18 Aug 2007 A Brief History of Microstock

Antique Books, Duncan WalkerFor those of us who haven’t been around since the start, here’s a quick catchup on the short history of microstock.

Laying the Foundations

Cameras – Kodak released the first commercially available digital SLR in 1991.

Multi-media computers – became capable of storing, manipulating and transmitting high quality digital photographs during the early 1990’s.

Internet – widespread capability to transmit high quality digital photographs arrived with the rollout of broadband technology during the late 1990’s.

Royalty Free – a new licensing model arrived in the mid 1990’s making images available for sale free from time and geographical restrictions – essential for microstock to exist.

The Business Model is Formed

Bruce Livingstone ran an enthusiast hobby website, iStockphoto, where designers and photographers traded photos for free. An outrageous Internet bill in 2000 prompted Livingstone to start charging 25 cents for downloading photos.

The Market is Formed

Competition arrives in the form of Dreamstime in early 2004 though their website had been online since 2000.   Shutterstock joined the market later in 2004 with a subscription only pricing model. Fotolia followed in 2005.

Microstock contributors start making respectable money with large portfolios of high quality photos. Yuri Arcurs turns contributing into a business, and Ron Chapple adds a microstock arm to his existing photography empire.

Vector images and Video are included at some microstock agencies between 2005 – 2007.

Stock Photography Starts Taking Microstock Seriously

Established stock photographers voice their concerns over the effect of microstock on their market. Concerns include microstock is lowering the value of their product and microstock is eroding the livelihood of the stock photographer.

Industry giant Getty Images acquires iStockphoto for US$50 million in 2006. Corbis enters microstock with SnapVillage in 2007.

Innovation Pushes Forward

Microstock agencies start trying variations on the business model with contributor-set pricing and hybrid microstock/macrostock pricing points known as “midstock” models.

What Will Come Next?

Most speculators point to market consolidation – the smaller microstock agencies will close or be acquired. Others predict microstock will grow, consuming even more of the stock photography market.

It’s still a young market. Stay tuned.

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