13 May 2008 Microstock Contributor Competiton

Competition - Andres RodriguezWhy do some microstock contributors want to keep microstock a secret from other photographers while others tell all their photographer friends about it and ‘spread the word’?

Contributors Keeping it a Secret

Those who wish to keep other photographers from discovering microstock and more generally, the ability to sell photos online, want more of the market for themselves. It’s a natural competitive motivation in an open market – the fewer competitors you have, the bigger your own portion of the market.

Contributors Spreading the Word

These contributors love telling their friends about how they’re earning from their photography and often have blogs or websites to document their adventures. They’re not ignorant about the fact they’re creating more competition for themselves, they’re just not concerned about it.

Why I Spread the Word

I clearly fall into the latter category. I write about my adventures selling photos online, post about news in the market and do armchair analysis about agencies and other contributors. My business model is simple. I provide as much value for other microstock contributors as I can, attracting as many as possible and keeping them coming back. In return I benefit by monetizing their visits to my website. I clearly have an incentive to spread the word.

But even before I started Microstock Diaries, I told friends and family about microstock and encouraged other photographers to contribute. There must be other incentives to share besides the money.

Growing Together

In popular microstock forums you find many microstock contributors actively helping each other. They often use a lot of time and energy to write down their experiences, advice and thoughts on the market, and answer questions from less experienced contributors. They do so without any financial benefit to themselves. It’s a generous atmosphere, which is quite confusing when you consider that they’re all competitors. So what’s their motivation?

It’s community. Not the community that microstock agencies cite when they have a few contributors talking on their forums, but the community where self-interest gives way to an interest for the greater good of the group. Participants can freely and easily receive help and guidance. They also band together to challenge common adversaries, which for microstock is usually nay-saying traditional stock photographers. This is common on the Internet where community can produce powerful bodies of expertise and support.

In such an atmosphere, microstock contributors are more of a team than competitors in a market. What they stand to gain from cooperation is greater than the risk of extra competition. This is not a new phenomenon. It’s even been given a name.

Does it Hurt?

But in the bigger picture, will spreading the word eventually work against microstock contributors?

Spreading the word can only hasten the uptake of microstock contributing, not create it. The contributors keeping it a secret are doomed to failure, though most likely are aware of it. Likewise, most contributors spreading the word are likely aware of the scale of a global market.

A quick look at casual evidence from around the world provides insights. Microstock appears massive in Russia and Eastern Europe where high quality digital cameras are coming within reach of many and where microstock earnings represent a lucrative geo-arbitrage opportunity. It will be interesting to see the results once these same circumstances hit Chindia.

In the End…

In the end you can’t control the market. Traditional stock photographers protesting the rise of microstock are proof of that. The good news is that the future doesn’t exist and in the present, microstock represents a massive opportunity for photographers. Super-successful stock photographer Ron Chapple is known for adapting to changes in the market to maintain earnings. Any changes that threaten your livelihood are not going to happen overnight. You will have time to adapt. The will to adapt is another question.

  • prophotolife
    Posted at 14:43h, 13 May Reply

    I’m a believer in the abundancy theory, sharing what we know to make an entire industry better. If we elevate an industry (as a whole) then everyone stands to gain, don’t they?

    Competition can be a terrible distraction. Somebody once gave some great advice: “create, don’t compete”. Why spend time looking over your shoulder when you should be looking forward?

  • Lorraine Swanson
    Posted at 16:04h, 13 May Reply

    LOL, I needed to buy some images a few years ago and a designer told me about Istock and Dreamstime (with no referral code attached!) but begged me to keep them secret. Huh? I don’t know what was so secret about them… I started buying photos and thought “hey, I can sell photos too!”

    I appreciate the little community that has built around this industry. I don’t have a single friend who is as enthusiastic about photography as I am. And, although I feel like I know many in the industry (like you Lee!), I really don’t know a single micro-contributor in the flesh. So who do I have to talk to about it? Not my family. Not my friends. My peers. If I need help with something I can usually find it from my direct competition!

  • Mike McDonald
    Posted at 19:16h, 13 May Reply

    There are some things I won’t share. Not many, but some. This is a community, but it’s also a business, and some things just shouldn’t be given away. There is one site I contribute to that I won’t tell anyone about. It’s a great site for vectors but doesn’t have many vector contributors, so I do really well there. If I announce what it is, I’ll undoubtedly lose money when vector artists flood the upload queue. Eventually it will get out there, but I’m not going to be the one to tell people.

    I’m happy to offer advice and info most of the time, but I draw the line at revealing things that can have a direct impact on my earnings.

  • Don McGillis
    Posted at 00:18h, 14 May Reply

    Mike has a point and it’s a well understood part of market life cycle that the early adopter will reap larger profits until there is market saturation and profits flatten out followed by commoditization where profits dwindle to near zero. Witness the personal computer industry, the deregulated airline industry, the history of the web browser, or any one of a number of other business models and, yes, sadly at some point this will impact the microstock business. It’s not a bad thing, it just is. Adapt, adopt, survive, right?

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