05 May 2008 StockXpert Contributor Conference Reviewed
The place was crowded by ~150 participants and StockXpert crew. People used the long registration time for breakfast and socializing. Some people already knew each other via local off-line events; many people knew each other virtually via Russian microstock internet forums.
Besides two main guests “ Ron Chapple and Lev Dolgachov “ Jupiter Images has taken to the conference Patty Vargas (Senior Director of content in Jupiter), Steve Kapsinow (community Xpert at StockXpert), StockXpert founder Peter Hamza and a few other people.
After a short introduction by Steve the day started with Ron’s presentation ‘Creativity & Business’. StockXpert haven’t invited a professional translator, and Russian-speaking person brought by organizers didn’t know the subject. So Lev Dolgachov has volunteered to be a translator and made good comments during translation. Some were funny and sometimes Lev was adding his own perspective to Ron’s speech.
These are some bullet points from Ron’s presentation:
- The stock photography market is growing, new technologies create new markets (e.g. blogs).
- Stock photography is a lot of work, but don’t worry about “routine stock work” versus “creative art work”; just do what you enjoy. Creativity is about your pleasure and fun.
5 ideas for success:
- Show your model what you want. Really show gestures/poses yourself even if you look stupid.
- When you speak to your client ask question, then listen. Analyze your client and what they really want.
- Understand whether they are really looking for a keyword or for a concept. For example concept “freedom” or just “jump”.
- Keep everything simple
- Facts are facts
- Search for keyword ‘sad’. Top picture has 44 sales and sale numbers go down very quickly in the first row of returned pictures.
- Search for keyword ‘happy’. Top picture has about 350 sales, and all pictures on the first page of results have hundreds sales each.
- Even if you are sad, make your client happy. Happiness sells better.
(Remark by Lev: if you are keen to shoot sadness it can still sell well if you create it well “ and competition for niche market isn’t so tough. Don’t force yourself shooting what you don’t like – you will not be able to sell it.)
- Challenge yourself to take better pictures. Clients want new fresh ideas. Do not copy (other than just for learning something new). Original pictures always sell better – at least because they are first on the market even if it isn’t the best quality.
- Think about microstock as many small markets. There are 7 billion sales channels on the Earth.
- Answering questions from StockXpert contributors Ron explained that he always photograph separate sessions for traditional RF and for microstock; but the way he shoots is the same. Sometimes he photographs differently for RM.
- Approximately 1/3 of today’s stock income for Ron comes from microstock.
After Q&A session a slideshow of Ron’s own favorite photos was shown. Then Q&A continued:
- Always explain to models possible use of her/his pictures, including sensitive (medicine ads, men’s magazines etc)
- Ron pays most of his models, because:
- He will make money from the pictures
- For legal reasons in order to make a real contract
- A couple times a year people get back to Ron with some requests, so having the model release and money in order helps to answer that without any problems
- How much planning: Ron makes a list of possible pictures/ideas before the shoot (i.e. a rather high-level plan) but starts to deviate during the shoot. Usually he makes about 1/2 of the list; but the total session outcome is many more pictures than in the list.
- Ron photographs approximately 1/3 on his own, 1/3 with one assistant and 1/3 with a whole crew (for large/complex shots).
- One session lasts 1.5-3 hours. Usually Ron has 2-3 session per day for a few days and then a few days break. All retouching and keywording work is outsourced.
- It helps to be a little weird
Patty Vargas documented the event:
The day continued with Lev’s presentation in Russian. These are a few bullet points from his part:
- Microstock industry is growing
- Price increase doesn’t negatively affect sales
- Current prices are still lower than the client is ready to pay, despite several increases in the last 2 years; so the prices will grow
- Competition is growing and we have to grow our own part of the business. The good thing for us is that we don’t yet see much competition from India or China (good cameras too expensive for amateurs)
- Even photographer #1 shouldn’t sit and relax, otherwise he will be overtaken
- Trends change all the time. Clothes, styles, accessories (bags, shoes, mobile phones, music players etc) – everything changes daily. Photos need to reflect those changes
- We aren’t just photographers but also salesmen:
- Desire is important
- Determination to start doing business (not just determination to take pictures, but determination to do photo stock business)
- Do the work (and don’t just hang on in the forums discussing how to do the work; but really do it)
- Communication with better/more successful contributors helps with motivation (e.g. in the internet forums – but keep in mind the previous point)
- Diligence – do a lot and do it well
- Move with the market. Try new things, challenge yourself (but don’t force yourself to do the things you don’t like just because they are “selling well”)
- Quantity is important, but just repeating same things for quantity is useless
- Individuality – every successful photographer can be recognized by his pictures. It’s a two-fold thing: recognizable style or at least a few recognizable pictures that everybody knows are yours
- Copying means limiting your level and being behind the others.
