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Microstock Photos for Profit
How to make money selling through microstock photo sites.
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Microstock Photos For Profit
© Copyright 2010 New Media Entertainment Ltd. Copyrighted material. All rights reserved. No reproduction, reselling,reprinting, or republishing, in whole or in part, is permitted. ISBN-10: 1609350049 ISBN-13: 978-1609350048 There is no warranty as to the accuracy of the material contained herein and it may not be relied upon for any purpose. THE PRODUCTS AND SERVICES DESCRIBED IN THIS EBOOK ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL AND INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. ANY EXAMPLES AND ADVICE GIVEN IN THIS EBOOK SHOULD NOT TO BE CONSTRUED TO GUARANTY ECONOMIC SUCCESS. DUE TO MANY VARIABLE RISKS, YOU MUST MAKE YOUR OWN INDEPENDENT JUDGMENT AS TO THE VIABILITY OF ANY BUSINESS TRANSACTION. EVEN IF YOU FOLLOW THE ADVICE GIVEN IN THIS EBOOK, YOU MAY NOT MAKE ANY MONEY AND
INDEED, MAY SUFFER LOSSES. Cover photo: istock © aldra Book design by DesignForBooks.com
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Introduction 1 SHOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL 1 4 5 7 10 13 16 17 20 23 26 27 30 34 37
1.1 Images that Mean Business 1.2 Idealism Versus Realism 1.3 Create a Style . . . or Copy the Masters? 1.4 Elements and Finished Products 2 2.1 UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES The Sell-Through Rate —What It Can Tell You and What It Can’t
2.2 How Much Is an Image Worth? 2.3 One Site or Many?
MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO
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3.1 Using a Website to Promote Your Microstock 3.2 Using Flickr to Promote Your Microstock
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3.3 Size—And Frequency—Count Conclusion
Of all the changes to affect the photography world in recent years, few have had the impact of microstock sites. Open to anyone who wants to submit images and charging prices that start at just a dollar for royalty-free use, microstock companies have been accused of dragging down the value of stock portfolios but they’ve also created opportunities for talented part-time photographers.
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Professionals been appalled but enthusiasts have been cashing in. iStock, Fotolia and Dreamstime, three of the biggest stock companies, each boast libraries of between three and four million files.
000 images a week. Obviously. fifteen equipment. the most important figure is always INTRODUCTION – + 2 .000 a year from microstock. Stock images tend to have a certain look and while that can make planning your shots simple. Several are portfolio stays fresh and active. with several more contributors close behind. one that has expenses in the form of On Fotolia. Of course. Those photographers don’t treat microstock photography as simply a way to generate some extra income. In this ebook.TRODUCTION And they’re growing at a rate of around 100.000 them upload constantly to make sure their a year. They don’t even treat it as a full-time job. photographers are Some of them hire staff to help with the post-production or the lighting. not all of the tens of thousands of people who have contributed to each of those sites are making a lot of money. it does leave photographers struggling to decide whether to create images that have been shown to sell or to branch out with a style of their own. we’re going to look at some less. But some are. of the most important considerations that photographers must bear in mind when trying to generate income from microstock photography. Fotolia alone has fifteen photographers who make over $200. time. software and models. They treat it as a business. N e x t Pa g e We’ll then talk a little about the figures. And all of making $200. The math of microstock is probably its most overlooked aspect but it’s still important. making slightly contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e We’ll begin by talking about the images themselves.
TRODUCTION going to be the number on the check but in the course of creating even a small-scale microstock business. It is meant to be an overview of the most important things that any microstock photographer should know. you will have to pay attention to your sales figures. But there are a few things that you can do to improve the chances that a buyer will buy from you and not from another photographer. To some extent. And finally. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 3 INTRODUCTION . This ebook isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide to microstock photography. and that they’ll come back to you when they need images in the future. The whole idea of stock photography is that you can focus on taking the pictures while the company handles the sales—that after all. That would be a much longer course. the value of your images and even the number of sites you join. this is done for you. is why you allow them to take a large chunk of the sales price. that means it contains information that every photographer should know. we’ll talk about marketing your portfolio. And with an open invitation to anyone with a camera to submit images that might just make money. We’ll explain how to read the stats.
not the images that photographers necessarily want to produce. N e x t Pa g e – + 4 The first is fun but rarely makes money. It’s a business. and taking photos that sell and trying to enjoy them. but it’s not a hobby. The second can make money but you’ll have to look for ways to make it fun.SHOOTING I MAGES THAT SELL 1 Microstock photography is an activity that anyone can do in their spare time. . It’s about creating products that buyers need. it certainly helps if you enjoy shooting the sort of photos that sell on microstock sites but there’s a big difference between taking the photos you like and trying to sell them. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e Of course.
