09 Jan 2008 Microstock Full Circle
When the microstock model first started gathering momentum, some professional stock photographers started complaining that it was eroding the value of photos. Now a vocal minority of microstock contributors have started complaining about low prices.
Specifically, the forum thread cites subscription agencies as the offenders for paying low per-sale royalties to the photographer and selling full size photos at the same price as small sizes. A petition has started within the thread to opt-out of StockXpert subscriptions and downsize photos uploaded to Shutterstock. This is intended to direct buyers to supply channels that are more lucrative for contributors.
Oh, the Irony
I can imagine some traditional stock photographers must be rolling on the floor in laughter while others cry and yet others shout “I told you so” at their computer monitors. The same photographers who created and contributed to the microstock market in defiance of claims of devaluing photography are now using words like “fair” and “union”.
Microstock as a market is only possible with crowdsourced content. Unions, petitions and movements can have no impact in an environment where the market’s suppliers are so varied and disconnected. Current microstock contributors:
- Come from all parts of the world
- Carry all variations of beliefs and values
- Range from hobbyist to established professionals
- Spend from nothing to tens of thousands of dollars on production
- Operate within the full spectrum of socio economic environments
This is the power that took the price of some photos from $300 to $1, and it’s the same power that makes a workable business model out of subscriptions that pay photographers 25 cents per sale.
Thanks to microstock, the stock photography market is finally subject to the laws of supply and demand. From this point forward it is the market that will determine the price.
What Business Are You In?
If you’re in the business of selling photos, you’ll be equally happy with an agency that sells 50 photos for $100 as one which sells 300 photos for $100.
However, if you’re in the business of improving the industry for the benefit of your fellow photographer, that’s very noble of you. You’ll likely drop the second agency as they’re not paying you as much per sale – they’re not paying ‘fair’ prices. But will this help your cause? Not likely. One of the other 29,999 microstock contributors will get your sales.
Almost all microstock contributors are in the business of selling their photos and they’re not too concerned with the price. That’s how microstock prices became what they are and why organized boycotts will have no impact. Shutterstock is among the top earners for most microstockers, so boycotting them or reducing file sizes is not in their interests if they’re in the business of selling photos.
Some of those who pioneered the rock-bottom price model in defiance of protests from established professionals are now repeating those protests about their own market. Stable prices were sacrificed for easy entry into the market and they’re never coming back.
While the protesters are largely well intentioned, their efforts are futile without a clear understanding of the forces at work in a crowdsourced / web2.0 based market. Higher royalties will be achieved when enough suppliers to represent the bulk of quality photos more their portfolios to more lucrative agencies. This is unlikely to occur while agencies with subscriptions are still among the highest earners.