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Author Topic: Microstock is a dead end because of you  (Read 2568 times)

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rdu

« on: July 01, 2022, 11:21 »
+6
When i started doing stock photography 11 years ago i took a year before that and studied, learned and practice so i would get good results. There was not so much info online and i am a book guy anyway so i started with some good nice lecture. After a while of uploading and reaching 10000 online files the cash flowing from stock agencies was really good 2-3 salaries in a really good country. Somewhere around the road i started checking some stock forums and different websites where people were actually telling newbies what to do and how to jump over some extremely important steps that took me a lot longer to learn by my own. Everybody started doing stock photo, agencies were flooded and now with over 20k photos online the monthly paycheck cant even cover a low rent. This is the fault of everybody not caring for his business and teaching others = competition tips and tricks. In no business  you tell others secrets. Or you encourage them to do something what you do. This friendliness act got us where we are today as stock photography and thats a hole with no future. Hope everybody learned something from this for the next business they may have


« Reply #1 on: July 01, 2022, 11:42 »
+16
I think you got it wrong. Microstock is not dead because a small percentage of contributors shared their knowledge with each other.
Fact is: technology advanced, and decent gear became very affordable. In addition, the youtube generation came along, and whatever problem you have nowadays, there's a youtube tutorial to guiding you through.

Anyone with some interest in photography, or anything else, has a shitload of tutorials to wade through while riding the bus, or whatever time they have to kill, to learn some new skills. Anyone who starts getting good at it asks him/herself the question: alright, now, where's the money?

And there you have it. Stock photography sites are flooded with images and your pretty good shot back in 2009 is outcompeted by a more advanced, probably lucky, smartphone shot of a Gen-Z youngster who shoots "authentic".

Welcome in 2022.

« Reply #2 on: July 01, 2022, 12:12 »
+1
When i started doing stock photography...

This is a good summary of what happened in the last few years, but - as Roscoe - I'm not sure about your proposed cause (teaching newbies secrets). We can't - and shouldn't - stop technology and the new kids on the block.

A personal story: although I never published any guide online, I invited many friends of mine (about 20) to join stock photography and even actively helped them prepare the photos to pass the Shutterstock test when it was actually difficult (7/10) - and they passed it at first try. But only a couple of them continued uploading at least for a while, and only one of them is still somehow active. Most found stock boring and not "artistic" enough, which is fine.

So it takes a lot more than spilled secrets... It takes a lot of work and only the most motivated people did and will succeed. With or without our help.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2022, 13:40 by somewhere »

« Reply #3 on: July 01, 2022, 12:50 »
+1


"This is the fault of everybody not caring for his business and teaching others = competition tips and tricks"

Science, technology and by extent modern civilization are built upon sharing knowledge. What you propose is just absurd.

« Reply #4 on: July 01, 2022, 12:58 »
+4
There are a lot of reasons why microstock is nowhere near as lucrative as it once was.

Perhaps what you're criticizing has also contributed a bit. But that's the smallest problem from my point of view.

A couple of the factors have already been correctly listed by Roscoe and somewhere. To complement this would be

Contributors who offer at free agencies or in free selections - that is the main problem. The self-made devaluation of the own work. Or because the hall of fame is more important to them than the money they could earn.

The fact that there is too little money to be made with microstock to have their own images, concepts and ideas protected by legal authorities.

Because agencies accept thousands of images with copied ideas and concepts every day.

Because microstock is a global market that does not take into account different costs of living.

The fact that agencies no longer have a reasonable selection process carried out by expert staff, because the flood of submitted images is simply too great.

And many many more reasons.

« Reply #5 on: July 01, 2022, 13:24 »
+12
I have been licensing stock in one form or another since 2004 and I think the OP is 99.99% wrong about what's changed over the years to substantially reduce income opportunities for contributors.

