13 Aug 2007 Microstock – Viva la Revolucion!
It seems to be taking a long time for some in the stock photography industry to accept microstock. And that’s ok. It’s a big change and photography is a big industry. It’ll take time.
Why Some Photographers Feel Threatened by Microstock
First, it’s important to acknowledge and validate the point of view of the photographers resisting microstock. As with all debate, there is variety in the points put forward. Many are well thought out and accurate, while others are fear-motivated attacks. So what are some of the reasons some stock photographers are still hitting out?
- Structural Unemployment – Just like the word processor decimated the number of secretaries, the rise of cheap digital SLR cameras and the Internet have hit professional macrostock photographers.
- Status Changes – Where there were previously a few hundred stock photographers in the world, now there are tens of thousands. Virtually anyone in a rich country can successfully dabble in the profession, eroding the status of the Stock Photographer profession.
- No More Gravy Train – Stock photographers could previous earn a descent living from a portfolio of 200 photos. Not anymore. With part of the buyer market defecting to microstock, such photographers can’t get as many high priced sales.
What Some Photographers are Saying about Microstock
The common themes of what is being said can be summarized as:
- Microstock is destroying the stock photography industry
- Microstock devalues a valuable commodity
- Microstock photographers don’t care who they hurt
Why Photographers Don’t Need to Feel Threatened
- Structural Unemployment – with microstock taking a chunk of the macrostock market, less stock photographers will remain stock photographers. Natural selection will see the best survive. The rest need to improve or find something else.
- Status Changes – Yuri Arcurs and Andres Rodriguez do an exceptional job of microstock, something that anybody can do. They’re earning good income and producing great images and both have highly visible profiles. Neither of them, nor their peers, have issues with the status of what they do.
- No More Gravy Train – microstock has added a new pricing level to the stock photography market. Any macrostock slowdown caused by microstock shows the market was paying macrostock prices under protest. If microstock is eroding your income, the market doesn’t value your contribution at the price you’re asking.
Other Industries Went Before
As an industry, and profession, upturned by the Internet and advances in technology, Stock Photography is in good company:
- Music industry – initially upturned by file sharing networks undermining distribution and bypassing payment. Home recording technology and distribution methods such as podcasting and iTunes mean anyone can become a popular musician.
- Video/Film industry – also sent into panic mode by Internet file sharing and cheap DVD duplication technology. Digital video cameras have advanced at the same rate as still cameras, bringing high quality video filming within reach of everyone. Video sharing websites such as YouTube make distribution and publication instant. Microstock is also stepping in with video sales, providing the exact same commercial opportunities to amateurs.
It’s Not Really a Revolution
Nor is it even a battle. Microstock is a new, technology enabled, portion of an established market. It’s simply offering a product at a price point preferred by some of the market’s buyers. Stock photography is now part macrostock, part microstock. The controversy is only a part of some macrostock photographers still coming to terms with their loss of market share.
The large music recording companies have for many years made easy profits for little added value, much to the frustration of their customers. Subsequently, many of these customers are embracing new alternative distribution methods. Similarly, a handful of stock photographers have made their living charging up-market prices to the entire market. Now a portion of the buyers are embracing the down-market pricing of microstock. It’s simple, and there nothing particularly new about it.