It should also be a portfolio that reflects your personal style. provides a “stock photographer training manual” that lists briefly what the company wants and doesn’t want. 1. and creating sellable shots that you enjoy.1 Images that mean BusIness Browse the information pages on microstock sites and you’ll be given a clue to the sort of images that the companies are looking for. what sort of images his company was looking for. full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e The list of needed images however.An important part of achieving success in microstock photography then is going to be understanding what sort of images buyers need. being able to stand out from the microstock crowd with a collection of images that buyers can rely on is an important part of creating a stable customer base. followed by images of flowers. iStock. contentS iStock doesn’t want a picture of your cat— however cute it might be. begins with “corporate shots.” “teams” and “concept stock. one of Fotolia’s founders. The result shouldn’t just be a portfolio that’s commercial. for example. flags and feet. When we asked Oleg Tscheltzoff.” Those demands seem to stretch right across stock sites and remain relatively static. As we’ll see. he reeled off a list that was remarkably similar: S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL N e x t Pa g e – + 5 . Topping the list of “doesn’t wants” is your dog or cat.
It might help that he’s in London. old people. – + 6 S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL .” he told us. Both also use their websites to bring in new models. another high-earning microstock photographer. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e Finding models will be an ongoing job but Andres Rodriguez reports that he has to turn people away. but with the right marketing. and to have a long list of business situations that you want to pose and shoot.” That’s unfortunate because images without people are much easier to shoot. a policy also used by Elena Elisseeva. many top microstock photographers turn to people they know. They also need compositions that reflect the sort of business situations that buyers are going to need. two of the world’s most successful microstock photographers. Business teams and business meetings. “Images with people inside sell much more. Lifestyle and families. it shouldn’t be too hard to find people willing to pull on some business clothes and smile as though they’ve just signed a milliondollar contract. Happiness. The first challenge of a microstock photographer then is to know where you can find a good supply of models. To solve the first problem. a place with a large population. models who look good in suits and are willing to sign model release forms. Images with people need models—and of course. The partners of Yuri Arcurs and Andres Rodriguez. Offering discs or prints containing the images created during the shoot as payment keeps the costs low and gives rising professional models an incentive to let you photograph them for free. both feature in their images.“Business images. Everything around people.
Art directors and designers looking for pictures of animals. Buyers looking for pictures that reflected healthcare. 1.2 IdealIsm Versus realIsm Photography: Andres Rodriguez/Fotolia contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 7 In 2008. Photoshelter.A little harder will be producing good ideas for the compositions. ethnic minorities or senior citizens however were less than satisfied. And some 45 percent of respondents S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL . a portfolio and stock company. carried out a survey of stock buyers to find out what they thought of the images available to them. travel destinations or food and drink reported that they were relatively well-served.
Professionals hoping to sell licenses for hundreds of dollars are more likely to turn to agencies to find the people they want to shoot. (Although PhotoShelter also told us that buyers didn’t want images of people with comb-overs. According to the survey. As we’ve seen. It wasn’t just that buyers wanted to see more business photos. But what they had to say about those kinds of images was particularly interesting. they also wanted to see more realistic business photos. As PhotoShelter put it in their summary of the survey’s results: “Buyers really want pictures of real life: candid. it seems. and obese people presented in a neutral or even positive light instead of with the more common negative connotations.” “normal or average-looking” subjects instead of professional models.” suggesting that looking for models is worth the effort. family as models. and then to the public at large to people their portfolios.” The respondents went on to state specifically that they wanted to see pictures of real people “with flaws. S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL stock photographers . Some things can be a little Many top microtoo real. microstock photographers tend to turn first to friends and family.) contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 8 That might put microstock photographers—as opposed to stock use their friends and photographers—at an advantage.said that they most frequently looked for images associated with “business situations and settings. non-posed imagery that depicts its subjects behaving naturally (and not waiting for the camera to snap).
microstock images also show smooth. idealistic images are what buyers have always purchased and are likely to continue S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL . The biggest source of natural. unposed images is always going to be Flickr. still believes that its posed. green meadows and blue skies.” Creativity and imagination play an important role in stock photography since the subjects that sell are around us every day. Browse microstock images though.” So would microstock photographers be better off with a portfolio that looked more like AP’s news images than Getty’s stock library? The only way to know for sure is to upload realistic images. the company has also made clear that it isn’t expecting to make much money out of the deal. and see if they sell. only seven were professional.paying them mostly with images. N e x t Pa g e contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e – + 9 Getty. Like traditional stock photos. airbrushed skin. When Yuri Arcurs organized his biggest ever shoot. hope they’re approved. which has tens of millions of photos available for free use under Creative Commons licenses. There’s a good chance though that despite buyers’ survey comments. and you certainly won’t find anything you could mistake for reportage. smiling faces. it seems. That’s often the result of a clear strategy to create pictures that are aspirational rather than reflective: “Stock photography is about making the real world look like an ideal world. While Getty has teamed up with the photo-sharing site to offer selected contributors its standard rates. of the 25 models he brought into the studio. they wouldn’t win too many downloads.” says Andres Rodriguez.