Most of the specifics have already been itemized above, but I think it boils down to the fact that the broad licensing model - that you can greatly expand the market for licensing imagery if you simplify licensing and lower the price from Getty's $500+ fees - was wildly successful.

Big success meant that people looking only at the money to be made - and largely ignoring careful curation of collections, enforcing keyword and quality standards, and other steps that would ensure a sustainable business - rushed in to ride the wave of the newest success story. Shutterstock going public and Getty being trashed by two private equity owners were two examples of businesses transformed to focus 100% on siphoning out as much cash as they could for owners/shareholders in the short term.

If there was any impact at all of people publishing books or blogs or YouTube channels about how to get rich quick as a stock contributor, it was minuscule.
« Last Edit: July 01, 2022, 17:55 by Jo Ann Snover »

« Reply #6 on: July 01, 2022, 16:42 »
+2
I've been helping, teaching, private tutoring, writing, and counselling people for years, not just here but in my other line of work, and found that the bottom line is: you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink.  For lots of different reasons.

In microstock, it takes a lot of effort, time, lateral thinking, willingness to change, plus special circumstances and access to resources, and often a special type of personality**, to earn $20k or $30k+ USD a year from stock. Many just do not have the time, or are willing to go that extra mile. Justifiably too, because its darn hard work. Even back in the 'golden' years.

The golden years, however, was broken back in 2017/18 when SS opened up their agency to a huge influx of people, lowered their acceptance from 7/10 to 1, and lowered their reviews - for one main reason - to compete with Getty by having the largest database. Quality went out the window, quantity came in. It was just part of the industry changes at that time, and I am not criticising anyone for taking advantage of it.

I still like helping people, because it's ingrained in me, but its definitely, absolutely, NOT the reason that stock is 'dead' (as the OP put it). And besides, Microstock is not dead - its just a lot tougher.

** And willingness to take responsibility for your own actions - and not blame others. (you can blame occasionally. ;) ;D But don't make it a habit)

« Last Edit: July 01, 2022, 16:59 by Annie »

« Reply #7 on: July 01, 2022, 17:01 »
+1
I have been helping newbies and also teaching classes on stock photography like forever.

But even the most talented people have a difficult time building a large portfolio.

So yes, there are thousands (millions) of new people coming un every year, but the vast majority never make it.

If you carefully browse the collections, you realize that maybe 90% is copies of copies of copies. And especially with localized subjects there is a huge amount of content missing.

People who shoot as a hobby, do not bother to create a good quality series how to repair a broken toilet, do not document how their child is treated when it is sick etcthey just sort by popular or bestsellers and then copy that.

You can never outshoot the flood, but looking at local opportunities you can remove 99,9% of the competition.

Or just focus on themes that are in high demand but nonody wants to shoot.

« Reply #8 on: July 01, 2022, 17:04 »
+2

If you carefully browse the collections, you realize that maybe 90% is copies of copies of copies. And especially with localized subjects there is a huge amount of content missing.


Yes! Yes! Yes!

There is still so much missing from the databases. I find it all the time. Just scroll through Pinterest and Instagram and look at what everyone is liking or getting excited about, and look back in the agencies databases, and its just not there. You've got to appeal to the new millennial generation, who are the driving force now. If you're a baby boomer, or gen x, then you might have to change what you shoot. Advertisers follow what's popular on social media, and so should stock photographers.

There you go, OP, we're just giving more advice.  ;)
« Last Edit: July 01, 2022, 17:12 by Annie »

Uncle Pete

  • Great Place by a Great Lake - My Home Port
« Reply #9 on: July 01, 2022, 20:48 »
+1

The golden years, however, was broken back in 2017/18 when SS opened up their agency to a huge influx of people, lowered their acceptance from 7/10 to 1, and lowered their reviews - for one main reason - to compete with Getty by having the largest database. Quality went out the window, quantity came in. It was just part of the industry changes at that time, and I am not criticising anyone for taking advantage of it.


