24 Sep 2008 Feeding the Microstock Beast
As 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.
Understanding 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?