purchasing in the future—even if some users will also want the sort of rare. who is one of Oleg Tscheltzoff’s fifteen highest earning photographers. N e x t Pa g e – + 10 Part of that study involves looking at the sort of images that have been purchased by buyers and the sort of photos that are offered by S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL . . Finding models who aren’t professional will keep costs down and add a touch of realism. The best strategy then—the one that reduces the risk of a portfolio that’s either too unusual to sell or too dull to win views—might be a combination of the two approaches. even that demands creativity and imagination. understanding the sorts of products that the image market is looking for and knowing how to produce them takes time. Few though will believe that they’ve created works of art. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e Like any commercial enterprise. 1. specific images best supplied by Flickr’s long tail. points out. or Copy the masters? Successful microstock photographers will always be proud of their portfolios. As Andres Rodriguez. . There’s a learning curve that’s shortened by practice and careful study.3 Create a style . They might do that in their spare time but when they upload the result of their month’s shoots. they know that they’ve created products—business products that the market needs. Asking them to smile at the camera rather than shoot them in the moment will create the sort of images that buyers have been picking up until now—if only because those are the only pictures available.
photographers hoping to increase their chances photographers copy— of making sales simply reproduce different versions of images that are but that doesn’t mean already seen to be selling well.top-performing sellers. Photography: khz/Fotolia contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e The result though is often a large pile of similar-looking photographs. Microstock sites make that easy by showing the number of views and downloads an image has received. goldfish. It’s even possible to look at the most popular files to see which images sell the most. S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL . Rather than attempt Even the top to break the mold. seem to spend all their time leaping into and out of each other’s bowls. you should. for example. N e x t Pa g e – + 11 For microstock photographers.
For Andres that’s a combination of happy idealism. For Yuri Arcurs. And those images will reflect his own. N e x t Pa g e – + 12 S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL . it’s an image that reflects “feelings. They may not need to though. the composition. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e Copying the masters might be a useful way to get started. for example. the depth of focus or the lighting. although he doesn’t reproduce other people’s images. unique style. copying is an understandable strategy.” A regular microstock buyer may well be able to recognize an image shot by one of the site’s top contributors. the context.” As a way of shortening the length of time it takes to learn the ropes.“[W]hen you are new to the market you tend to shoot what you see instead of creating something innovative. Those notes then become the inspiration for an entirely new set of photographs. About half of Yuri Arcurs’s sales. “Unfortunately copying in microstock has become so popular that it is actually happening amongst the top contributors. come from repeat buyers. for example. which magazine used the picture. One of the most important results of developing your own style is that buyers return to the same photographer the next time they need an image.” says Andres Rodriguez. rooted in common surroundings. Andres Rodriguez himself. He might point out the colors used. the angle. does keep records of other photos and notes what he likes about them. but joining them with a style of your own is the best way to keep the sales rolling in.
1.4 elements and FInIshed produCts Photography: Elena Elisseeva/Fotolia contentS One of the big debates in microstock concerns the amount of post-production an image should undergo before it’s uploaded. Clearly. S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 13 . a certain amount of work is always going to be necessary if only because noise levels are among the most common reasons submissions are rejected. But that leaves them less room to make changes themselves. perhaps airbrushing out the wrinkles and pimples is a bad move. But where do you stop? If buyers want models with flaws. are graphic designers who spend more time with Photoshop than the photographers supplying the images. after all. Many of the buyers.
add other elements and build an image of his own that’s unique and suitable for his context. professionals seem either to err on the side of caution or hedge their bets. single subjects or simple photos with the minimum of post-production. some microstock photographers divide images into two categories: finished products and elements. In fact. Others will also offer photos that leave the buyer plenty of room for further manipulation. we’re told. N e x t Pa g e – + 14 Building a profitable microstock portfolio takes time. They could be small parts of a larger image. It has to contain the right sort of images—commercial images that can be used rather than admired. and both should be included in a microstock portfolio.But leaving in the odd scar. Elements however leave the designer plenty of room for both flexibility and creativity. He can place text easily. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e Both types of images. In general. Some will deliver images that have been edited to perfection with the understanding that not all buyers know how to process a photo. missed focus or off-balance color adjustment could also be a sign of a lack of professionalism. S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL . Finished products are ready to be used immediately. It’s the sort of purchase that’s likely to appeal most to small publishers and business owners rather than designers. an indication that you’re not taking the industry seriously enough—or its customers. Buyers looking for a photo to illustrate a blog post or place on a flyer can simply download the image and use it without any further changes. sell.
rather than search again from the beginning next time he needs an image. you’ll need to be able to track its performance. That means understanding the figures the site supplies you with. and that’s the subject of the next chapter. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 15 S HOOTING IMAGES THAT SELL .It has to reflect your style so that a buyer has a reason to return to you. And it should be varied so that you can cash in on every type of microstock buyer. Once you’ve created that portfolio. from creative designer to instant user who doesn’t want to do any more than cut and paste.