Thanks for all your help and others who study and plan and watch trends. You've written that before and you are 100% right. This is now, that was then. My same images that were "good enough" in 2010 are now nothing but filler. Files that sold the same day as they were uploaded and some kept selling, now get no sales at all.

Should I blame someone else or maybe the market and the competition and the quality of some of the current submissions, which are better than 12 years ago?

I think lowering the reviews is more of a problem than who gets let in. Are we some exclusive elite club? If the reviews were the same and some places they are, it doesn't matter if anyone passed a test or not, because the images would still need to pass. But true, reviews are not what they were, yet better images will sell. They just are harder to find than the common copies and imitations.

I have one answer and it's not secrets. Numbers and competition are nothing like they used to be. It's much more difficult and the images need to be timely and high quality. People made a living and paid for their mortgage or for their kids to go to school, using a P&S and shooting tabletop or family members at home. Those days are gone.

Times change and the market changed.

Oh that, and we can sell just as many licenses as years ago, but the pay is pocket change and inconsistent?

« Reply #10 on: July 02, 2022, 03:48 »
0
There is some kind of evolution in stock photography. First there was RM images. Then came RF. The further evolution was RF microstock.
In early times image quality at microstock was poor but improved over the years.
The next evolution is free images. If you still want to make money with stock photography you should find a way to make money with free images.


« Reply #11 on: July 02, 2022, 06:29 »
+1
The only way to improve our lot is more solidarity, not less. Turning on other photographers instead of banding together with them to demand better rates is precisely the worst thing to do.

« Reply #12 on: July 02, 2022, 08:51 »
0

The golden years, however, was broken back in 2017/18 when SS opened up their agency to a huge influx of people, lowered their acceptance from 7/10 to 1, and lowered their reviews - for one main reason - to compete with Getty by having the largest database. Quality went out the window, quantity came in. It was just part of the industry changes at that time, and I am not criticising anyone for taking advantage of it.


Thanks for all your help and others who study and plan and watch trends. You've written that before and you are 100% right. This is now, that was then. My same images that were "good enough" in 2010 are now nothing but filler. Files that sold the same day as they were uploaded and some kept selling, now get no sales at all.

Should I blame someone else or maybe the market and the competition and the quality of some of the current submissions, which are better than 12 years ago?

I think lowering the reviews is more of a problem than who gets let in. Are we some exclusive elite club? If the reviews were the same and some places they are, it doesn't matter if anyone passed a test or not, because the images would still need to pass. But true, reviews are not what they were, yet better images will sell. They just are harder to find than the common copies and imitations.

I have one answer and it's not secrets. Numbers and competition are nothing like they used to be. It's much more difficult and the images need to be timely and high quality. People made a living and paid for their mortgage or for their kids to go to school, using a P&S and shooting tabletop or family members at home. Those days are gone.

Times change and the market changed.

Oh that, and we can sell just as many licenses as years ago, but the pay is pocket change and inconsistent?

thanks for your response, Pete. Here are some of mine to yours that I've bolded.

1. If you're referring to your old editorials, then that is probably understandable. Otherwise, I would say, it depends on what you shoot.

2. Blame is a natural human response to anger. When people are angry there is a tendency to go straight to blame, but that will just keep you stuck. I understand that a lot of people are angry with some agencies changes since 2020, because the status quo was changed dramatically. They pulled the rug out from a lot of people's feet. But you can't make proactive decisions if you are stuck in blame. That's all I meant. 

At first, I got angry with the introduction of video subs, but I am to blame because my video port is too light on the subject matter that gets higher returns.  Once again it depends on what you shoot.

3. Well, yes. Kind of  ;) ;D (ie photographers, videographers, illustrators) lol (maybe not so elite  ;))

4. Yes, I paid off my mortgage with mainly tabletop photos. But still shooting them, and they are still selling. Once again, it depends on what you shoot.

