I look at micro-stock companies like multi-level marketing. The company will do well, but the individual players often get hurt, don’t earn their true value or even lose money after expenses.
I’ll make it up in volume, they say. I recall some dot-com companies saying that, too. How many $1 images do you have to sell to make money? A lot. Often a photographer doesn’t even make a full dollar. After expenses and commissions the fee can actually amount to less than 25 cents. The amount of work it takes to create images to attract a couple thousand downloads each month is a full time job and a not very lucrative one at that.
The supporters of micro-stock have spent a lot of time and effort creating a quality portfolio of work. I’ve checked out a few of the photographers doing well in micro-stock. Heck, most are very good photographers.
Micro-photographers often claim the exposure is great and are excited to see their work in corporate promotions and magazines around the world. Magazines that often pay $500-$4,000 an image on a regular basis have paid the micro stock photographer $2. As for the exposure, it is rare that a one-time placement will result in additional work. Good exposure is beneficial, but just like advertising, it usually requires regular contribution to a publication to get noticed.
The reality is that if you are that good, just like in multi-level marketing, you would actually be better off in the mainstream. Even Getty’s bad $50 photo rate would earn the creator a great deal more money, even with a lower sales volume.
The competition is starting to get fierce in the micro-stock industry. There are a lot of companies and they are saturated with flowers, rainbows, landscapes and average photography. Many are striving for higher quality images. But, higher quality images usually command the higher prices micro-stock does not offer. As the need for quality increases it is common for micro-stock companies to reject a large percentage of images submitted, disappointing many of the photographers tempted by the opportunity.
I agree with the fact that micro-stock has allowed a large number of photographers to continue to make additional income in the digital age. Even more important micro stock has introduced more buyers to the photography market.
Micro stock has its place and so do multi-level marketing companies. Yes, some people actually make money. But, the big winners are the few and the companies themselves.