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Author Topic: What does it take to make a living from selling stock  (Read 9756 times)

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Donvanstaden

« on: May 25, 2013, 00:56 »
0
I started submitting to MS sites a few years ago to hopefully make a bit of money to upgrade equipment etc. Over the last year my sales have stared doing a lot better than I expected and I think I have now fooled myself into thinking I might be able to make a living from selling stock (one day). My question is to those who are already making a living from selling MS is what should one work towards or what goals should I set myself to achieve this.

1. How big a portfolio should you have before even considering earning a living.
2. How many images should you add every day/week/month to that portfolio to keep the income steady
3. Any other tips for an aspiring microstocker to achieve this?

For the sake of not getting into a lengthy debate about what constitutes earning a living lets say that earning 2000 USD a month is the target 'salary'

I am new to this forum so if this has already been discussed in detail please direct me in the right direction.


tab62

« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2013, 01:07 »
0
2000 usd isn't too much thus 5k+ in your portfolio should produce this amount or more...

Mactrunk

« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2013, 02:23 »
+1
It higly depends on the quality of your portfolio. I personaly would need about 3000 images on Shutterstock alone with my current ratio to reach $2000 per month there. And I'm now adding about 40-60 per month. I'm almost at 400 at this moment. But I'm also on Fotolia and Dreamstime so I think 2000? Shutterstock is very easy to predict income from and steady so thats why I used it for an example.

Oh... and nice job getting that eliphant in your studio! ;) I like the wildlife on black images! Nice!

« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2013, 02:37 »
+1
It keeps getting harder though. The return per picture is constantly declining so you need to keep growing your portfolio. And, of course, some subjects sell better than others, some photographic styles sell better than others, so the actual number will vary widely. You might get there with 1,000 top-notch images, or it might need 10,000.

« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2013, 02:40 »
+11
I think to see a stable, reliable income I would go for at least 3000-4000 files as a basis and then try to get in the 6000+ range as fast as you can. It is true that quality trumps quantity, but I think what is even more important are very regular steady uploads. Try to upoad at least 30 files a week, better 50. Never less than 100 a month.

The steady flow of files will keep your portfolio visible.

I would also break down a shoot into several batches, i.e. if you got 60 interesting images from a larger shoot, upload 30 now and the rest in 6-9 months. This way the files from the series dont get the same "time stamp" in the search engines and are a little less vulnerable to the ups and downs of best match of the agencies.

You can also keep processing files from different themes parallel to each other, so you upload 10 files from shoot a and 10 from b and 10 from c in the same week. Next week, process another group of files.

It is also important to take care of your portfolios. Group your files together in lightboxes or galleries if the agency offers it. Customers have no time to waist, if you make it easy for them to find what they are looking for, they will keep coming back. Lightboxes also keep a theme together when you upload files slowly.

Pay attention to your website and maybe add your own webshop as well. Customers will contact you looking for variations to what you have or might want to buy something from a series they see on your site, but wasnt available from their preferred image provider. Agencies dont always take everything, they have their own taste and style or maybe the reviewer just had a bad day. But if you can always show the full series on your website, you can pick up a few more sales or just direct the buyer to another site where more from the series is available.

Get into video. The average return for video is much higher than for photos. It is a smaller market, but there is so much material needed that now is the right time to get into it.

i think it is definitely possible to make a full or part time living from stock. But most people I have seen who failed, underestimate how much work it is. There is also no boss or team or deadline pushing you, so you need a high level of self motivation to follow the "shoot, upload, repeat" lifestyle.

I would recommend to keep some kind of other part time job or business going, to be completely dependent on stock can be nerve wrecking.


« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2013, 02:51 »
+10
Depends what you shoot.

Shiny happy people doing stuff is the way to regular sales and success, but I think it's harder than it looks to do well.

Be prepared to work like a dog, there are no shortcuts in this business.

Donvanstaden

« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2013, 03:13 »
+1
Thanks everyone, this has been super helpful so far. Also gives me a very clear vision of the long road ahead.

My portfolio is very small and I have been working on my skills and trying to keep my portfolio as high quality as possible, I have also deleted all my old 'stinkers' from when I was first submitting.

100 images a month sounds like a good target, that's 25 a week and it would only take 5 years to reach 6000!! I have 70 images waiting for approval in SS IS and FT which I managed to put up this week.

I have set myself a personal target to reach 2000 images one year from today. Best get cracking!

Thanks again for the advice, much appreciated.


Beppe Grillo

« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2013, 03:40 »
+1
2000 usd isn't too much thus 5k+ in your portfolio should produce this amount or more...

