How Much do Top Microstockers Earn?

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Money, Valentin MosichevThere’s been speculation about top microstocker earnings for some time. The market’s top selling contributor, Yuri Arcurs, has twice published his earnings figures, removing the need for further speculation. While that information is impressive and inspiring (maybe for some its a little depressing) there’s more to understand about those big numbers.

How Does Knowing Help?

Like all information, these figures can be helpful for making decisions. I’m receiving more and more requests for this kind of information from established stock photographers evaluating their own potential in the microstock market.

Ambitious microstockers are also using this information for insights into the relative appeal of their own portfolio. If their Return per Image (RPI – earnings divided by portfolio size) is equal or near to that of the top earners, they know they need to build the size of their portfolio to be earning a similar amount. If not, they need to improve the commercial appeal of their photos.

Earnings In Context

Earnings is only one side of the equation. Those at the top of the microstock market all have high costs – assistants, models, locations, camera equipment, computer equipment, travel. Hobbyists say it doesn’t take money to make money in microstock, but clearly it does if you want to earn a lot. In Ron Chapple’s 12 month earnings report he notes that despite earning strong revenue his microstock business is not yet profitable.

The context is also important when you look at how earnings are skewed in microstock. It’s very likely that the 80-20 rule applies: 20% of contributors earn 80% of all earnings. Little doubt remains that the majority of microstock contributors earn very little, though very few of those are as committed to microstock as the top earners.

It’s Easier at the Top

Earnings growth accelerates at the top of the microstock market:

  • Search algorithms at most agencies favor contributors with high sales ratios
  • Dreamstime’s price tiers raise earnings for successful photos
  • Fotolia allows contributors to raise their prices as their ranking level rises
  • Shutterstock’s commission schedule pays contributors more as their lifetime earnings rise

All these factors combine to produce a sharp upturn in earnings for the most successful contributors.

How Can I Earn That Much?

The common element among top microstock earners is a smart strategy. They work hard to build their portfolios, but just working hard isn’t enough. Before the hard work comes the smart work: researching market trends; investing in equipment; and continually refining skills.

Fortunately for us, many top microstock earners provide lots of helpful information via their blogs and websites to help us be more like them.

Posted June 16th, 2008 by


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