03 Jul 2008 10 Reasons Why Professional Photographers Often Struggle with Microstock
The microstock market is getting a lot of attention and large numbers are starting to be published in relation to contributor earnings. Many professional photographers expect that it must be easy for them to compete with hobbyists, and for non-stock professional photographers it’s an opportunity to make use of skills, equipment and time to generate some additional revenue – an opportunity that was previously prohibitively difficult.
Naturally many professional photographers flourish in the microstock market, but it’s common to hear tales of frustration and dismay from professional photographers trying microstock for the first time. Their applications are often rejected and so are photos they submit to agencies that don’t require an application. Additionally, many who pass the applications are disappointed with their sales and earnings. Here are 10 possible reasons for these experiences.
1. Microstock agencies review 100,000 images a week
Microstock is a high volume business and can’t employ experienced photo editors to carefully inspect each image. At agencies where reviewers aren’t on-site staff they’re usually remotely located and paid just a few cents for each inspected image. Professional photographers are likely to be more knowledgeable and experienced than the reviewer.
A structured set of rules enables them to quickly reject images with the click of a button. This set of rules is long and often very different to what professional photographers are accustomed to strive for in their work. Professional photographers subsequently receive rejections for images that would be considered outstanding in other photography markets.
2. Images must be omni-purpose
Professional photographers know how they need to shoot to satisfy their clients. Microstock images could be used for any purpose so they need to be technically perfect. Non-stock professional photographers such as journalistic photographers and portrait photographers, can find this frustrating when they’re accustomed to concentrating on particular elements of photography rather than everything all at once.
3. There’s lots of competition
Microstock agencies get a lot of submissions and many have already built large portfolios. They can afford to be very selective about the images they accept. Even great images are often rejected if the agency already has too many of that subject or photos they consider to be superior. Professional photographers who shoot directly for clients are seldom accustomed to rejections or competing with other photographers.
4. Do you know who I am?
Even established stock photographers who are known in the macrostock market experience rejections in the microstock market. This can be frustrating when their name and reputation earns them instant respect with editors and buyers. However, most microstock reviewers don’t know industry celebrities, don’t have time to look them up, and usually aren’t even aware of who submitted the images they review.
5. Reviewers know your approval rating
While they have instructions on how to use it, reviewers see contributors’ approval rate when they review an image. If a professional photographer’s early submissions are poorly received for any of the other reasons in this list, they’re more likely to experience higher rejections than they would normally expect due to a low approval rating.
6. No keywording experience
Microstock is one of the few areas of photography where photographers are required to keyword their own images. Professional photographers who are successful with getting their images accepted can have weak sales due to inexperience with this particular task. Whey they start with microstock, hobbyist photographers need to learn many things that professional photographers already know, and keywording is just one of many that they naturally investigate and learn.
7. Nothing is perfect
With such high volumes and such a variety of reviewers, inconsistency is guaranteed. All the reasons in this list can be factors, but the imperfection of the system is always a contributor. Many agencies have checks and audits in place to improve consistency, and they help, but great stock photos are sometimes still rejected. Hobbyists generally have less to lose and more to gain from microstock, so they’re more likely to push through the imperfections of the system until they find success.
8. Lack of market knowledge
Professional photographers reporting difficulties with microstock often only try a single agency and focus on the low earnings per sale as the reason they’re not generating a meaningful income from microstock. Even if they do some research and register with one of the top selling agencies, they often abandon the idea after their application is rejected unaware that most photographers have their applications rejected the first time and there’s nothing personal about it. Additionally, the usual difficulties of a microstock beginner ensures their earnings don’t grow in the initial stages, providing no incentive to continue.
9. They submit snapshots
Many professional photographers maintain a perception of microstock as a market for amateur photos and they submit accordingly. Indeed there are many snapshots in the microstock market, but the quality standards are rising rapidly. It’s now extremely difficult to achieve success in the microstock market without high quality photos of high demand subjects.
10. They want microstock to fail
Microstock represents a threat to the lifestyles of many established professional photographers, both stock and otherwise. Whether consciously or not, many set out to prove microstock is unsustainable, impossible, unprofessional or simply not workable for serious photographers. This is easy to “prove” if you keyword your images poorly, contribute to too few agencies, or contribute snapshots. You’re always winning the games you’re playing, so what games are you playing?
What about you?
This article was inspired by a professional photographer friend of mine who asked for help trying microstock for the first time. I learned a lot seeing the experience from his perspective. Do you know a professional photographer who’s struggled with microstock?
If there are any other reasons you’ve experienced or heard, add them in the comments.