I became aware of microstock images (derived from ‘micropayment) in the fall of 2006 while being SVP of a rights managed company. Was this iteration of the stock photography business a threat, an opportunity or both for photographers?
I found out by joining one of the top microstock companies, Dreamtime. Since then the microstock industry has grown into a massive licensing machine enabling serious amateurs and many professionals to add a new revenue stream to their incomes.
Yuri Arcurs entered microstock at the beginning and now makes as much as the top Getty photographers.
The problem many photographers have with microstock is the low licensing fees. With millions of images available from hundreds of thousands of contributors, it can be difficult to see decent revenue even with professional level work. The cost per image in time and effort is greater than for traditional stock as the technical requirements are higher than for rights managed work.
Others state and often violently that microstock is ruining the industry. But one can’t blame microstock without also damning the camera companies that created inexpensive digital cameras, the Internet or the huge numbers of buyers that are using stock photography for personal blogs, small business websites or employees of companies whose budgets no longer permit the use of the higher priced images. The fact that those that used to pay high prices are now shopping for cheaper is a sign of times as much as anything else.
Can photographers make a living in solely in microstock? A few make hundreds of thousands but most can’t come close to that. Microstock can be another layer of the cake for professionals. Photographers today have to work harder and longer, earning from assignments, stock for traditional and microstock companies or workshops, print sales and any other uses of talent and equipment to create a healthy revenue stream.