5. My RPD for photos is still the same. So maybe, just maybe, it depends on what you shoot.  ;) :)

Attached is a screen grab that I posted on another thread but took it down. They are all photos subs from SS.  If people are getting mostly 10c subs, then maybe they should change their plan? Leave, don't upload, upload to AS only, try selling photos via other outlets, or yes, change what they shoot.
« Last Edit: July 03, 2022, 15:11 by Annie »

« Reply #13 on: July 02, 2022, 09:24 »
+2
I think the biggest reason for the drop in agency sales is simple: there is a worldwide glut of free digital imagery on just about every subject you can imagine.  Google (and other search engines) makes all these images easy to find and download, copyrighted or not.  There is so much theft of "protected" material on Google alone, that tracking it down and protecting one's copyrights becomes virtually impossible.  With so much "free" material so easy to find and download, much of it on social media, is it any wonder pay sites are having a hard time competing for paying customers?

Adobe, Dreamstime, and Alamy - the last three sites to which I contribute - all have free sections (I refuse to offer any of my work in these areas), and all offer free images as an enticement for new subscribers.  And the subscription model itself dramatically lowered payouts to contributors.  We all thought we could maintain earnings with volume sales, but volume sales are down.  See paragraph above.

Shutterstock shot itself in the foot by lowering standards and accepting millions of, essentially, duplicate images and cell phone pictures (allowing anyone with a cell phone and a modicum of knowledge on how to use it to become stock photographers) .  It also doesn't help that their database of images is so large it's too costly to curate and audit to weed out stolen images, many of which are taken from free sites or downloaded from Google, Flickr, IG or other social media.  At least two pending lawsuits against SS speak to this latter issue.

The bottom line is this: it's all about supply and demand.  There are simply too many high quality images freely available online right now - whether offered free or easily stolen - and too many agency photos of vastly varying quality (from good to gawd-awful) chasing too few dollars.  Did helping a few "noobs" along the way contribute to this mess?  Sure.  But that doesn't even begin to explain all the other people out there offering perfectly good work for free or seeing it stolen for use by end users and other unethical stock contributors.

What's the answer?  The amount of free competition is forcing the closure and/or mergers of smaller stock agencies with larger ones.  We are now getting to the point where one or two remaining agencies will set the global price for paid imagery while competing with an increasing glut of free content.  This will not end well for the individual contributor, who will be forced to accept hobbyist pay for professional work if they wish to stay in this industry going forward. 

In short, there is no good ending for professional photographers in this business; just a continued erosion of earnings until everyone reaches their own point of diminished returns, rendering it all simply not worth doing anymore.

Just my $.02.

farbled

« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2022, 12:39 »
+4
For me, the whole "decline" should not be any sort of surprise. Digital technology and mass submissions across every available platform mean that there is a flood of "good enough" images that make it appear that the industry is bursting at the seams. The agencies simply take advantage of that. If it were me choosing, people would submit their photos and have the option of earning their way up the ranks via sales (the only thing that matters) or get dumped in the freebie bin if it was good enough for that. Do you guys remember the early affiliate sites? Free but mostly terrible images on top, then paid links to an agency below. I think it was the best way for it to work, people could see the difference.

Most of the photos for sale online (also just my opinion, and including many of my own) are overpriced at "free". They wouldn't even get in to the freebie sites. Because of that, what matters most now more than ever is good keywording to ensure your work gets seen before a buyer gets bored. There are so many ways agencies could let the cream rise to the top, but instead they just chase the decreasing royalty payments to make up losses. Weren't these companies supposed to be innovators? Put an "exclude this artist" button on the (paid) sales side and we'd see most of the spammy crap vanish overnight. And seriously, if google can find similars in less than a second, then agencies can compare submissions to the rest of the databases before acceptance. Same with metadata that includes words like "unsplash" or "pixabay", I mean really... So it takes longer maybe, but it would get rid of a lot of thieves and duplicators too.

