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Author Topic: Am I really making money from microstock?  (Read 11313 times)

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« on: November 15, 2009, 11:18 »
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I started microstock photography 2 years ago. Today, I have almost 1800 pictures in my portfolio submitted to multiple agencies with most earnings from IS, SS and DT.

Every month, I am posting in my blog these usually happy earnings reports. I am one of few microstockers sharing their numbers. However, it is not a full story. So, finally, I tried to include expenses into my analysis:

Am I Really Making Money from Microstock Photography ? Part 1 ... Part 2

In summary:

- I calculate RPI or other statistics in reference to a total number of pictures prepared for microstock including rejects, multiple versions, pictures not submitted.

- I added expenses (including $ saved for camera and gear upgrades) and looked at "net RPI".

- Finally, I derived my "hourly rate" as a microstock photographer - currently, about double minimum wage in US, so better than flipping hamburgers or babysitting and, arguably, much more fun.

I would welcome any comments or suggestions.


WarrenPrice

« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2009, 11:51 »
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Nice blog.  Thanks for the post. 
You now have me thinking even more seriously about hiring an accountant.  How much of my RV can be deducted as a business expense?  Can an entire trip be charged to business expense?  Do I have to pay my wife?   ::)

PaulieWalnuts

  • On the Wrong Side of the Business
« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2009, 13:32 »
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Intersting info. It's nice to see you're actually measuring performance.

But it's kind of hard to say how accurate it is because you're selectively leaving out expenses. Is other stuff like gas/mileage figured in? And I'm not a CPA but if you're spending 60 hours per month on this how many of those hours are for using the computer and doesn't that count toward an expense or depreciation?

What might be an interesting follow-up post is to calculate full costs. The full costs may not be totally accurate either because you're a part-timer but I'd guess the real answer is somewhere in between that high and low range.

« Reply #3 on: November 16, 2009, 08:01 »
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As a scientist I don't believe in exact numbers.  :)
I would prefer to see an estimate with a range of uncertainty.

I tried to develop a framework to analyze my earnings and control expenses related to microstock. I have all numbers in spreadsheets, so now I can play with different scenarios. I may include part time sharing of computer, internet access, web hosting, home office expenses, etc. I already included gas and mileage for driving if it is done specifically for shooting microstock. I am not sure what to do with my trips for paddling or hiking where shooting is just a site project. My outdoor pictures are not very profitable anyway.


« Reply #4 on: November 16, 2009, 10:24 »
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Thank you. Very interesting and informative. But you remarks on outdoor photos is discourging for me -since all of my aerial photos are "outdoor". Oh well-I will keep trying to find my niche.
Smiling Jack

lisafx

« Reply #5 on: November 16, 2009, 11:22 »
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It's nice to see the expenses weighted into the equation.  I think that gets overlooked often because so many are part-time. 

« Reply #6 on: November 16, 2009, 12:07 »
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Well, as a part timer, my microstock expenses have been about 100% of my earnings upto last December. Of course, that was the whole point of microstock for me. To pay for expensive equipment that I couldn't otherwise justify. Now I have all the equipment I need and don't have time to use it.

« Reply #7 on: November 16, 2009, 12:08 »
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Thank you. Very interesting and informative. But you remarks on outdoor photos is discourging for me -since all of my aerial photos are "outdoor". Oh well-I will keep trying to find my niche.
Smiling Jack
In general landscapes don't sell well but really good quality ones do, some people have great success with just outdoor photos.  I would think aerial photos are a good niche, as most of us don't have many opportunities to do those, so there isn't much competition.

« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2009, 12:56 »
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I've bought a few nature landscape photos. Most of them were for car dealership ads, so it was basically looking for ones that I could Photoshop a car into. Which is a tough task to find ones that have the right perspective and an appropriate seasonal theme.

« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2009, 12:31 »
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As a scientist I don't believe in exact numbers.  :)

May I borrow that quote the next time my boss asks me for an exact cost estimate ??  ;D

« Reply #10 on: November 17, 2009, 14:05 »
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In general landscapes don't sell well but really good quality ones do, some people have great success with just outdoor photos.  I would think aerial photos are a good niche, as most of us don't have many opportunities to do those, so there isn't much competition.

