12 Jan 2009 Microstock Talking Points in 2009
After looking back on 2008, let’s take a look at some of the trends which are likely to be frequent conversation topics in 2009 within the microstock market.
Quality will Continue to Rise
While this statement is blatantly obvious to anyone observing the market, quality requirements are rising at an increasing rate. All types of contributors are contributing to the rise:
Firstly, the hobbyists who’ve become professional stock photographers through the openness of the microstock market will continue to improve, increase production of high quality images, and grow in number.
Secondly, more traditional stock photographers will increase their involvement in microstock as they become aware that microstock is:
- not going away
- continuing to take market share away from the traditional market
- often more stable and predictable income if done well
- more lucrative for many types of photos
- not such stupid business after all
Thirdly, the hobbyists who are still hobbyists will continue to improve the quality of their submissions, by necessity. If they don’t, their photos will drown among the quality of new microstock professionals and traditional pros, lowering their earnings. Those who don’t step up will be moved on.
New Entrants will Struggle
No surprises here either, but the trend is less apparent. No longer are photography hobbyists and enthusiasts able to get started in microstock without serious quantities of research, practice and perseverance.
I’m often contacted by new microstockers who are frustrated with rejections and a lack of sales. When I look at their portfolios I’m reminded of my early microstock submissions. They would be universally rejected if submitted today. I have no doubt that had I started in 2005 my microstock career would have been very short.
While unsophisticated photo buyers and those deliberately seeking ‘snapshot’ styled photos continue to buy earlier microstock submissions for these qualities, albeit in small quantities, microstock agencies are no longer accepting such submissions. In addition to higher acceptance standards, images now compete with four or five times the quantity and much higher quality images than they did just a few years earlier.
As barriers to entry rise to again exclude hobbyists, and professional stock photographers reclaim the lost portion of their realm, the distinction of microstock as a market supplied by hobbyists will largely disappear in 2009.
Understanding will Improve
The traditional stock photography market isn’t straight-forward. The complex structure of multi-level distribution and the collection of very distinct licensing models made understanding the market difficult for new entrants and microstock photographers.
Similarly, the do-it-yourself nature of microstock, higher quality requirements, and mysterious algorithms make microstock appear like a minefield of permanent mistake opportunities to even the most seasoned traditional stock photographer.
However, now the markets are growing together. Microstock pricing is rising and traditional prices are falling. Additionally, traditional photographers are finding the opportunities in microstock, while microstockers are taking advantage of easy-entry opportunities in the traditional market. Both groups are educating themselves in the process. With this market integration and participant education process, the mutual understanding can only improve.
Traditional Stock Prices will Continue to Decline
As microstock quality and quantity continue to rise, microstock continues to erode the advantage of traditional Royalty Free stock. No longer is the quality difference so great. And no longer are the high quality microstock photos so few that they’ve sold thousands of times, appearing overused against traditional equivalents.
Rights Managed photos with usage history remain untouchable by microstock, but with Royalty Free stock sometimes an acceptable alternative, it’s logical to expect the downward price pressure will spill over.
Microstock “Community” will Lose Focus
As hobbyists become professionals and new hobbyists are held back by higher quality standards, the community element that was so crucial to the evolution of microstock will likely fade. Particularly at agencies who feel a mere forum justifies calling themselves a community.
The emphasis will shift toward a typical marketplace focused on sales and analysis rather than social interaction and community support. Agency websites will become more formal, with fewer or less obvious ratings, ranking, stars and blogs.
What Do You Think?
Do you agree these trends will continue and accellerate in 2009? What do you think will be the topics of 2009 in the stock photo industry?