N e x t Pa g e contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e – + 16 It also means you’re going to have to crunch some numbers. If you want your business—whatever its size—to be successful. you have to be . every day (although that is how the top microstock photographers work). That doesn’t mean you have to do it all day. a type of business. after all. Or you can treat microstock seriously. upload the images and treat any sales as a bonus that eventually might buy you a new memory card. But it does mean you have to pay attention to the sort of photographs you’re uploading. You can shoot occasionally. Microstock photography is.UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES 2 There are two approaches you can take towards microstock. the post-production work you put into them and the variety of your portfolio.
but it is one of the most important. It might not be the most enjoyable part of microstock photography.1 the sell-through rate—What It Can tell you and What It Can’t In the end. The second piece of information you’ll want to know is the size of your portfolio. of course. uninterrupted flow of income while you do nothing. UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES . leave them online and look forward to a steady. One of the biggest misconceptions of microstock photography is that you can upload a bunch of images. N e x t Pa g e – + 17 So the first piece of information you’ll need to know is the amount of revenue your portfolio has brought in each month. That’s the fastest way to see your sales trail off and your revenues disappear. 2. there’s only one figure that really matters: the number at the bottom of the check that the microstock site sends you each month. But that’s going to depend on several other factors. It will depend on the quality and type of pictures you shoot. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e One of the keys to a successful microstock experience is having a large portfolio that grows at a steady rate.able to count your sales. keep track of your losses and know which outlets are bringing you the most money. but it will also depend on the size of your portfolio. The Sell-Through Rate lets you measure your understanding of the market.
In fact. many microstock sites rig their search engines to deliver proven images and new images UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES . N e x t Pa g e contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e – + 18 But that assumes a level playing field.” It indicates the percentage of photos in a portfolio that have sold at least once. who has spent the last 25 years meeting the needs of stock buyers. has talked about the importance of keeping track of a portfolio’s “sell-through rate. The higher the figure. The sell-through rate is an important measure of your understanding of the market. then your sell-through rate would be 10 percent. Ron Chapple. Ten percent would be a fairly low figure—it would indicate that 90 percent of the images you produced were of no interest to buyers. a veteran stock photographer who uses microstock as a way of diversifying his revenue streams. the better understanding you have of the sort of images your market needs. By the end of the month. it could be 30 percent as more buyers will have had more time to see more of your pictures. Ron Chapple. So if you had 100 images in your portfolio and you had sold licenses for ten of them. Upload 100 images tomorrow morning and your sell-through rate by the end of the day could be just 3 percent. the greater the odds that a picture will eventually sell.Those two together can provide some of the most vital information that will help your revenues to grow. But it does have a couple of weaknesses. in theory the longer a portfolio is online. reports that he has a sell-through rate of between 60 percent and 95 percent. It’s a figure that provides a measure of your portfolio’s marketability. First.
N e x t Pa g e – + 19 UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES . but a professional photographer would have to set those sales against the time it took to create all the other images that didn’t sell. each new set of uploads will also reduce your sellthrough rate by increasing the number of unsold images in your portfolio. You will want to know how well you’ve managed to get a grip on your market. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e The sell-through rate then. the chances that it will sell at all start to fall (although the odds may rise again if someone does buy a license. and you’ll want to see that figure rise. In theory. We’ll come back to this later in this ebook—it’s an important factor when marketing your images and raising your profile—but it does mean that if a new image doesn’t sell quickly. If you don’t count your expenses that might not bother you. Those images are loss-leaders that cost him money.) In addition. while the sell-through rate provides an indication of the marketability of your portfolio. is important.first. it doesn’t show the popularity of individual photos. But you’ll also need to know what it means and what it hides too. Secondly. creating a very healthy income overall. it’s possible to have a portfolio that contains only a handful of images that have sold but for those photos to have sold thousands of times each. so it’s important to take your measurement—by dividing the number of images you have sold by the total number of images in your portfolio—at the same time each month and look at an average figure over time.
