For some time now, I have been selling photos and artwork online through a new brand of stock photography site that is shaking up this highly traditional marketplace.
At sites like Corbis and Getty — which have long dominated the industry — professional photographers sell their work for payments ranging into the hundreds of dollars per image.
Now, an emerging army of micropayment stock photography sites is creating serious competition for the traditionals. Still a relatively new phenomenon, the microstocks allow people to buy images on a subscription or pay per download basis, for as little as 25¢ each. You make up the difference on volume, at least in theory.
There are dozens of microstocks, with new players emerging every day. I have been experimenting with some of them for several months now. Here's what I've found:
- DreamsTime: Sales are sluggish, though this site pays the best of the few I have played with, at up to $10 per image. Purchase available on a subscription or pay per download basis. Slow approval response time (5-10 days). Moderate rejection rate (18%), for sometimes arbitrary reasons. They have rejected two images that are best sellers on other sites.
- Shutterstock: This site is my favourite, hands-down, even though they only pay 25 cents per download. Due to the volume of downloads, however, I have earned almost ten times the income generated by the other micros I use. For some reason I cannot fathom, my images sell like hotcakes here. SS turns around approvals speedily and, so far, I have enjoyed a 100% acceptance rate! The one time they rejected an image, it was accepted after I fixed the problem and resubmitted. Shutterstock works on a subscription basis only, which may be the key to their success.
- Fotolia: A new player, originating in France, this site caters to Europe and North America. Pricing ranges from $1 to $3. Approvals are fairly quick and rejections minimal (5%) though, like DreamsTime, they sometimes reject images for seemingly arbitrary reasons. Sales through this site, which are on a pay per download basis, have been slow.
- iStockPhoto: The grand-daddy of them all, this site is also the most picky and demanding in my experience. In fact, I gave up shortly after submitting my first batch of images. iStock rejected every single image, either as not suitable for their audience or due to defects that the other micros didn't see. iStock pricing ranges from $1 to $5, on a per download basis.
- 123RoyaltyFree: 100% acceptance rate, but abyssmal response time and only one sale so far. It takes weeks for uploaded images to be reviewed and OK'd at this site. I have stopped uploading, but maybe it will work for you. 123RF is well spoken of in some of the microstock discussion groups. Pricing works on a subscription or pay per download basis, the latter at $1.20 per image.
Though many professional photographers deplore the microstocks, debate in some of the online microstock discussion groups tends to suggest that some pros are experimenting with this new marketplace. More than a few people predict that the new market economics — why pay hundreds of dollars when you can get just as good an image for $1.00? — will spell the end of the traditionals. I wouldn't be surprised to see the big players launch their own microstock brands within the year.
For me personally, the microstocks have not been a fast track to wealth and fame, but they have generated a nice little income supplement. Be warned, though: you need a fairly high volume of images accepted to see any real return. Keywording is tedious, but vitally important. Get a good FTP utility, and save time by storing descriptions and keywords within images (look for tools that support EXIF/IPTC data retrieval); these fields will then populate automatically when you upload.
For a good introduction to microstock photography sites, see Stephen Finn's excellent guide. For more microstock and traditional stock photography resources, see the WebLens image search page.