microstock is making very little, but 95% of the people don't put much effort into it. That is what microstock is about - user generated content, open to everyone both the hobby photographers and pros. Many photographers have made microstock a full time profession - I really can't understand how it can be argued that the most you can expect to make is 'less than raisans' when people are providing for their family with it. I know my family has eaten more than raisins in the last month.

It is very similar to blogging actually. Many people are making very comfortable livings from blogging, some (1% or probably much much less) are making incredible livings while most or nearly all are making very little or nothing. But that doesn't mean that you can't make a living from blogging. And because blogging is UGC it is open for anyone to 'take the stick and run with it'. But in contrast to microstock, blog posts are given away for FREE

Ken Hurst Photography said...

I've come to respect and almost always agree with Sean Locke's comments about microstock photography - and his reply here is right again. At first, probably like Sean, I was irritated and insulted by a comparison with monkeys but on second thought I can see a glimmer of truth in the article's content and I realized that it's to my benefit for other photographers to disparage microstock which is probably only going to keep others from continuing to pile on to the long lists of contributors to microstock. ALSO, I don't care about the other 98% - I just care about what the successful 2% do and what I do. So PLEASE John don't start trying to shoot microstock - I don't think you would be successful at it. Not because of your photography skills, but because of your attitude.

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