What is Microstock Photography?

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In the Studio, Jeremiah DeaseyMicrostock is a market for selling photos online (and also vector images and video) at low prices and with a royalty free license. It is part of the Stock Photography industry.

What is Stock Photography?

A stock photograph is one that has been taken without a specific brief. Commissioned photos are requested in advance and the photographer will shoot to specification. When a photographer shoots first and sells later, the photos are called ‘stock’.

Traditionally, stock photographs have sold at prices above US$400, via catalog or CD media, and through a handful of large organizations. It is comparatively very difficult for photographers to get into the traditional stock photo business.

Stock photos must be model released and cannot contain recognizable brands or trademarks. Stock photographs can be sold rights managed or royalty free. When sold rights managed, the use of the photo is controlled by time, quantity, duration and geographical region. Royalty free photos do not have the same restrictions.

What is Royalty Free?

Royalty free images can be used within a set of guidelines created by the vendor. However, unlike rights managed photos, there is no need for the buyer to report where the images are used, nor are there any time or geographical restrictions. Royalty free photos cannot be exclusive.

Microstock photos are always royalty free.

What is Microstock Photography?

Microstock is distinct from traditional stock photography in three ways:

  1. Images are sold at micropayment prices – meaning the prices are so low that you need to buy more than one to justify the cost of the transaction.
  2. Images are sourced from the general public – anyone can contribute, unlike traditional stock photography where only an elite few qualify to supply the market.
  3. Images are sourced via the Internet – web based and FTP technologies are used for the contributor to transfer images one at a time to the agency

What’s the New Terminology?

The term ‘microstock’ was derived from the term ‘micropayment stock photography’. The micropayment solution used by microstock agencies to overcome the prohibitive transaction costs for low value transactions is a minimum purchase.

Since the rise of microstock, the traditional stock photography market has often been referred to as ‘macrostock’. See this collection of microstock-related definitions for more guidance on the terminology.

Why Now?

Microstock was made possible by three changes in the photography industry and technology:

  1. The adoption of royalty free licenses – before royalty free licenses become common place all stock was sold rights managed.
  2. The spread of the Internet – computers and Internet technology have made the distribution of high quality photographs fast and efficient.
  3. Digital camera technology – the rising quality and falling prices of digital cameras have made high quality photography available to a larger number of people.

What has been the Impact?

Microstock has had an impact on the lower end of the stock photography market, with the clients more suited to microstock switching in order to save money. Larger clients with requirements for exclusivity of the photos they use are unable to take advantage of microstock’s lower prices.

Microstock has created a new sector of the photo buying market. Many organizations are buying photos for the first time because the low prices make it feasible. Yet, there is still a lot of controversy over how microstock has affected the stock photography industry.

How can I Earn Money with Microstock?

Start by reading How to Microstock.

Posted August 7th, 2007 by


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