Where I live $ 2000 is 10 times the average salary and more than 20 times the minimum salary

« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2013, 03:45 »
+1
2000 usd isn't too much thus 5k+ in your portfolio should produce this amount or more...

Where I live $ 2000 is 10 times the average salary and more than 20 times the minimum salary
Times are tough in Italy ;)

ShadySue

« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2013, 03:52 »
0
@OP, also remember that things will not be as they are today. We can be almost sure that many more people will be moving into stock, so that much more competition. This may, or may not, drive prices down to a point where producing them will be unsustainable.
You have stated a $ amount, and I guess a lot is down to how easily you could return to your former profession (or another) if you needed to, and whether anyone else is finanically dependent on you, or likely to become so in the future.
If in the lifestyle area, do you have a large selection of models with the stocky 'look' where you live? I've noticed that some people seem to have to use the same models over and over (which may work if they're on some sort of non-compete deal). Do you have a big enough studio to make it possible to plan a variety of sets (or access to sets big enough for you to set up lights, etc.)
« Last Edit: May 25, 2013, 03:56 by ShadySue »

« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2013, 03:58 »
0
Are there really so many new people rushing into stock? Here at msg the members seem to be around 32k+ for quite a while now. I think the "gold rush" phase where everyone with a DSLR came into it are over.

Now you see more pros moving in, but I am sure there are many more amataeurs abandoning stock every day than newcomers. The quality necessary to make it is very high and most people dont want to go and plan a shoot, scout for a location, find models etc...

So I think if you are really serious about stock you can and will make it. But you need to be at a professional level to start, but the OP clearly has that.

« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2013, 04:50 »
0
Are there really so many new people rushing into stock? Here at msg the members seem to be around 32k+ for quite a while now. I think the "gold rush" phase where everyone with a DSLR came into it are over.

Now you see more pros moving in, but I am sure there are many more amataeurs abandoning stock every day than newcomers. The quality necessary to make it is very high and most people dont want to go and plan a shoot, scout for a location, find models etc...

So I think if you are really serious about stock you can and will make it. But you need to be at a professional level to start, but the OP clearly has that.
+1
if the returns aren't there alot of people will drop out. Of course there will be hard core people who do it for a couple of dollars. Professionals aren't going to keep spending money to produce stock that loses them money so the market will level out to just above the poverty line ;)

« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2013, 05:06 »
+1
Interesting thought, Jasmine.  I've said for seven or eight years now that at some point the falling returns and the rising standards must result in microstock becoming completely unattractive to new entrants. Maybe that time has arrived.  The last person I referred to SS was a retired studio photographer who gave me useful lessons in lighting glassware - and he failed the entrance test. Without SS, a newbie is pretty much scuppered. In any case, in every area of stock today you are competing with some people who are expert at the genre and you need to be able to match their skills (often acquired over several years) in order to have a chance of selling.

I know I've felt a lack of incentive to keep going in the last couple of months. I'm pushing myself to get back into it now.

Donvanstaden

« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2013, 05:43 »
0
@OP, also remember that things will not be as they are today. We can be almost sure that many more people will be moving into stock, so that much more competition. This may, or may not, drive prices down to a point where producing them will be unsustainable.
You have stated a $ amount, and I guess a lot is down to how easily you could return to your former profession (or another) if you needed to, and whether anyone else is finanically dependent on you, or likely to become so in the future.
If in the lifestyle area, do you have a large selection of models with the stocky 'look' where you live? I've noticed that some people seem to have to use the same models over and over (which may work if they're on some sort of non-compete deal). Do you have a big enough studio to make it possible to plan a variety of sets (or access to sets big enough for you to set up lights, etc.)

Thanks Shady Sue, These are all very worthy considerations. I am currently reinvesting my earnings into the equipment needed for setting up a studio. I have been living in a national park for the last 7 years (thus the mostly wildlife based portfolio) so have been very limited to what I could shoot but will be moving to an ideal location soon and will be (slowly) setting up a studio which will be big enough for lights etc. Fortunately I do also have a career to fall back into very easily should I need to.

« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2013, 06:45 »
+4
To me, most of the answers above don't get it quite right.

It's not about the size of your port (though of course "more" is always better).

It's not about the quality of your port (though "good" is always beter).

It's 99% about: are you uploading stuff that people NEED?  And if there's a shortage of stuff like yours, and the need is great, you'll see A LOT of downloads.