Aerials, if taken as part of some other exercise, may yield a profit in time. But if taken only for micro would require too much up front costs to make it worth while. Sure it's a niche but micro requires a tight control of costs and high probability of many sales and at the low end of about $150 per hour for a plane that's a lot of DLs. You can argue, well I have a pilot's license and I'd be out flying anyway. But everything we do has a cost associated with it. Eventually every one has to come to terms whether they are making any money at micro. Telling me you bought a new lens with the DLs is meaningless. Likely it would have been better to go off and get a part time job to buy a new lens with. The older you get the more expensive life becomes. It's a good idea to learn to make as much as possible as early as possible.

« Reply #11 on: November 17, 2009, 14:15 »
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This reminds me of that joke...ask a mathematician, and accountant and an economist what 2 plus 2 equals and the mathematician answers definitely 4, the accountant answers 4 give or take 2, and the economist answers "what would you like it to make"


As a scientist I don't believe in exact numbers.  :)

May I borrow that quote the next time my boss asks me for an exact cost estimate ??  ;D

« Reply #12 on: November 17, 2009, 15:01 »
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What you said is right on Zenus. I have come to the same conclusion . Most of the aerials I have put up on mircostock have been photos left over from postcards,real estate and engineering planning  assignments. Although i have some advantages most pilots don't have-still doubt that i could make a profit shooting just for microstock.
My advantages are: 1-I  own the plane I use. It is a 1946 Taylorcraft which is very simple and relative inexpensive. 2-I live and take photos in a very rural area with lots of uncontrolled airspace. 3-I have and A&P licence so I can do my own aircraft maintenance.
But still I guess you would say I am a part time microstock photographerand probably stay that way.
Smiling Jack 

« Reply #13 on: November 17, 2009, 15:26 »
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What you said is right on Zenus. I have come to the same conclusion . Most of the aerials I have put up on mircostock have been photos left over from postcards,real estate and engineering planning  assignments. Although i have some advantages most pilots don't have-still doubt that i could make a profit shooting just for microstock.
My advantages are: 1-I  own the plane I use. It is a 1946 Taylorcraft which is very simple and relative inexpensive. 2-I live and take photos in a very rural area with lots of uncontrolled airspace. 3-I have and A&P licence so I can do my own aircraft maintenance.
But still I guess you would say I am a part time microstock photographerand probably stay that way.
Smiling Jack 

Smiling Jack. Hard to argue with that formula.

« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2009, 16:32 »
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I think many will agree that apart from the cash expenses, when you factor in the the time you spend on making the pictures and getting them ready for sale, the result is pretty deceiving. There are not very many people who can actually make a good living solely from microstock. But you always have to take into account the fun factor as well.

Reagrds,
Oliver

ShadySue

« Reply #15 on: November 18, 2009, 03:20 »
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I think many will agree that apart from the cash expenses, when you factor in the the time you spend on making the pictures and getting them ready for sale, the result is pretty deceiving. There are not very many people who can actually make a good living solely from microstock. But you always have to take into account the fun factor as well.

Reagrds,
Oliver

Plus depending on what you're submitting, you might have been shooting the pics anyway, and processing them for some othe use. And also the flexibility of micro is far more suitable in many people's circumstances than 'flipping burgers' - in my case, I watch far less TV and don't spend as much (=almost no) time on my personal (aka 'vanity') website.

steheap

  • Author of best selling "Get Started in Stock"

« Reply #16 on: November 18, 2009, 12:39 »
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Thanks for the great entries on your blog. I've also being doing this for about 18 months, but way behind in terms of earnings - maybe $200 - $250 per month. When I looked at your portfolio on Dreamstime I could see the difference - I have some good sellers, but after page two of the popular files, I am down to 2 downloads per file - you seem to go on at a higher level for many more pages. I'm still stuck on good landscape pictures - you have a keen eye on spotting excellent stock photos.

A lot of food for thought and thanks for the analysis

Steve
PS - here is my Dreamstime link to show what I meant.
http://www.dreamstime.com/Steveheap_more-popular-photos_pg1


« Reply #17 on: November 18, 2009, 13:39 »
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Pretty much the same can be said for Macro RF these days too...the rpi has dropped at a frightening rate recently...almost to the point where micro is a viable option...the only way to make good money in stock these days is to shoot great RM material, be patient and be with Getty and/or Corbis.


