25 May 2007 Microstock – Hobby, Job or Business?

We sell photos online as part of our design business. I know people who do it for a hobby, more for the thrill of having their photos published than for the money. I’ve also come across people online for whom microstock is their full-time job. Indeed I’ve read about some people who run a microstock business complete with employees.

Microstock as a Hobby

Boy with a Camera, Cliff ParnellMicrostocking as a hobby is straight forward. You have a good camera and enjoy taking photos. Most of your work sits on a disk in your home and you figure it might as well be ‘out there’ doing some good and earning you a little pocket money too. And why not?

So, you invest some time in figuring out which microstock websites to use and you get started uploading and keywording your photos. You likely hit the hurdles of rejections and discouragingly slow sales, but you overcome these build a respectable portfolio. Before you know it, you’re sitting back enjoying the passive income trickling in.

This is the magic of the Web2.0 model. You’re creating something of value that was previously prohibitively difficult to monetize. Now it takes just a few clicks and the whole world is enjoying your creations and you’re being rewarded for it.

Microstock as a Job

Photographer, Renee LeeThe second class of microstocker are those doing it as a job. Some of these people are new to photography and see microstock as a potential self-employment opportunity. The others are already professional photographers, or professional in a related field. To them microstock is a new revenue source that is simple and easy, though perhaps not as lucrative.

Those new to photography, including people who’ve just completed study of photography, microstock is a stepping stone. I suspect the majority of new photographers aspire to be great photographers with a name well known in the industry. This is a hard road and like actors, writers and painters, many likely hold waiter jobs to pay the bills until they ‘arrive’. What microstock can do is empower them to work within their industry to pay the bills rather than look to hospitality. With a little effort it can easily pay the rent with enough left over to buy decent equipment.

On the other hand, those already established in photography are likely split in their opinions of microstock. The thought of hobbyist and graduates being able to compete with them in an almost pure market may be concerning. Those who are not so concerned are likely pleased by the ability to monetize their gigabytes of photos doing nothing on a disk drive in their studio. To Stephen Strathdee, microstock represents an opportunity to increase autonomy for him as an established professional photographer.

An example of a professional photographer making a living exclusively from microstock is Amanda Rohde. Microstock is her job. She has a studio and equipment and spends her time shooting photos, uploading and keywording. She’s an exclusive contributor with iStockphoto where she has over 8,000 photos and even more reviews. She’s at Black Diamond status with over 200,000 sales. She blogs about her microstocking and has a website for her microstock business.

Microstock as a Business

That brings us to the final class of microstocker. A recent post on the ShutterStock forum generated a lot of blog posts and comments on other forums. It was made by Yuri Arcurs who announced he had passed the threshold of 1,000 downloads per day on ShutterStock.

Yuri runs a microstock business. He has 2 full-time assistants and 10 freelancers that edit images, upload and keyword for him, and he works very hard – up to 60 hours a week. He and his team produce 400 images per month. If you check out his portfolios you’ll see they’re 400 exceptional stock photos. And he’s not alone in making a real business out of the microstock market.

What about You?

Is microstock a hobby, a job or a business for you? Or do you fall into multiple classes like us? Maybe you’re currently microstocking as a hobby but aiming towards making it your full time job in the near future like David over at Spondicious Photography? Or maybe it’s already your job and you’re hoping to build it up as a business?

  • Bryan Zmijewski
    Posted at 15:02h, 26 May Reply

    Great post Lee.

    Another classification that you might touch on is ‘Microstock as Marketing’. Many microstockers have less than 10 images online. Is it because they don’t have time? Not good enough? Both maybe- but some artists use it as a way to gain more exposure and traffic to their websites. It’s another great way for buyers to gain some exposure as well.

  • Lee Torrens
    Posted at 15:47h, 26 May Reply

    Hey Bryan, thanks for your comments. Didn’t think about that one. Food for thought. …or maybe food for another separate post! Cheers.

  • Georg
    Posted at 12:40h, 21 April Reply

    Just wanted to point out a typo: “descent” should be “decent.”

    That’s all.


    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 20:39h, 21 April Reply

      Thanks G, all corrected now.


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