200—not a huge sum. It might be good advice though if that shoot yields 30 or 40 images and if each of those images are eventually downloaded 200 times. UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES .2. That would make the shoot worth at least $1. let alone sold on the site. The sales figures will change over time—some images might sell quickly for a few weeks then tail off. Not all of the images uploaded from a shoot will be approved for inclusion on the site. others might sell slowly but consistently. Microstock images cost as little as a dollar and pay commissions that begin at 20 percent of the sales price. but one that might be enough to cover the costs and yield a reasonable enough profit. spend a few hours on a shoot and a few more hours on postproduction in order to create an image that might net them 20 cents is not good business advice. and some might sell in fits and starts.2 hoW muCh Is an Image Worth? The big criticism thrown at microstock is that it undervalues photography. Traditional stock sites license images for hundreds of dollars. An image worth 30 cents a license can still bring in thousands of dollars. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 20 In practice of course. An image licensed to be used on a large campaign can cost thousands and may earn the photographer a handsome sum. Suggesting that someone buy lighting equipment. the figures aren’t that simple. hire a model. and those licenses can be relatively limited.
Your average sales price per image uploaded is calculated by dividing your revenues by the size of your portfolio. for example. And those are just the non-exclusive rates. But photographers do want to know what their images are worth on each site they’re using. The same picture on iStock. can pay a 28 cent royalty if sold in the smallest size to a “pay-as-you-go” customer and a $2. And the average sales price per image is calculated by dividing the number of images sold by the size of your portfolio. In fact.And not all the images will sell for 20 cents. Your sell-through rate is calculated by dividing the number of images sold by the size of your portfolio. That’s where things start to get a little tricky. UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 21 . and why it’s vital for photographers to keep track of their statistics and do a few calculations. That means ditching the hard math and looking at the bigger picture. Together those figures will tell how commercial your portfolio is and what the images in it are worth. It has five different fields making it about as much fun to play with as a mortgage calculator.64 royalty if it is one of the ten images bought by a regular subscription customer. it gets so complicated that iStock provides an earnings calculator to help photographers calculate their royalties. The value of an image can change according to the size that was ordered and whether it was downloaded by a buyer on a “payas-you-go” basis or on a “subscription” basis.
They want exclusivity. they’re choosing to earn less for each image. That’s not too surprising. only uploads her images to iStock. They want buyers to come to them because they have the best portfolio from the best photographers. pays contributors just 20 percent of the sales price for their images but that commission can rise to 40 percent for exclusive photographers. Lise Gagné. for example. a Canadian microstock photographer and another leading contributor.3 one sIte or many? One of the biggest complaints among stock buyers is that the images on offer are too similar. Photographers have to live with the fact that by placing their photos with competitors. those extra royalties. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 22 UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES . Microstock sites. coupled with the convenience of only have to manage one microstock portfolio and the lower risk of copyright infringement make exclusivity an attractive option. The more sites that market their images. iStock. For some photographers. Microstock companies try to tempt photographers to become exclusive by offering better royalty terms to those who agree only to upload to their site. it pays to spread their images around as widely as possible. of course. For photographers. often the images they see as they move from site to site will be exactly the same. take a very different view. for example. the more likely they are to sell.2. In fact. The result is a certain amount of tension.
Yuri Arcurs turned down the chance to supply his images to a traditional stock company on an exclusive basis even though his commissions would have been much higher. But if the exclusivity. Top microstock start at 50 percent and can reach as high as photographers 80 percent when all the bonuses are taken into account. That’s a starting rate even tend to reject higher than iStock’s exclusive rate. As long as that holds true. it does remove one of the toughest questions for microstock photographers: which site to use. for example. “[There are] more royalties. The royalties paid at Dreamstime. site has weak marketing and few customers. you would have to multiply your expected sales rate by the size of the commission for each site you were considering joining in order to see which would be the most profitable—only to discover that the answer is probably going to be iStock. then a high exclusive rate that brings in few sales wouldn’t be worth a great deal in terms of total revenues.” Lise Gagné though is in a minority.“The exclusive program is very advantageous. That should be a difficult question. N e x t Pa g e contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e – + 23 That’s because the microstock pioneer consistently turns up as one of the leading revenue-generators for even non-exclusive UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES . Most microstock photographers find that overall it pays to spread their images around. If you had to choose just one site then.” she told us. more visibility and more protection for our images and models.
notes that: “iStockphoto is by far the best performing website for us in terms of revenue. Most microstock contributors that report their earnings have iStockphoto in their top four. including microstock photography. Crunching the figures is always the least fun part of any business venture. But it is an important part of every business venture. They can upload all of their images to all of the sites then compare the results. Lee Torrens.com. If they then choose to develop an exclusive relationship with one site. (His figures for June 2008. the next highest on his list—and even though his sell-through rate on Shutterstock is 92 percent as opposed to iStock’s 73 percent. and approximately half of those have it in the top two. a full five cents more than he earns from Shutterstock. a part-time photographer who shares his results on his website. MicrostockDiaries. N e x t Pa g e contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e – + 24 UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES . indicate that he averages 26 cents per image on iStock.” Lee himself finds that despite iStock’s relatively low commissions for non-exclusive photographers. they’ll be able to make a measured decision—one that’s more likely to be based on the convenience of working with one company than the extra revenues that exclusivity will bring. he earns more overall for each image in his iStock portfolio than for any other site.photographers.) It’s fortunate then that most photographers will find that they aren’t forced to make calculations based on the number of sales they hope the site’s marketing efforts will bring them.