I think many will agree that apart from the cash expenses, when you factor in the the time you spend on making the pictures and getting them ready for sale, the result is pretty deceiving. There are not very many people who can actually make a good living solely from microstock. But you always have to take into account the fun factor as well.

Reagrds,
Oliver

lisafx

« Reply #18 on: November 18, 2009, 16:07 »
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Pretty much the same can be said for Macro RF these days too...the rpi has dropped at a frightening rate recently...almost to the point where micro is a viable option...the only way to make good money in stock these days is to shoot great RM material, be patient and be with Getty and/or Corbis.



Very discouraging considering that it is not easy to become a submitter to Getty or Corbis RM.  I don't know many microstockers who have managed to get in, other than those who have done it through istock's program.

A couple months back Elenathewise, one of the top sellers in micro, tried to get into Getty on her own and was only accepted into the Photographers Choice collection, where you have to pay Getty $50 per image submitted.  It didn't sound like a very worthwhile experience:
http://www.microstockgroup.com/general-macrostock/accepted-at-getty/
« Last Edit: November 18, 2009, 17:11 by lisafx »

« Reply #19 on: November 18, 2009, 19:16 »
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I've been with Getty since the Image Bank days in the early 90s...it's not easy to be accepted by Getty these days...they expect you to be a full time assignment or macro stock photographer, even then they don't seem that interested...however if you are an iStock exclusive or post your iPhone snaps on Flickr they are all over you. I also place images I really like with Photographers Choice to circumvent their editors...it may be 50 per image, but then again once you make a sale with one of those images they give you another slot for free...so it is effectively 25 dollars.

Pretty much the same can be said for Macro RF these days too...the rpi has dropped at a frightening rate recently...almost to the point where micro is a viable option...the only way to make good money in stock these days is to shoot great RM material, be patient and be with Getty and/or Corbis.



Very discouraging considering that it is not easy to become a submitter to Getty or Corbis RM.  I don't know many microstockers who have managed to get in, other than those who have done it through istock's program.

A couple months back Elenathewise, one of the top sellers in micro, tried to get into Getty on her own and was only accepted into the Photographers Choice collection, where you have to pay Getty $50 per image submitted.  It didn't sound like a very worthwhile experience:
http://www.microstockgroup.com/general-macrostock/accepted-at-getty/

« Reply #20 on: November 20, 2009, 12:44 »
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 Hi All,

 Yep, Getting in the door is a real struggle individually. Sometimes the best way into Getty or Corbis is through the third party companies they represent. Once you have good sales they will notice and the opportunity to go direct to them increases. Just a thought that I felt might have been missed. I also use the Photographers Choice and every month I get free uploads because one of my new images there sold so if you shoot the right stuff it is only $25 dollars an image like PixelBitch said, by the way unique name : ) I also have seen we need to focus on making quality imagery that is needed by buyers in the RM category that is what is showing our best returns at the moment, that and motion.

Best,
Jonathan

lisafx

« Reply #21 on: November 20, 2009, 17:53 »
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Thanks for the info PixelBitch and Jonathan.  The prospect of spending $50/image to upload is daunting.  It's good to know that the sales can defray or eliminated most of that cost. 

It would probably be worthwhile for me to put some time into learning what is needed in the RM market.  I have been so focused on microstock that I worry I am becoming a one trick pony.

I know one huge advantage to RM is that you don't have to worry about model and property releases, right?  Or is it still better to have those?

« Reply #22 on: November 20, 2009, 18:12 »
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No, you need releases for commercial use, just like RF.

« Reply #23 on: November 20, 2009, 18:16 »
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I must step in and correct you here Lisa...you absolutely do need releases for RM, any images with identifiable people or property require these.

To shoot for RM the images must be a lot more distinctive than RF or Micro...a smart and original idea, great location, talent and lighting. When we go out and shoot RM we have our best available talent and resources and I'm happy with just a handful of great images each day, which I then spend a lot of time in post production with...now we are starting in micro I go out there and shoot the crap out of it and get as many images as possible as the returns are so meager.


