What’s Up with Microstock Photos? Are you listening Apple?

November 4th, 2010 by


I became aware of microstock images (called ‘micro’ in the sense of micropayments for those of you with your nose so close to the grind stone that you haven’t heard)  in the fall of 2006 while  SVP at SuperStock.   Was this iteration of the stock photography business a threat, an opportunity or both for photographers? I decided to find out by joining one of the top microstock companies, Dreamstime. 

The problem some photographers still 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 can sometimes be greater than for traditional stock as the technical requirements are often higher than  for rights managed work.

Others state, 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, smart phones, 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. In the early days of microstock many were shocked that that Apple used a microstock photo of the head of a lion on the packaging for that interition of  that O/S. (Although with billions in cash, one wonders why they wouldn’t want the protection of a RM image and one also wonders who got fired  from Apple’s marketing department for using a photo freely available to a competitor.) But today a company that didn’t use microstock for at least of some of their uses, is tossing money away.

Can photographers make a living  solely in microstock? A few make hundreds of thousands but most can’t. This isn’t unlike traditional stock photography, especially today. Microstock  is another layer of the money cake. Photographers today have to work harder and longer, earning from assignments, placing images in stock for traditional and microstock companies, holding workshops, encouraging  print sales, offering video services and any other uses of talent and equipment necessary to create a healthy revenue stream.

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on the ASMP Blog Strictly Business.