Make that your number one goal... research what is selling the most, and put yourself in the mind of the buyer.  WHY is the buyer downloading that shot?  HOW is he/she using it?  WHAT will that buyer need tomorrow?  (And I'm not saying COPY what is already selling.  That's NOT the road to success.  Look at the top sellers to get a sense of the subject matter that is in demand, and figure out how you can portray these concepts DIFFERENTLY or even BETTER.)

If you make this your number 1 mission, and practice it every day as you upload IN DEMAND pics, the quantity and quality issues will take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, your living situation in a national park is tempting you to focus on wildlife shots.  Think like a buyer.  How often will those tree or animal shots be needed?  Doubling your challenge is the matter of oversaturation.  What will make yours stand out from the thousands of others just like them.  The demand is not there and the supply is too overabundant for you to hit your target in wildlife photography.

Still, best of luck.  Your goal is achievable if you follow these simple rules.  I'm proof of it.  I have pretty average skills, but I'm earning about 5 times your target income.  You just have to think like a business person, always focused on the laws of supply and demand, and anticipating your customer's need.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2013, 06:57 by stockmarketer »

« Reply #15 on: May 25, 2013, 07:22 »
+3
Yes and no,IMO.

Obviously finding holes in the collections and uploading what customers really need is a great commercial path to walk.

But it is also possible to decide on a subject and aggressively make it the best collection of files around that subject out there. There are so many new and different ways to interpret standard themes.

Imagine you live on an apple farm, have daily access to all things in the apple market. Although there must be many apple and apple farm images, if you look at what is available I am sure you can build a huge collection of authentic imagery about a subject you truly understand.

Same goes for other subject matters - just because there are a lot of medical files, it doesnt mean you shouldnt build a good collection about dentistry if you are a dentist (or maybe married to one). Or to shoot food and cooking if you are a pro or ambitious amateur cook. Your experience and knowledge about a certain field will shine through.

Designers also always look at newest files on the subjects that interest them, so you can always enter the market, even if you are adding the 12 000 hamburger image. And in your lightbox about cooking and hamburgers, you can also add the standard "hamburger" on white. Your lightbox becomes a miniature webstore and if a customer can find everything he needs at your "store", why bother going back to the general search?

The only problem is sometimes getting all the images into an agency, even if you need it to complete "your" lightbox.

So if the OP lives in a nature reserve and wanted to make that one of the themes he wants to explore, why not? I am sure between animal care, tourism, environmental issues there is a lot that can be done to make it useful.

The beauty of stock is that you can follow several entirely different themes. The customer will only remember the lightbox with images he needs, i.e. if you have a great food lightbox and someone is shopping for his food magazine, the buyer wont care if you have another lightbox specilaizing in welding and machinery.

I agree with doing a lot of market research on what is available on the agencies before shooting. Even for easter eggs I usually look at all the available material to see if I can come up with something a little different, or if I want to do a cliche, how can I improve on what is available.

But I still believe if you are tremendously fond of carrots, you can still do an all carrot theme collection with 2000 files if you want to. Customers will remember the "Master of carrots".

And as long as they remember you, they will keep coming back.


« Reply #16 on: May 25, 2013, 07:45 »
+2
Imagine you live on an apple farm, have daily access to all things in the apple market. Although there must be many apple and apple farm images, if you look at what is available I am sure you can build a huge collection of authentic imagery about a subject you truly understand.

Of course you could.  No laws against it.

The difference in our philosophies is that first I ask, is there demand?  Enough demand to make such an endeavor worthwhile.  I'm sure a talented ARTIST could come up with lots of creative ways to show apples, but the talented BUSINESS PERSON would realize it's a dead end before he/she even began.

The OP's stated goal is to earn a certain income, and that requires BUSINESS thinking first.

If your spouse was a highly specialized type of medical technician, giving you access to lots of unique imagery, that would certainly give you a unique port, but if it's so niche that the number of buyers would be few and far between, then you've only addressed the SUPPLY part of the equation, ignoring the DEMAND.

They're both equally important considerations.


« Reply #17 on: May 25, 2013, 07:53 »
0
The demand for every day imagery is there in the thousands if not millions. Otherwise people wouldnt keep buying it.

Just list any agencies that show visible download numbers (and yes, i hate them) and maybe look at what is being bought in large volume in the last 12 months and you see what is being bought,i.e. what the customers obviously need and pay money for. Many times these are the standard business images, objects on white etc...that everyone keeps telling you, you shouldnt shoot, because there is already too much out there.

However because this is what people actually buy, you can always enter the market.

So even as a new contributor you can enter fields where there already is a lot of competition.

Some people "specialize" in copying all the successful files. And the copy cat portfolios do extremly well, unfortunately.