Unless you can calculate the statistics and know which figures you should be looking at. microstock figures aren’t difficult to calculate or analyze. once expenses have been counted in. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 25 UNDERSTANDING THE FIGURES . you won’t know whether your efforts are improving and your earnings increasing. with the profits coming in years three to five. the longer an image is available for sale. As we pointed out. And by comparing rates and prices across different sites. you’ll be able to make intelligent decisions about where to focus your efforts and whether to focus on just one site. A portfolio that has a 10 percent sale-through rate today could have a 95 percent salethrough rate in three years’ time. There is one aspect of stat-watching that is difficult though: the fact that the figures can take time to grow. Your sell-through rate will tell you how well you understand your market. Fortunately. the portfolio might still only be breaking even. Ron Chapple says that his goal is for the production costs involved in creating an image to be covered in one or two years of sales. bear in mind that they will change over time and that a low income now could well end up as a tidy profit in the long term. the more sales it should pick up overall. Even then though. Your average sales price will tell how much you’re generating for each license sold. Whatever figures you’re looking at now.
They can upload their images and leave it to the company to bring in the buyers.MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO 3 contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e For photographers. It’s a set-up that plays to their strongest points—the picturetaking—leaving the company to handle the promotional aspects that they do best. They don’t care whether a buyer downloads your image or someone . They’re interested in marketing their stock library. N e x t Pa g e – + 26 But microstock sites aren’t really interested in marketing your stock portfolio. the advantage of stock companies is that they don’t have to deal with the marketing.
3. There are however a number of things that photographers can do to make their portfolio visible. Their commission is exactly the same whichever image they sell. You need to market your images. Because promoting a website is fairly straightforward—there’s no shortage of options from search engine optimization to pay-perclick advertising—it should be simple to bring in traffic. Microstock isn’t built for easy individual promotions. Each time a microstock site advertises its images then. and link to your portfolios at various stock sites. MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 27 . And it’s possible that some of that traffic will click through to your portfolio to make a purchase. it puts you in the running to make sale—but the chances of you making that sale are no higher than those of any other photographer on the site. you’ll have to do the waving yourself. If you want to stand out from the crowd. add a bio that explains the sort of images you like to shoot and how you tend to edit them.else’s. That’s not easy. Once you get past the keyword tagging—a much easier task in practice than it sounds—few strategies stand out.1 usIng a WeBsIte to promote your mICrostoCk contentS The most obvious strategy is to build a website. Microstock sites market their images. Allow users to browse sample images.
has commented on MicrostockDiaries that he prices his products on his site at a level lower than that charged by the microstock companies but higher than the amount he would have received in the form of a commission. accept payments. leaving just 15 cents to cover the extra time you’re putting in to managing and promoting the site. So you charge 75 cents per image—less than the average price buyers pay on the microstock sites but significantly higher than you would have received. and protect against copyright infringement by showing samples with watermarks but delivering unmarked images. Everyone benefits. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 28 MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO . allow searching and browsing.But that might not be a smart move. The buyer gets a discounted product and he receives higher revenues for his work. Creating a website that’s capable of functioning as a store though requires an investment. Microstock sites. And it has to be marketed too. You might be receiving an average of 30 cents per image across your microstock sites. others cost money and those expenses will have to be taken into account. But each of those buyers might have cost 20 cents to bring in through paid advertising. Mike McDonald. a designer who sells vectors through microstock sites. you could pocket the entire sales price. If you were to allow downloads from your website yourself. he notes. only pay a fraction of the image’s sales price. While some methods of online marketing are free. for example. That requires some more tricky calculations. It has to be capable of holding thousands of images. after all. Another 10 cents could go towards the cost of building the website.
Andres Rodriguez also places links to his interviews right on his homepage. for example. But they both do something else.It’s no wonder then that most microstock photographers’ websites are geared towards finding models rather than selling licenses. They can read about the attention he pays to post-production. Place a link to a microstock site on your website and the company will pay you if the user buys an image or uploads photos as a contributor. and that’s almost as important: they raise the photographer’s profile. One of the strategies used by microstock sites to promote themselves is through affiliate networks. We’ve already mentioned that many of Yuri Arcurs’s customers are returning buyers keen to buy an image whose quality they know they can trust. contentS It can also generate money in another way though. A good website for a microstock photographer should be able to function as an effective branding tool. One of the reasons that they know they can rely on Yuri to supply those images is that they might have seen his website which showcases his works and describes his workflow. The rates vary widely: iStock pays $10 for a buyer but nothing for a photographer. Neither Yuri Arcurs nor Andres Rodriguez. understand what he wants his photos to do and even see the effect that his editing work has on the quality of his images. offer licenses on their websites. full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 29 MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO . One of the first impressions to strike a potential buyer then would be that this is an important photographer—someone whose works are worth looking at.
