Thursday, September 3, 2009

Is microstock still open to hobbyst photographers ?

Competition is fierce in the microstock industry between agencies but also between photographers. In this article, I will try to answer the following questions : who is responsible of lowering or raising barriers of entry for hobbyst microstockers and is there a scope for them to make some money ?

  • Camera manufacturers
Camera manufacturers played a big role in the inception of microstock business model giving access to DLSR to a large number of people. As a reminder, back in 2002, the 14MP Kodak DCS Pro14n had a price tag of  $ 4,995 ! Today, a entry level DLSR kit or a high end compact is the minimum required to get into the microstock market as a photographer and represents an investment of about  $1000.
Few full time microstockers are getting an edge using top end DSLR (Canon EOS5 MarkII 21MP, Nikon D3X 24.5 MP) or digital medium cameras (Hasselbal H3D-II-39 39MP, Phase One P65+ 65MP).

  • Agencies
Leading agencies as Istockphoto and Shutterstock are doing an initial evaluation, like an entry exam if you prefer and it looks like that this exam  got more difficult the past few years.It is quite easy however to get into some of the new agencies as they do not have initial review but sales volume is low.
  • Knowledge and time
A less obvious barrier of entry is the knowledge that photographers need to acquire about the microstock industry, photography and post-processing techniques. All the information is widely distributed on blogs, forums and social networks but processing this knowledge can be time consuming and time is by definition a scarce resource for hobbyst photographers….

  • Internet access

Microstock photographers share their time between shooting, research, processing, keywording and uploading pictures. As far uploading concerned, lot of photographers are taking an initial strategy to distribute their pictures to multiple agencies (up to 20 or more) to see which ones are working for them. Beside time, uploading to multiple agencies be an issue with a slow internet access and become a barrier of entry. Some solutions came up recently to get around this issue like the Isyndica platform which allow multichannels distribution by uploading the photo once to their server.

  • And now, the money side of things……

Even is money is not the main focus of hobbyst photographers, they can rely on it to finance new equipment. If it was possiblle few years back, you should not expect now to make a lot of money with only few hundreds of pictures on line.....

Initially microstock agencies advertised themselves as a quick money scheme: according to them you just have to upload your vacation pictures from your harddrive.

Things are certainly very different now as the quality of pictures increased considerably. Recently, some agencies took the step to promote special collections within their database (Istock Vetta, 123RF EVO, Fotolia Infinite) but getting into these collections is almost impossible for hobbysts. Agencies are usually putting some size restriction on images and we can imagine that in the near future they will list a recommended or required list of cameras like it is done already by Alamy and Getty Images.

Full time microstockers are not only improving the overall quality (technical and creative) of pictures but also producing a large quantity of pictures making it more and more difficult for hobbysts to compete. If a hobbyst can produce up to 100 pictures a month, full time photographers can produce thousands….

With a low volume of production, it looks like that that the only way to make some money is actually to produce pictures in one or more selected niches.

  • Conclusion

Leading agencies and full time microstockers raised the barriers of entry for hobbysts. Even if photography equipment to get into microstock is affordable and web distributors like Isyndica exist, it appears more and more difficult for hobbyst photographers to get accepted from leading stock agencies and therefore make some money. Time and knowledge are also serious barriers of entry. However microstock is definitively a good learning experience and a chance to interact with an active and diverse community which is priceless:)

Also, every year few hobbysts made it full time and make a living out of their passion so I would say that everything is possible !

This article reflects of course my own opinion and I welcome every constructive comments!

Barriers of entry in microstock


Lee Torrens said...

Hey Laurent, it's great to see a nice long and analytical post like this.

I agree that microstock is becoming less reachable for beginners, students and hobbyists. They need to create much more commercially attractive photos to get started. I look back at my portfolio's oldest photos and I know there would be no hope of me getting started in microstock today with those photos!

The other influence on this is that many traditional stock photographers are now selling photos in the microstock market too. This has raised the quality a lot too.

Interesting times!


Laurent said...

Thanks Lee for your input:) Like you say it is quite difficult to get started with microstock in 2009, in 2010 it will be even difficult. I am wondering if a similar thing will happen to stock footage ?

Anonymous said...

Hi Laurent,
neat analysis.
The structure is becoming more and more like a typical pyramidal market system: the base, the greater part of contributors with a few downloads; the top, a small percentage of full time/pro photographers that win.

Laurent said...

Yes Roberto exactly and the bottom of the pyramid never reach payout:)

maigi said...

Great article! And so true. I think, that if microstock is getting more and more professional, and requires more investment (better equipment, better software, much more time), then prices must go higher too. You just can't finance your company with pennies. But if prices go higher, it might be a surge in development of a new competing industry for newbies and hobbyists, with lower prices again? Circle of life. Just random thoughts. :)

Laurent said...

Interesting thoughts Maigi:) We might go in circle again but prices are not stabilized yet so it might take few years, microstock will be called only stock by then?:)

Peter Kremzar said...

Hi guys,

I also think it is not easy to be competitive to some of the photographers who do stock photography professionally. Just look at the Yuri Arcurs from Denmark ( I think one of the solutions could be that we form a small community and help each other to be more competitive to those market leaders. I see some areas of cooperation.
- Sharing knowledge
- A common service for key wording and publishing photos similar to Isyndica
- Any of the community member would cover one area of photography and we could exchange photos between each other or maybe link between each other. I mean. Someone has lots of fruits photos. Why would he/she take photos of some girls when there is another guy who has models and is much better in this business.
- Linking between each other and promoting each other web sites to get better ratings at search engines.


AlexH said...

Hi Laurent,

I agree, there's no doubt it is tougher to get into microstock and make any sort of impact now than it was only a couple of years ago. However I think it is still possible for a talented hobbyist to do well provided they have a distinct style that appeals and/or a niche they are shooting.