Saturday, February 6, 2010

Guest Blog: A Recently Rounded Perspective on Microstock by Scott Redinger-Libolt

Photographer/art director Scott Redinger-Libolt gets a new perspective on microstock and shares it with us in this guest blog.

A recently rounded perspective on microstock
by Scott Redinger-Libolt

As many of you know, a large part of my income as a photographer is from stock. Other sources include assignment, creative consulting, editing, and retouching. I do not participate in microstock…however, I just had my first experience purchasing it for a client. I must say, I felt very guilty and wanted to share some realizations I had during the experience (hands still clutching the bloody knife).

One of my editing clients is the Green Labor Journal who is a non-profit organization. With a small team of writers and researchers, the journal provides information on a monthly basis including the complex politics of energy, green jobs, green education, union news, and affiliate articles. Their efforts are quite noble and like most righteous organizations, their funds are severely limited.

Needless to say, I bought a photograph from microstock, and it took this first hand experience to awaken me to the broad spectrum of effects caused by this one simple act. The picture was of solar panels being installed by workers on the roof of a commercial building. OK, let’s stop there for a moment. As a photographer, I know what it takes to make a connection with a solar company, secure a model release, and get access to shoot on the roof of a commercial building in this litigious and liability stricken nation. These hurdles alone make for an extremely valuable subject matter in stock due to the scarcity of coverage. This particular image, a very nice shot I might add, has further value due to the attention and growth in the “Green” and “Solar” industries…a perfect combination of supply and demand.

Like many stock photographers, I’ve been asked by most agencies to shoot green energy and had lightly started some research last year. The time and travel involved with producing this content has factored into my inadequate coverage of the subject. Having seen and bought another photographer’s end result for less than $5 has given me reason for pause. Based on the downloads of this particular image, and from what I know about average purchase price, file size, etc…I calculate that this one image will make the photographer about $600-800 in the first year. Not bad on a single image, but you can’t calculate RPI on a single image without knowing how many images were shot that day and how many of them don’t sell as well or at all…and, of course, the tapering lifespan is a factor. Given my experience in RM & RF, I believe this particular image could be making nearly double this amount per year in either of these licensing models. But I don’t want to dwell on this too much because my enlightenment was of a bigger picture …pun not intended.

When I joined Green Labor Journal as a freelance photo editor, I had also hoped that one day I would be shooting editorial pictures of the green workforce and attribute my skills to a noble cause. But as I clicked “Buy” on this microstock image and made this well-deserving client aware of this outlet for extremely cheap content, I saw my personal assignment hopes evaporate before my eyes. Oh… and all while my skills as a photo editor were being commended. By now my head is twisting in ways it had not before been twisted and…I had to write this entry for the pursuit of John’s blogging efforts in trying to make sense of it all.

Wait… there is a moral to the story. Non-profit organizations would not be able to function if it were not for inexpensive content outlets. We are seeing a resurgence in countless aspects of activism in our nation right now, and it is our duty as caring individuals to participate in noble movements. Both, government-subsidized as well as publicly funded not-for-profit organizations, have increased by drastic numbers in the last few years…and remarkably so, in the face of adverse economic situations. The budgets of these organizations have played a big part in the evolution (or de-evolution) of discounting content. I don’t feel good about microstock undermining my stock revenue as well as my assignment possibilities…however, to quote Spock, “It is illogical to dwell in circumstances beyond your control”. We can even see an opportunity here in creating mid-level priced and microstock content that specifically targets the needs of non-profit organizations who wouldn’t be buying RM or RF anyway. Bang…that was the car door slamming as I race with my camera to the closest field of genetically-altered wheat.

To inquire about Scott’s creative consulting and photography, drop him a line on his website:


Rahul said...

Thanks for sharing your perspective and being able to step back and evaluate your position.



Unknown said...

Not all, but many photos in the microstock market are photos of convenience. You can bet that a good portion of the photos of people installing solar panels on a roof are taken by the installers themselves, or a friend, or someone else with convenient access.

Contacts with the solar company, insurance, and all the other inputs into a professional stock photographer's operation are non-existent in the workflow of most microstock photographers.

It's this convenience and low/no overhead operations that allow microstock photographers to profit from their shoots. It's also the reason why many professional stock photographers think microstock is unsustainable and/or impossible to generate a profit.

Also, in your earnings calculation, unless the image was exclusive, you can also count similar earnings on other microstock agencies for the same photo, doubling (or more) the earnings estimate.

Unknown said...

It would be interesting to contact the photographer who took the shot and see what the actual costs of producing the shot were and why he decided to license it as microstock.

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the microstock out there are "throwaway" shots that would otherwise be worthless to the photography. I have felt this way for years about royalty-free photos...that they should be "almost-free" because they were so bad.

As a designer, I love to buy these cheapo shots and, with photoshop, create "art" out of them. I'd never pay a lot for them, since they end up being unrecognizable anyway. I could just as easily go take a quick digital photo with my cheap camera.

I think there is a market for high-quality photographs, but the microstock has its place, as you point out in this article.

Everything changes...