The risk though is that having sent a buyer to a microstock company. So far. a useful way turning your browsers into buyers of your photography—and picking a useful affiliate bonus for each new customer too. that might not be a problem. and it could be an effective way to recoup the costs of the website while also promoting microstock in general. And some money too. 3.2 usIng FlICkr to promote your mICrostoCk Creating a website isn’t difficult but it does take a little thought and effort.Shutterstock can pay up to $50 for a buyer and 3 cents for a contributor. while a pro membership that provides stats is a bargain at $25 per year. iStock however does allows photographers to link directly to their portfolio. For a website set up to brand your image as a microstock photographer. so much like a website. The streams provide a place to show off your portfolio and the profile lets you discuss the types of image you supply and even include links to your portfolio as well as place affiliate banners. The first is the groups. A Flickr stream on the other hand takes just minutes to build and. they’ll buy someone else’s images and not yours. you can do it for free. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 30 MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO . But Flickr does have a couple of unique advantages for microstock photographers that you can’t get from a website.
photography—and other photographers will see you as an authority. you’ll need to target buyers directly. For experienced microstock photographers. especially one niched to Just four of the 22 groups on Flickr for a particular subject in microstock Microstock photographers.Flickr has more than 20 groups dedicated to microstock photography. To use Flickr to make sales immediately. they’re a great way to brand themselves as experts. As long as some of that authority also spreads out to buyers. set up your own group. Getty does have an agreement with Flickr to offer exclusive licenses on behalf of some Flickr photographers but that doesn’t fundamentally affect the way the site works. they’re a great way to shorten the learning curve. Flickr isn’t set up to operate as a stock site. see an increase in your sales as users look for your images on microstock sites. Take part in discussions—or even better. contentS Groups though are targeted at other photographers. you should. talk about which images are selling and ask for advice. They provide a forum for photographers to swap ideas. over time. For new microstock photographers. full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 31 MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO .
It’s a time-consuming process that can involve a MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO . They can then contact the photographer and negotiate a rate. but the range of the images available is wide enough to make Flickr a very attractive option for image users. If you want to sell the right to use an image that you’ve placed on Flickr then. you’ll need to indicate in the text that your images are available for purchase and add a link to a place where they can make their order. subjects and styles offered on microstock sites can often find specialized images on niche topics. The advantage is that Flickr is used by buyers searching for images.Photographers cannot take payments through the site nor sell licenses and allow restricted downloads in the same way that stock sites do. and your place to offer attractive samples. . contentS Flickr’s free image portal . full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 32 Image users who want a photo that goes beyond the usual categories. It might not be as simple to search as a microstock site and the overall quality might not be as high as the quality of the photography on microstock sites. . That could be a microstock library that holds your image or it could be a link to your own website.
plenty of time or special demands. There’s a good chance though that those users would be willing to pay microstock prices for an image they found on Flickr. By telling buyers where they can go to place an order right away. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e The result should be a new client.couple of days of emailing with no guarantee of a result. they can provide rich hunting grounds. microstock photographers make life easier for Flickr’s buyers and place their portfolio in front of a valuable market. Those images would be relatively low-quality but they would appear in the photostream alongside higher quality versions which are marked as being available for sale. N e x t Pa g e – + 33 MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO . payment for the sale and perhaps also a bonus from the microstock site’s affiliate program. Flickr has more than 75 million photos available for use for free under some form of Creative Commons license. Many of them are looking for free photos. That means that photographers hoping to turn those image users into their own clients will need to license a few images as Creative Commons so that they’ll turn up in the search results. Many of those photos are not going to be good enough to be used commercially but for an image user with a small budget. There is one challenge in targeting Flickr’s buyers though. They’re just likely to search the Creative Commons images first.
As long as the buyers are finding images that they want to buy.3 sIze—and FrequenCy—Count Earlier in this ebook. There are plenty of photographers on microstock sites who have never made a sale. So when a buyer does a search for images tagged with a particular keyword. How they skew the results of searches will vary from site to site—some might not even do it at all. microstock companies are always going to be more interested in making sure those visitors are happy rather than the contributors. It’s an important point. They exist as a way for buyers to buy images. N e x t Pa g e contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e – + 34 They’re often listed based on an algorithm that takes a number of different factors into account. Nor are they listed chronologically. The microstock sites aren’t going to help them. the idea is always the same: to make it easier for buyers to find images that they’re likely to purchase. and one that’s often forgotten by microstock photographers.3. and they don’t care a great deal either. the results aren’t delivered in a random fashion. Microstock sites don’t exist to provide a way for photographers to sell their images. we noted that microstock sites do not provide sellers with a level playing field. Because it’s the buyers who deliver money to the site. But when they do. the microstock companies aren’t going to be too bothered if most of those sales go to the same handful of photographers. MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO .
shooting good quality. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 35 Many of the top-selling photographers.” The algorithm itself will change according to the site but it’s unlikely that the principle will—or the strategy to make the most of it. Clearly. That’s likely to be through a combination of high quality Where an image turns up in the search results depends on its performance.On Fotolia. If it’s a good image it will sell and stay at the top. MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO . Yuri Arcurs averages 400 submissions a month and says that fewer than 1 percent are rejected. Elena Elisseeva says that she has 200 new images accepted each month. But it also pays to upload frequently to make sure that you always have images at the top of the search results.000 downloads each month. a figure which she considers fairly low. Having a large portfolio will also increase the odds of winning a sale. upload relatively large numbers of images. for example. Whether the image stays at the top of the listings though depends on its performance. Newer images appear towards the top of the result listings so buyers searching for the same keywords on a regular basis will see a changing variety of different images. Lise Gagné is an exception. As Oleg Tscheltzoff explained: “Over time. commercial images is always going to be vital. if this image doesn’t have views and doesn’t have sales. She uploads just 25 images a month but still sells between 10. it will go a little bit deeper and deeper into the search. Andres Rodriguez offers a little more and uploads around 500. in fact.000 and 15. the first criterion is when the image was uploaded.
Ultimately though there’s one strategy to increase your microstock sales that stands out above all the others: shoot better pictures more often. A Flickr stream can turn image users looking for Creative Commons licenses into buyers. A website can help to raise a profile. And managing your portfolio smartly can increase the odds that your images will receive adequate exposure.imagery and an exclusive relationship with iStock that has made her one of the company’s ambassadors. (It’s still half the number of downloads Andres Rodriguez achieves and a quarter of that won by Yuri Arcurs.) There are a few things then that a microstock photographer can do to stand out from the crowd and sell more images. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 36 MARKETING YOUR PORTFOLIO .
N e x t Pa g e contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e – + 37 And the amount of work you put into making the most of the opportunity is up to you too.000 licenses a month so it still has some way to go. he predicted that microstock could have a potential market of 2 billion images a year. Noting that there are 20 million small and medium-sized business in the United States and about the same number in Europe. Fotolia is selling about 10. For photographers though. the site will accept it. But he looked beyond that. If an image meets some pretty broad criteria and stands a chance of selling. He saw that it wasn’t just Internet businesses that needed images but bricks-and-mortar firms too. You can upload one image a month or several hundred—it’s entirely up to you. or you can .C ONCLUSION When Oleg Tscheltzoff set up Fotolia. and calculating their needs at about 50 images a year each. he was inspired by the needs of his customers—online publishers renting space on his servers— looking for low-cost images to put on their websites. You can submit and forget. The level of participation is flexible. The selection process is light. At the moment. it already represents a massive opportunity—a chance to make sales by taking pictures and uploading them directly from a home computer.
Once you’ve started uploading. and we discussed the sell-through rate. In this ebook. you’ll need to do some math. We began with the one factor that’s crucial on every site—and in every aspect of photography too: the quality of the images.work to promote yourself as the leading microstock photographer in your niche so that you corner a part of the market. elements that designers can use to build images of their own. we’ve looked at some of the most important factors that go into creating a successful microstock business. that means creating photos that are commercial. Photographers can learn quickly by browsing the portfolios of established contributors—as many do—but they must also develop their own style so that buyers actively seek them out for a particular kind of image.or herself. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 38 One of the most important calculations you’ll need to make though isn’t “how many?” but “one or many?” Most photographers find that it pays to give up on the higher royalties available with exclusive contracts and spread their images among many different microstock sites. but it also means deciding whether to shoot idealized scenes or realistic images that are at most only partially posed. a figure that describes the marketability of your portfolio. CONCLUSION . And they can also shoot partial pictures. It’s a decision that every photographer has to make for him. and why you should. We also explained how to calculate the average value of the images in your microstock portfolio. not artistic. In microstock.
an important part of successful microstock photography. be paying microstock sites to do it for you—but marketing is a useful way to bring in some additional income. There’s plenty more that could be said about microstock photography but these are some of the most important factors that should be included in a microstock portfolio. and frequent uploads can keep your images at the top of the sites’ search engines where they can be found easily.And finally. You don’t have to do any of that if you don’t want to—you will. With good images. contentS full Screen P r e v i o u S Pa g e n e X t Pa g e N e x t Pa g e – + 39 CONCLUSION . A Flickr stream can help too. after all. we looked at some of the ways that microstock photographers can market their portfolios. A website can raise a profile as well as bring in new models. they should bring some very effective results.
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