As for those free sites everyone loves to bash, I've belonged to a few to see what they are about, so I could make knowledge-based decisions regarding them. They have vibrant discussion groups where people share info to advance the craft of photography. Many, many of them, when looking at micro (comes up every so often), say "why bother for pennies" and when someone has only a few photos or even a hundred or so, its a valid argument. They are as disdaining of us as many here are of them. They do put up beautifully artistic works and curation is great, but when it comes to "stock", they don't offer that much in terms of competing with serious microstockers. Although some actually do make money through donations or advertising their stock portfolios.

They way I look at micro nowadays is like if its a sandcastle contest. Everyone and anyone can build one. Some spend a lot of money to make awesome ones, some use great creativity, and some ensure they are at that right tidal level, near the judges, and have a good-enough one to get noticed. The rest just take up space and cry about everyone else. I think the bigger successful agencies shot themselves in the foot from the get-go with their "all photos are equal" mindset. They are not, and every day we submitters fool ourselves into thinking every picture has value. If it doesn't sell, no one cares if you spent ten hours on it or ten seconds.

I think (and hope) we'll see a resurgence in niche agencies for exclusive artists or content. I know there are plenty of RM ones out there already, but I suspect as more and more good shooters lose incentive and stop, they'll pop up for exclusive RF content. Stuff that takes effort and/or money to make, well, that will become harder and harder to find and we'll possibly see the supply side become valuable again (at least for editorial and maybe time-themed submissions). At least, I can hope that will happen. In the meantime, there is still money on the table for smart, knowledgeable submitters. Every niche and subject is fair game, and the only failure to find new ways or ideas for over-done stuff is our own.

Thank you for attending my Ted talk. :)

« Reply #15 on: July 03, 2022, 02:21 »
+1
I think mobile phone photography is to blame.
Suddenly everyone is a "photographer" taking zillions billions trillions photos.
Low quality, massive quantity.
People get used to technically bad photos. They are praised as "lifestyle" imagery.
Microstock, social, free sites becoming refuse dumps for such content.

« Reply #16 on: July 03, 2022, 03:04 »
+1
@annie, you get me ;)

I spend a lot of time doing test searches and it is amazing how much is missing. Even in popular subjects like flowers and food.

I am currently in the process of rebuilding my ports, the only difference is I am doing a lot more editorial than before,



« Reply #17 on: July 03, 2022, 09:01 »
0
A niche is easy to find. But images at microstock should have potential for high volume sales.
Thats is often not the case at niche images.

farbled

« Reply #18 on: July 03, 2022, 09:46 »
+1
A niche is easy to find. But images at microstock should have potential for high volume sales.
Thats is often not the case at niche images.

I think it depends on the niche and what "high volume" is to the shooter. I have two niches that do quite well for me, but one doesn't even register as a statistic for agencies. They look at millions of sales and can point out what works for them, but something that only gets under a hundred sales a day, well, I never hear them talk about it. But for me, a few dozen daily sales (when I kept active and current) of one thing that I pretty much have the most diverse portfolio of, works for me. :)

SVH

« Reply #19 on: July 03, 2022, 12:34 »
0
I think mobile phone photography is to blame.
Suddenly everyone is a "photographer" taking zillions billions trillions photos.
Low quality, massive quantity.
People get used to technically bad photos. They are praised as "lifestyle" imagery.
Microstock, social, free sites becoming refuse dumps for such content.

I totally agree that this, as you put it, is the main factor.

« Reply #20 on: July 03, 2022, 13:51 »
0
...
« Last Edit: July 03, 2022, 13:59 by Zero Talent »

« Reply #21 on: July 03, 2022, 14:07 »
+1
A niche is easy to find. But images at microstock should have potential for high volume sales.
Thats is often not the case at niche images.