Thanks for the info PixelBitch and Jonathan.  The prospect of spending $50/image to upload is daunting.  It's good to know that the sales can defray or eliminated most of that cost. 

It would probably be worthwhile for me to put some time into learning what is needed in the RM market.  I have been so focused on microstock that I worry I am becoming a one trick pony.

I know one huge advantage to RM is that you don't have to worry about model and property releases, right?  Or is it still better to have those?

RT


« Reply #24 on: November 20, 2009, 18:37 »
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I know one huge advantage to RM is that you don't have to worry about model and property releases, right?  Or is it still better to have those?

You're confusing RM with an editorial license in which case you don't need releases but to shoot RM commercial stock for somewhere like Getty you need the same releases as you would for RF.

lisafx

« Reply #25 on: November 20, 2009, 18:53 »
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Thanks for clarifying guys.  :)

« Reply #26 on: November 20, 2009, 23:07 »
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Hi All,

 Yep on needing the releases but I have learned recently that there are quite a number of RM buyers buying editorial and using it in commercial applications. They seem not o concerned with the legal situation. I was surprised to here this but the source is as reliable as they come so Editorial at the big agencies can have more legs than people give it credit for. I never realized until recently.

Take care,
Jonathan


« Reply #27 on: November 20, 2009, 23:25 »
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Hi All,

 Yep on needing the releases but I have learned recently that there are quite a number of RM buyers buying editorial and using it in commercial applications. They seem not o concerned with the legal situation. I was surprised to here this but the source is as reliable as they come so Editorial at the big agencies can have more legs than people give it credit for. I never realized until recently.

Take care,
Jonathan

You talk like it's a good thing to use content against the license definition.

ap

« Reply #28 on: November 21, 2009, 00:23 »
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Hi All,

 Yep on needing the releases but I have learned recently that there are quite a number of RM buyers buying editorial and using it in commercial applications. They seem not o concerned with the legal situation. I was surprised to here this but the source is as reliable as they come so Editorial at the big agencies can have more legs than people give it credit for. I never realized until recently.

Take care,
Jonathan




i'm just as surprised as you. a bigwig at a privately owned but fairly well known co. had approached me for some photos i took for editorial. he wanted it for commercial use but i was bowled over when he wasn't at all concerned about the lack of model releases. in fact, he had already cleared a really well known trademark all on his own. for a newbie like me, i was really at a loss as to how to write a rm licence for this.



You talk like it's a good thing to use content against the license definition.


dan heller gave the perfect analysis of the situation for photographers. from a legal point of view, it's really not up to the photographer to provide any releases. it's really up to the end user to obtain it for their own protection. all a photographer is responsible for is to make it clear whether he has or hasn't a release and it's up to the end user decide how to use the photograph. dan heller explains it more in depth. http://www.danheller.com/model-release.html

of course, from a stock agency's point of view, it may be harder to sell photographs...
« Last Edit: November 21, 2009, 01:14 by ap »

« Reply #29 on: November 21, 2009, 07:33 »
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dan heller gave the perfect analysis of the situation for photographers. from a legal point of view, it's really not up to the photographer to provide any releases. it's really up to the end user to obtain it for their own protection. all a photographer is responsible for is to make it clear whether he has or hasn't a release and it's up to the end user decide how to use the photograph. dan heller explains it more in depth. http://www.danheller.com/model-release.html


Trust me, I'm all for putting the responsibility on the buyer.  Your point on the buyer clearing a trademark is something I didn't think of, but that isn't going to happen with model releases.   Suggesting that "Editorial at the big agencies can have more legs than people give it credit for" because you can use it for commercial seems a bit irresponsible towards buyers to me.

lisafx

« Reply #30 on: November 21, 2009, 13:09 »
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dan heller gave the perfect analysis of the situation for photographers. from a legal point of view, it's really not up to the photographer to provide any releases. it's really up to the end user to obtain it for their own protection. all a photographer is responsible for is to make it clear whether he has or hasn't a release and it's up to the end user decide how to use the photograph. dan heller explains it more in depth. http://www.danheller.com/model-release.html



Thanks for that link!  I was wanting to reference that article awhile back and could not for the life of me remember where to find it.


 

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