06 May 2008 Perspective of a Microstock Early Adopter

Yanik ChauvinI recently discovered the blog of Canadian microstock contributor Yanik Chauvin. While it’s not uncommon to find a full-time microstocker with a high quality portfolio and accompanying blog, it is uncommon when you see the very low user IDs in his referral links! Yanik was the 95th person to join Shutterstock and 370th at Dreamstime. That’s why I call an early adopter.

Intrigued by what life as a microstock contributor must have been like so long ago (four years is a long time in the history of microstock), I contacted Yanik for some insights. What follows is the result of our discussion.

Yanik, as only the 95th person to register at Shutterstock, you’re clearly an early adopter. How long have you been a microstock contributor?

It all started with iStockphoto in May 2004. I got the lead from a forum post on DPChallenge.com. At first I thought it was a great opportunity to pay for some new gear. I realized after a few years that I could actually make a good living with just microstock photography.

Everyone says microstock agencies are becoming more strict over time. How much have acceptance standards changed over the time you’ve been contributing?

I totally agree with that statement. In the beginning the agencies were looking at portfolio growth more than quality. Now with 3 agencies over 3 million images and a 4th one almost there, their focus has shifted to quality and content relevance. I felt this change happen around late 2006 early 2007. Luckily, it seems that my general photo quality has improved with the agencies’ quality control standards evolution. Except for iStockphoto (which is around 65-70% acceptance), my acceptance rate is roughly 90-95%.

The number of microstock contributors is growing, but so is the number of buyers. Did microstock contributors make more money per photo back then or do they make more now?

That’s a very good question! I wish I knew the answer. I can only guess by what I experience and what I read from other top contributors. The way I see it is that it’s about the same. Why do I say this? Because I haven’t seen a drop in sales with my normal uploading behavior. My revenue is still climbing as I submit more stock worthy content. As my porfolio increases, my revenue increases. Months that I slack off or don’t submit (like last summer due to moving house), sales stagnate or go down. Of course, I’m not taking into account the normal purchasing down cycles like December, July and August.

Microstock is still controversial and unpopular with many old-school stock photographers. Was it more controversial back then when it was new, or more so now that it’s growing so fast?

From what I was reading back then compared to today, the controversial hype was stronger back then. There was a big wave of articles bashing the microstock business model and its non viability; not to mention critiquing the poor quality of accepted images. I think it’s safe to say that the business model is strong and sustainable and that image quality has improved dramatically to easily match that of the macros. I think “old school” stock photographers are slowly accepting microstock as either a very real threat or as a powerful ally.

New microstock agencies are currently popping up every week. Has the prolonged success of microstock agencies created this, or did everyone think there was money in microstock back then too?

Back then there WAS money to be made in microstock if you wanted to start a new agency. I think it’s next to impossible for the new agencies popping up to survive now. On the one hand you have the big guns like Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Dreamstime and Fololia with huge portfolios and big marketing budgets. And on the other hand you have the serious contributors who lack the financial motivation to submit their portfolios to new agencies. I’m at a point now that probably by the end of 2008, I’ll stop submitting to agencies that don’t give me a minimum payout every month. It would be a wise business decision on my part. I have yet to submit to SnapVillage even though it’s backed by Corbis.

How else has the microstock market evolved?

Well, we’re now seeing a slow rise in prices which I think is a good move on the part of the agencies. It’s a win-win scenario for both the contributor and agency. Price increases are also seen with the introduction of “midstock” portfolios at some agencies like Fotolia and 123RF.

What else is different now to when you started?

Video. That wasn’t around when I started. And I think microstock video will be a hot commodity within the next few years. I actually think good videographers will surpass good photographers’ income. If I had a video camera, I’d be shooting stock for sure!

In light of your observations of the microstock market over this time, what are your thoughts on future development?

Microstock is still in its infancy. There can only be one way to go and that’s up. The price gap between micro and macro is still too great so there’s a lot of room to play for the micros. I’m still unsure of how the new “midstock” models will play out for the micro agencies though. Personally, I don’t see the potential. Why would anyone pay $20-$50 for an image when they can get one almost as good if not as good for $1-$15? Not all good contributors will shoot for midstock which means quality images will overlap in both price ranges. The debate is on and only time will tell.

You can see Yanik’s portfolios here: iStockphoto; Shutterstock; Dreamstime; Fotolia; 123rf; Crestock; and StockXpert.

And his photography blog is also worth reading. Thanks Yanik for sharing your experiences.

  • Matt Antonino
    Posted at 22:23h, 07 May Reply

    Great interview – like Yanik I learned about microstock from DPChallenge forums – where I’ve know KosmikKreeper long before I knew Yanik Chauvin.

    He’s got me on Shutterstock (95 to 137) and DT (370 to 375) as far as contributor numbers. lol

    Agree with pretty much everything Yanik says as well – about the future, the gap, the growth potential, etc. Things have DEFINITELY tightened up. Fotolia specifically was always an “easier” agency traditionally. They have tightened a lot, so has DT.

    Great look back – and Yanik’s blog is great too – went straight to my feed reader. 🙂

  • prophotolife
    Posted at 09:56h, 08 May Reply

    Great perspectives from someone with such a lengthy track record. Microstock has very specific requirements in some regards but it shares trends with the overall business of photography, like a growing interest in video. It also seems to be the nature of all business that (as Yanik points out) taking even a few months off affects earnings. The pace of everything keeps stepping up.

    It’s heartening to hear that, as submission requirements get tighter, the payouts per usage are increasing. That’s always a good thing.

    Microstock photography is a fascinating study, thanks for keeping the informed perspectives coming…

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