I think it depends on the niche and what "high volume" is to the shooter. I have two niches that do quite well for me, but one doesn't even register as a statistic for agencies. They look at millions of sales and can point out what works for them, but something that only gets under a hundred sales a day, well, I never hear them talk about it. But for me, a few dozen daily sales (when I kept active and current) of one thing that I pretty much have the most diverse portfolio of, works for me. :)

You took the words right out of my mouth.

I don't even think of them as niches anymore, but as Cobalt said above, just stuff that is missing from the databases. (Thanks @Cobalt - yes! With one exception, I don't do editorials)

I just had a quick look at a couple of my sets on SS (unpublished) that I was referring to above, and one has 807 DLs and another 582 DLs, and still counting. And that's just shutterstock alone. I've sold even more on AS.

I understand why some contributors say that niches may not have potential for a lot of sales. For example, you may shoot purple apples (as a quick example) as a niche, and yes, not many buyers are interested in purple apples.

But I think a lot contributors are going the wrong way about for when they plan what to shoot. Most look at what's already on the agencies searches to decide what is popular. But instead, they should find what's popular first, and then see if its already well covered. And that is not a niche - its just plain gaping holes!

If you have 5 or 10 of these types of subjects going, then that's another 5,000 to 10,000 DLs a year. (How do you think I got to over 100k DLs on SS? Its not about being a great artist. Far from it.)

« Last Edit: July 05, 2022, 17:51 by Annie »

SVH

« Reply #22 on: July 03, 2022, 14:08 »
+1

« Reply #23 on: July 03, 2022, 15:14 »
+5
It's funny, Terry & Annie, but five minutes ago on the subject of "niche" in another form I wrote this:

"At Adobe this week, I sold an image five times, which makes me wonder. Five times is nothing special per se. But: the photo shows a sky with clouds. Nothing else. There are 43 million results for the search term "sky". Countless of them are many times more spectacular and interesting. And yet mine has now made it to the second page of search results for "sky". I'm always amazed that very general images that don't cover any niches still somehow manage to get to the front. With 153 downloads, it's in 57th place in my portfolio. Now I'm curious to see how this develops. Because sky is always needed. But the algorithm has to do a lot to make sure that it can be found at all - and currently seems to be well-disposed towards me in this respect. Maybe it'll become a real bestseller someday."

Why the image is rated so well by the algorithm is an absolute mystery to me. But this much is clear: luck is also a very important factor.

« Reply #24 on: July 03, 2022, 15:24 »
+2
It's funny, Terry & Annie, but five minutes ago on the subject of "niche" in another form I wrote this:

"At Adobe this week, I sold an image five times, which makes me wonder. Five times is nothing special per se. But: the photo shows a sky with clouds. Nothing else. There are 43 million results for the search term "sky". Countless of them are many times more spectacular and interesting. And yet mine has now made it to the second page of search results for "sky". I'm always amazed that very general images that don't cover any niches still somehow manage to get to the front. With 153 downloads, it's in 57th place in my portfolio. Now I'm curious to see how this develops. Because sky is always needed. But the algorithm has to do a lot to make sure that it can be found at all - and currently seems to be well-disposed towards me in this respect. Maybe it'll become a real bestseller someday."

Why the image is rated so well by the algorithm is an absolute mystery to me. But this much is clear: luck is also a very important factor.

Yes, Wilm. I agree. Luck is important on individual images. But, according to my experience and observations, overall performance of a whole portfolio is based on a number of consistent factors that is definitely under the control of the contributor.

You are a great photographer with very well executed images, and from what I remember from your port, you also have a lot of other images with high demand and  not a lot of competition, especially to the quality of what you are offering. That is consistent throughout your port, and why I would say, you do so well overall. 

There are a lot of different ways to succeed in this business (some by having a lot of images, some by having a lot less, some by being different, some by being better), and fortunately, a lot of them can be controlled by the photographer. Agencies and algorithms have a lot of power over us, but I truly believe that we have more power than most of us realise.
« Last Edit: July 03, 2022, 15:50 by Annie »


 

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