28 Dec 2015 5 Conclusions about Current Mobile Stock Contributors

Some consistencies keep popping up when reading about, talking to and looking at people submitting photos to mobile stock photo agencies. But I wanted to better understand them, so I reached out to some agencies and asked for referrals to some top contributors.

Of course I was fully aware that this selection method would guarantee I get a sample of contributors who were happy with the agencies, but they turned out to have refreshingly realistic awareness and honest opinions on their situations, and were all very generous with their time.  They weren’t the carefully screen and media-trained contributors that microstock agencies usually roll out, so I was very happy with the results.

The Mobile Contributors

Danielle Reid is one of the most successful contributors to one of the most popular companies in this space, EyeEm. A Design Director for several startups, Danielle uses a few photo-sharing platforms, but got introduced to the photo licensing business through EyeEm. Her EyeEm portfolio currently has 1.8K photos and she also has around 900 in the Getty Images’ EyeEm collection. 90% of her production is shot on iPhone. danielle1
Anthony Tulliani is another EyeEm star contributor. Starting his photographer career as an assistant to commercial photographers as well as freelancing with his own clients, he also has a part-time job. His portfolio at EyeEm has around 500 images, plus little over 200 images in Getty Images .He’s often featured in the platform’s ‘Missions’. Most of  his images are mobile-shot. anthony
Susanne Alfredsson is a top contributor at Foap. She’s an amateur photographer and got started in stock with Foap three years ago. Now she has a nice line-up of big and serious brands that have licensed her images through the platform, and has been featured by the agency a few times. Her large portfolio of over 5,000 photos is a mix of mobile and DSLR shots. Since starting, she’s added some other agencies to her distribution. susanne
Darby, one of the top contributors at Twenty20, is a bit of an exception in her background. She’s an experienced photographer and most of the over 2,800 images in her portfolio are shot with a DSLR. She’s been a pro photographer for 15 years and started in microstock a while ago when she slowed down her client work to stay home with her family. She tried different outlets, from microstock agencies like Dreamstime to new concept businesses like 500px and Canva, to mobile platforms like Foap, Snapwire and of course Twenty20, which is now at the top of her list. darby

Here are the five conclusions I drew from these conversations:

1. Community is Important

With the exception of Darby, all these contributors discovered the stock business through these mobile apps and cite the community as being a very relevant part of their experience. They all value the social networking features, highlighting how the interaction with other users helps improve their photography skills. Danielle praises the chance to make professional connections in the network, and Anthony mentions the importance the EyeEm missions have for him in gaining more experience and exposure – his submissions are regularly and consistently shortlisted in missions.

Darby thinks more like a microstocker. For her, the contributor-friendly features in Twenty20 (and in all these apps in general) are a key to her participation. Uploading, keywording and release management is much simpler in the apps than at most established microstock agencies. This time-saving workflow is very important for her.

EyeEm and Foap contributors agree that the ease of putting images up for sale is a very attracting point. Susanne already had over 2,000 photos sitting on her phone’s library, which allowed her to build up a large portfolio relatively fast, and she says the Foap community has helped her get both inspiration and improve her photography skills.

2. They Use a Combination of Editing Apps

We know from Jack Hollingsworth that any serious mobile shooter uses a variety of apps to shoot and edit their photos. This is confirmed by all contributors interviewed here. None are shooting, editing and uploading exclusively in the agency app.

They all use VSCO –the runaway success of mobile photo editor apps that now includes its own social platform– among the apps they’re using, although it’s not at top of their list at the moment.

Beside this, Danielle uses mostly EyeEm’s native editor. Anthony includes Snapseed –another popular choice–, Handy Photo and SKRWT. Susanne uses the free versions of Photoshop mobile apps, and occasionally Pomelo for filters. As Darby shoots DSLR, her post-processing is more ‘traditional’: she shoots in RAW and edits in Photoshop.

3. Earnings are Low but Consistent

To Danielle, Susanne and Darby sales are growing, although Darby says the growth rate has slowed as her portfolio grew. Anthony says he sees a decline, although still has sales from both EyeEm’s marketplace and the Getty collection every month.