- Communicate with colleagues, know people, agencies, personal contacts, market evolution, news – i.e. be part of the community.
- Even a very generic thing can sell very well if it isn’t well represented on the market. For example Lev was once asked for a picture of a human ear – apparently there were no good ones on microstock. In result he has made very good sales with his first picture of an ear – and less sales with consequent ones.
- Don’t answer unfair requests. E.g. no releases should be ever sent to client. Be sure what you should do and what you shouldn’t.
- However be open to opportunities. Lev has previously declined all commercial requests but now he listens first about what specifically is offered/requested – sometimes it’s just a special one-time extended license for an existing photo, that can’t be purchased on microstock.
- Sharing information pays back. Today you share information, next time you get information from others. You might have some personal tricks or secrets, but overall information is much more worth to be shared than kept secret.
- Shoot what you like. Don’t do what you don’t like. Yes you can try different things but don’t force yourself to do what you dislike. If you do what you like and practice it a lot it will become good sooner or later – and then it will sale.
- It’s not true that ‘art doesn’t sell on stock’. Real art sells well if it’s well done.
- Actors, dancers, singers are usually good models even if they aren’t well known. Just because they used to show themselves, to be on scene.
After the lunch Ron has shown practically how he works with the model, and how he uses natural light and reflector. It was interesting but it wasn’t easy to see and to hear as the number of attendees was high and there was no scene in the room.
(Steve apologized for inconvenience “ it was first time StockXpert was doing that kind of thing, and also nobody from the team has seen the room before the event)
After Ron’s workshop Lev was talking about the work with studio light. Although lighting equipment was available as well as the model, Lev’s part had to stay theoretical due to lack of time.
At the end of the official part, Jupiter and StockXpert perspective was shared and some questions answered. Again, I made notes in a form of main bullet points:
- Project number one for Jupiter and StockXpert is to make StockXpert content available through other JupiterImages channels and third-party licensing deals
- Second priority is new user interface, that will be more easy and more attractive to the customers
- Getting decent referral program in place is already in the list of top priorities but it’s hard to say when it will be implemented. Probably within a year but no promises.
- Apparently the original StockXpert team from Hungary (Peter Hamza and HAAP Media) is still in place, and all technical support is done by them.
- Most StockXpert sales are coming from the US, Brazil, UK, Germany, Netherlands
- Most of new StockXpert customers are coming from StockXpert project www.sxc.hu “ free stock photo site.
- When I asked about the queue size and very uneven review times, the answer was that the original database design wasn’t putting submissions chronologically, so they are taken for review randomly. Jupiter is trying to get more reviewers in place to reduce the review time.
- The question was asked about very tough property release rules at StockXpert when even seemingly generic window/door pictures get rejected. The answer from Patty was that StockXpert is now seen as part of greater Jupiter collection, and that the requirements from customers are much tougher now. For example a picture of a very generic and non-recognizable window might be rejected due to recognizable curtains “ to avoid legal issues with curtains maker.
- Jupiter sees that traditional Royalty Free gradually migrates towards microstock. Jupiter doesn’t know how stock photography market will look in several years, but they do see StockXpert as the integral part of Jupiter and they are trying to find the right place for it (thus the JupiterImages projects).
The official part was followed by informal reception. People split in many small groups chatting about photography and microstock and having food and drinks. There was a fun lottery organized “ a few Corel graphic packages and a few Lensbabies were raffled off among the participants.
I enjoyed the day, and I saw that most other participants enjoyed it too. It seems that Jupiter/StockXpert team were satisfied with the result too. One item that was particularly interesting for me was to see that Jupiter looks at StockXpert as part of greater corporation and is already trying to get it to the right place “ the thing that we don’t see with Getty/iStockphoto neither with Corbis/Snapvillage.