But somewhere between what resources you have available and high volume subjects you can make a good amount of money if you think carefully about who your customer is. The more you know who it is you re targeting, the better your success obviously.

« Reply #18 on: May 25, 2013, 08:07 »
+1
To me, most of the answers above don't get it quite right.

It's not about the size of your port (though of course "more" is always better).

It's not about the quality of your port (though "good" is always beter).

It's 99% about: are you uploading stuff that people NEED?
And if there's a shortage of stuff like yours, and the need is great, you'll see A LOT of downloads.

Make that your number one goal... research what is selling the most, and put yourself in the mind of the buyer.  WHY is the buyer downloading that shot?  HOW is he/she using it?  WHAT will that buyer need tomorrow?  (And I'm not saying COPY what is already selling.  That's NOT the road to success.  Look at the top sellers to get a sense of the subject matter that is in demand, and figure out how you can portray these concepts DIFFERENTLY or even BETTER.)

If you make this your number 1 mission, and practice it every day as you upload IN DEMAND pics, the quantity and quality issues will take care of themselves.

Unfortunately, your living situation in a national park is tempting you to focus on wildlife shots.  Think like a buyer.  How often will those tree or animal shots be needed?  Doubling your challenge is the matter of oversaturation.  What will make yours stand out from the thousands of others just like them.  The demand is not there and the supply is too overabundant for you to hit your target in wildlife photography.

Still, best of luck.  Your goal is achievable if you follow these simple rules.  I'm proof of it.  I have pretty average skills, but I'm earning about 5 times your target income.  You just have to think like a business person, always focused on the laws of supply and demand, and anticipating your customer's need.

In my mind when we speak of quality at MSG it's means the same as what I highlighted above. Quality=what people need.  AND then there is technical quality. ;)

Carl

  • Carl Stewart, CS Productions
« Reply #19 on: May 25, 2013, 08:21 »
+4
I'll pass on the best advice I ever got.  It came from a wealthy man who told me, "What you should do is find the thing that ignites your passion.  It would be something that you'd pay someone to do if you had to.  Then do it so well that people will pay you good money to do it.  If you'll do that, you'll never work a day in your life."  So my advice to newcomers in the stock photography arena:  find a subject(s) that you're passionate about and shoot the livin' daylights out of it to become the best at it that you can possibly be.  Whatever ignites your passion, whether it's food, architecture, still-life, nature, or whatever... immerse yourself completely in it; give yourself a Ph.D. in it.  You'll find it rewarding on so many levels, one of which is financial.

« Reply #20 on: May 25, 2013, 09:00 »
+1
2000 usd isn't too much thus 5k+ in your portfolio should produce this amount or more...

Where I live $ 2000 is 10 times the average salary and more than 20 times the minimum salary
Times are tough in Italy ;)

I doubt that Bebbe Grillo live in Italy, not this Bebbe Grillo. 2000/10 means 200$ and no one gain this amount it's a joke. And 200$ are less than 155 so I think that Bebbe Grillo are kidding us, or maybe is only a nickname but he live in another country.

« Reply #21 on: May 25, 2013, 10:15 »
+1
Calculate your RPI (royalty per image) for each agency per month by dividing your income by the number of images online. You might want to take an average over several months to get a more accurate number. Add all the agencies together, then divide that by your financial goal. That will be the number of images you need. That number may change along the way, so reevaluate occasionally.

And try to have some fun too.  ;D

« Reply #22 on: May 25, 2013, 10:20 »
+1
dedication

Beppe Grillo

« Reply #23 on: May 25, 2013, 10:57 »
0
2000 usd isn't too much thus 5k+ in your portfolio should produce this amount or more...

Where I live $ 2000 is 10 times the average salary and more than 20 times the minimum salary
Times are tough in Italy ;)
Never told that I live in Italy ;)

« Reply #24 on: May 25, 2013, 14:14 »
0
I'll pass on the best advice I ever got.  It came from a wealthy man who told me, "What you should do is find the thing that ignites your passion.  It would be something that you'd pay someone to do if you had to.  Then do it so well that people will pay you good money to do it.  If you'll do that, you'll never work a day in your life." 

Was the wealthy man Confucius?  It's a well-known quote from him: Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

But I think you're taking it out of context.  If you love your job, he's basically saying, then it's not really work.

I could love pulling the lint out of my navel, and get so good at it that I made it an art form, but I don't think anyone will pay me to do it.

No, it still has to be something that fills a need someone has.  If I loved shooting watermelons and became the best in the world at it, I still wouldn't become rich.

Find a need, and fill it well.  That's the winning equation. 


 

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