Microstock is here and it’s not going anywhere. It’s a business model that works for some clients and it works for some photographers. Does it work for outdoor and nature photographers? I am sure it does for some and not for others.
I like all photographers are looking at every potential revenue stream, however, I can’t make Microstock work for me.
There is plenty of talk that the industry is heading towards Microstock and photographers must accept lower prices. Okay, fine, show me why!
My last two stock sales of two images in the last week are more than the average Microstocker makes in a month. Traditional RM sales are still there, some clients still have money to spend.
But as outdoor and nature photographers looking to be profitable, examine where they fit into the market, the Microstock numbers don’t crunch.
Lee Torrens over at Microstock Diaries generously shares his sales figures in the Microstock market. Some of his shoots have been quite profitable others not so. He shares the fact that you have to keep costs down, way down, and he does that by piggybacking shooting with other activities.
Lee also mentions in this post that “Most hobbyist microstockers like myself don’t calculate out their costs for each shoot. Most of us don’t need to and many wouldn’t care if it turned out they were making a loss.”
That’s fine. He does not rely on stock sales for a living and many (not all) of the newcomers in the Microstock business are the same way, part timers. But outdoor and nature photographers have costs that can’t be avoided.
I will make an example of myself
Here is an example of my costs to drive 50 miles to Crater Lake for a day of shooting:
Gas: 150 miles roundtrip. 20 miles per gallon at $3.00 a gallon = $22.50 in gas costs.
My salary based on $60,000 per year or 2088 working hours = $28 an hour x an 8 hour shoot day = a payroll of $224.00 for that day.
I packed peanut butter and jelly plus a banana for lunch and will “eat” that expense.
Total shoot costs $250.00.
Post production time: 3 hours of post processing at the same hourly wage of $28 an hour = $84.00.
I just look at the cost of the shoot, $330.00, and divide that by an average download price of .30 cent per download, I need to have 1100 downloads from that day.
Is that possible? Sure it’s possible! Is it likely? I doubt it!
I also do other things like assignments, but that is not an excuse to intentionally subsidize stock shooting at a loss.
Am I missing something? Maybe, but the numbers just don’t crunch for me.
So what does this mean for the industry?
Some extremely talented photographers who created phenomenal work a decade ago aren’t shooting because the money is not there.
Microstock rock star Yuri Acurs, an incredibly talented lifestyle shooter, admits recently in this post that his income per image has been cut in half due to market conditions, alluding to the fact that he needs to shoot 11,000 images per year to maintain his level of profitability. That’s going to be some hard work!
What will clients think when the libraries they search for images are reduced to imagery that was created with no budget by ‘weekenders’?
One thing I have always done is pay my models. In the early days I did what the Microstock advocates profess: keep costs down and since models are the most expensive cost generally, I asked friends and others to model.
This worked great, for awhile, until they said they had to be paid. It does not take long for generosity to evaporate when people feel you will make money and there is nothing in it for them.
So I shoot little stock with models these days and I charge as much as I can get for my current stock files with people.
Seriously, who are the winners here? In my opinion; the customer and the agency owners win but not the artist.
Look at Your Costs
What is most important is that outdoor and nature photographers take a look at what they shoot and the costs to shoot it. Unless photographers resort to shooting dandelions in their backyard with little or no costs, the photographer specializing in travel, national parks, or the photographer/climber specializing in global expeditions, the MS model won’t cover a fraction of costs.
Does the outdoor and nature photographer with exclusive coverage have to compete in those markets? It depends. There are plenty of photographers who in retirement hope to make some side money. But there are plenty of full timers who thought their stock was a retirement plan that is now crashing like the stock market.
Maybe this mean that outdoor and nature photographers will look at the stock agency as the place to earn a little extra income while their main focus is direct sales to publishers, agencies and designers, and maybe print sales. But if talented stock shooters shy away from the agency where does that leave them?
If my agents don’t take what I want to place as RM then I keep it for myself.
The whole issue for me indicates that stock will be a side gig for some time, but I am okay with whatever Rights Managed sales I can make, no matter how few.
In the end, you have to go place your work where you think you will do best.
I tried, I really did try to make the numbers crunch!
Share your opinion on this hot button subject. Leave a comment.
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