Despite differences in rates of growth or decline, they all agree sales are consistent. Tulliani generously shared some real numbers, saying he averages $40-$70 a month – he’s only with EyeEm/Getty – and his lowest ever monthly earnings were $5. While the others didn’t get that specific, most indicated their earnings were in a similar range.

4. They’re Happy

Despite low earnings, they all seem happy with the performance of each marketplace, and their experience is positive overall. For mobile shooters, this seems to be mostly due to the fact they are amateurs who entered mobile stock with low to no expectations about earnings. Again, Darby is the exception here, but she’s happy with the sales relative to the minimal time invested in preparing and uploading.

The agencies clearly wouldn’t have referred unhappy contributors to me for this post so it’s no surprise that all these ones are happy.  No doubt there are some that are unhappy like at all levels and sectors of the market, but the conclusion is that for at least some contributors, it’s working over the long term.

5. They may be Forever Hobbyists

Another consistency among mobile stock photo agencies is promoting “exposure” as currency in their marketing.  They’re not enticing shooters by saying how much money they can earn, but by telling them how many people, or which big brands, will see / use their images.

For the shooters for whom the community is an important aspect of their participation, exposure might be enough.  With low expectations, met by low earnings, and no evidence from anywhere that anyone is earning a lot, it may never become all about the money.  Asked about making mobile stock their full-time activity, only Darby said it was in the realm of possibility, though there’s a long way to go yet.  For the others it’s a nice side income and a fun, gratifying hobby.

There’s a lot of parallels with the early days of microstock here: the importance of community, the thrill of having images used, low earnings, a new market of buyers, a new & bigger ‘crowd’ of photographers.  But in microstock it reached a tipping point where early contributors were able to grow their skills and equipment in line with growth in royalty revenue to ultimately make it their full time income, or a fully fledged business.  Mobile is not the revolution microstock was, so if you’re expecting that to happen, prepare to be disappointed.

It appears that mobile as a sector of stock photography will become all about the missions, challenges or competitions, which don’t scale the same way as a marketplace does for contributing photographers.  Whether it’s their intention or not, mobile stock photographers may be forever limited to the realm of hobbyists unless mobile forms just a part of their stock photo production.

What’s Your Experience?

I know quite a few established microstockers are dipping their toe into the mobile stock space.  If that’s you, what has your experience been?  Do you have enough sales to see a worthwhile future in mobile beyond the community and exposure aspects?

  • Alexander Jemeljanov
    Posted at 17:39h, 28 December Reply

    Hi Lee, the quality of smartphone cameras is growing so fast now. If there is enough light in the scene – it is hard to distinguish mobile shot out of 3-4 years old DSLR on HD Ready screen. And i think there are a lot of buyers that use web size pictures. So mobile market should grow. What do you think?

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 11:05h, 29 December Reply

      For ‘some’ shots it may be hard to distinguish, but no serious stocker would risk a paid production by intentionally shooting it on mobile only.
      But just because the production quality is close and buyers use small images doesn’t mean it’s a growth sector. Most buyers asking for it want the intimacy and candid (un-produced) look but really don’t care what it was shot on. Stock shooters are already mimicking the mobile look while shooting with DSLRs.

  • Griphon
    Posted at 06:50h, 29 December Reply

    Waste of valuable time and money with these low rates, and with photographers who play with such small sums of royalties or payouts. The money is with the Gettys or Twenty20, EyeEm. You will never build wealth this way. All this micro stuff has done is water down the market. The next result will be even further low rates. Wait till these companies start failing, like Corbis, then watch the Chinese buy the companies out and use the images where you will never find out how much an image really has sold for. You will be out of pocket. This is coming soon – the IMF has the Renmimbi is in the basket of currencies that make up the US Dollar around October 2016 – that’s the beginning of the turn down. Once that foot hold is in place then watch for a major loss here with these business models. I’ll keep this post so I can come back to it.

  • John Allen
    Posted at 20:57h, 04 January Reply

    If you want to be a professional photographer, you need to bring a camera or two, i.e. small and medium format. Bringing a cell phone or other mobile device is sort of like bringing a knife to a gunfight. You will get the best results from a camera. John Allen

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