24 Sep 2008 Feeding the Microstock Beast

Tired Photographer, Maxim PetrichukAs microstock contributors we know we need to continue uploading new photos in order to maintain a stable earnings level. This is partially caused by some agency algorithms favoring new images over older ones. However, that’s not the only reason. With a little investigation it becomes clear that microstock isn’t just about the total quantity of images available. It’s also about the ongoing supply of fresh images.

Buyers Want Fresh Images

It’s quite obvious – given the choice between two workable images a buyer will choose the one with the latest upload date. In most circumstances, buyers want to project a modern image when they use stock photos.

Given the microstock subscription model you would think that buyers would stockpile images with the generous download limits and then stop buying once they had enough. Obviously this happens on some scale, but healthy sales levels in most microstock subscription services seems to indicate many buyers are more interested in fresh images than avoiding the cost of a subscription.

So both microstock agencies and microstock contributors need to get fresh images in front of stock photo buyers, or at least help buyers perceive images as fresh.

How Agencies Do It?

Agency algorithms, most famously at Shutterstock, favor new submissions in the results of relevancy searches. This contributes to the sharp decline in earnings of newly contributed photos, but it’s also well aligned with the need to funnel fresh imagery to where buyers are looking.

It’s also possible for agencies to literally demonstrate the freshness of their portfolios. In addition to showing the total size of their portfolios, Shutterstock and StockXpert both promote the quantity of new submissions in the past week on the front pages of their websites.

Of the top microstock agencies, only iStockphoto, StockXpert, BigStockphoto and 123rf show the upload date for each photo on the detail page. Hiding the date allows buyers to assume an image may be more fresh than it is.

Is it the Same in Macrostock?

I don’t know of any good reason to assume that macrostock buyers have less desire for fresh and recent photos than microstock buyers. A quick check reveals no visible dates on images at Getty Images but on some images at Corbis.

What it Means for Microstockers

Few experienced microstockers are under any illusion that microstock generates a purely passive income. It’s not news, but understanding buyer needs and how agencies fulfill them helps explain the relationship between your upload rates and earnings growth.

New and Old, Natalia SiverinaUnderstanding the time sensitivity of stock photos also highlights the need to shoot timeless images. This means using classic fashions and avoiding the details of fast developing technologies such as cell phones and laptop computers. This keeps your images from being ‘date-stamped’ by their content, which can reduce the length of time they’re appealing to buyers. Alternatively, intentional use of old or ‘retro’ styles has its niche uses.

But it’s not all about changing the way you shoot and feeding the beast. Many microstock agencies help you grow your earnings over time by raising the visibility of your entire portfolio when you contribute new photos. That is, when you contribute new photos, both your new and your old photos receive more exposure and subsequently more sales. Compounding earnings growth is there if you can sustain your contributions over an extended period.

As for the rate of decline, it may also be good news depending on your expectations. Belgian microstock contributor Stefan Hermans (Perrush) stopped contributing new images for 8 months and saw a 50% drop in earnings. Other contributors have reported less of a drop with longer periods of inactivity.

What’s Your Experience?

Have you taken an extended time away from contributing photos in the microstock market? How much of an earnings drop did you experience?   What do you do to make your subjects timeless?

  • Perrush
    Posted at 06:26h, 25 September Reply

    Hi Lee,

    tnx for that link to my article :o)

    I got today a notice my name was used on a site (google alerts), so I came to check it out. Seems google crawls your site pretty fast, always a good sign.


  • Marek
    Posted at 12:54h, 25 September Reply

    9 months ago I saw microstock as a sort of investment – portfolio bringing a passive income …

  • Damian P. Gadal
    Posted at 20:49h, 25 September Reply

    Passive and Income just don’t seem to go together. I spend at least 20+ hours a week, shooting, processing, key wording and uploading. It’s something I like to do, so I don’t mind, but what I find is that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it.

    Nice article, btw.

  • Steven
    Posted at 11:17h, 26 September Reply

    Hi lee

    This is an interesting article you have written. I agree with most of it. However, with my experience it took only 1 month to drop to 50%! lmao.

    I am a big believer of feeding the beast too. You do totally get out what you put in. I must say also that i found with regular uploading the sales increase expenentially.

    How do i make sure my images are timeless? I never thought about it before reading this. I have a variety of images in my ports which seem to cover some of the seasons throughout the year but there is MUCH more to be done yet.

    Just 2 cents from a guy with a 345 image gallery.


  • Diversify
    Posted at 12:40h, 26 September Reply

    Feeding the beast.. yes, that is part of the job. But.. many photographers do not understand this, The beast do not like spam, he throws up on it. What i mean is photographers who are uploading tons of very similar images. This is actually the biggest work for the reviewers, not rejecting bad quality, but rejecting what could be thought as photographers spamming their own portfolios. They do what they can so this situation wont be thrown at the customers.

    We all take a lot of very similar images, most of them deleted directly in camera, but many comes in our computers, where we take a closer look to see wch one is the keeper. Many times we do have a hard time deciding which one is the best shot, this is where so many photographers fail, they upload all of them, leaving the work to decide to others. But what are they saying doing that? They say by that behaving that they are not competent deciding even over their own images! Imagine to wade through 38 shots of the same scene, to pick out the best one of them, and that there are 300 cases of the same mess every week, thats 11400 images, per week! Well, it is a lot easier to reject them all when a bunch of similar thumbnails appear. Followed by a “damn spammer” thought.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 15:48h, 26 September Reply

      Thanks for the perspective, anonymous reviewer. I can understand beginners using agencies this way in order to learn what is ‘marketable stock’, but beyond a few submissions, I agree it’s spammy.

      I would expect most agencies include metrics in their search algorithms that penalize portfolios with too many images with low sales. This way, spamming their portfolio works against the contributor. I know some agencies do this.


  • Curt
    Posted at 17:38h, 26 September Reply

    I recently took a month or so off and I agree… sales dropped, especially at ShutterStock, back to the point of an occasional “0” day… ouch.

  • Zbynek
    Posted at 11:28h, 01 October Reply

    I also dont understand “spaming pics” and why the editors let this happen. Unfortunately keyword spaming is probably worst issue on microstock, just randomly search anything on SS and you get at least 50% of completely unwanted stuff with obvious keyword-spam. The situation isnt much better on other sites, maybe IS is slightly better.

    I havent uploaded to SS about 6 weeks and the sales go down very rapidly. I have portfolio of about 200 pics on SS, now uploading irregularly but at least twice a month and it still seems there is lot of random sales. You need to push much much more to get usefull numbers, I bet 10-20 pics a week are minimum to keep sales going. So those talks about “passive income”, “investment” etc. are simply lies.
    However DT seems to wake up after few months of slow uploads and sales are rising. The best performer is IS, where the sales are going up with portfolio size and irregular uploads or month delay doesnt seem to have any influence.

Post A Comment