Don’t believe everything said about Microstock

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I often see articles written about microstock by people who clearly have no clue about the industry. And when I say often, I come across articles like these once or twice a week. With all the misinformation, it’s not surprising that Microstock has many misconceptions that simply won’t go away.

Images are downloaded at a low cost, that’s generally true. However, people often write giving the impression that once an image is sold the contributor won’t receive further revenue from the image. What they often don’t make clear is that it’s not actually the image which is being sold, but a license to use the image, and a successful image can be licensed hundreds or thousands of times across several market places.

Another misconception is the belief that because these licenses are cheap, microstock images can’t be very good, and anyone can produce images and make money if they submit them to microstock agencies. Wrong! Don’t believe it. You don’t have to take my word for it, take a look at this from information Shutterstock released for its forthcoming IPO.

Less than 20% of contributor applicants who applied in 2011 were approved as contributors to, and less than 60% of images uploaded by approved contributors in 2011 satisfied our rigorous acceptance requirements.

Want to earn a decent income with your hobby of taking photos? Well good luck to you! However, it’s not luck that you need for a decent income in microstock, it’s commitment, and the level of commitment should not be underestimated.

I’m a hobbyist photographer myself, the income I receive from the few hundred images I have on the microstock agencies would be reasonable, if I didn’t do things like put petrol in my car, wear clothes and eat. I probably won’t ever make a serious income from the microstock industry unless I devote more time in developing my photography skills, including post-processing techniques; spend more time researching the kind of images which are in high demand and then set about producing these high quality, highly commercial images in vast quantities. Do not underestimate the dedication and time required, or you will be disappointed and eventually become disinterested like most people who try microstock. Remember the 80% of applicants which failed to get accepted by Shutterstock last year. Maybe there were a few in there who read one of the countless write ups saying how easy it all is.

The really successful microstock contributors are as professional as you can get, despite the numerous articles brandishing all microstockers as bunch of happy snappers. Here are a few quotes from an article published this week, it’s a really typical example of so many blogs and articles written about microstock. The full article is here..(Update: The site no longer exists) The English is a little broken at times, but you can still understand the meaning.

For starters, mainly students, Microstock is the most appropriate group to beginning their photography career…Unlike stock photography agencies, there are no strict standards celebrated in accepting pictures.”

There are no strict standards huh? You’ll think differently after you try it. And microstock agencies are stock photography agencies, images are stocked, licensed and downloaded, by the truck load.

He goes on to say, “Microstock guarantees the sale of any and every photo and a chance to consequence large by the sale of your countless pictures.

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He’s saying that all your images will sell and you will earn lots of cash, ‘it’s as easy as that’ kind of statement. There are those who earn a lot, the ones who are really dedicated and treat it as a business, but I think the majority of people who try microstock don’t earn a great deal, and most don’t earn enough to make it their only job. It really requires an enormous effort and a lot of time to become a truly successful microstock photographer or artist.

Also, if your images manage to get past the “rigorous” reviewing processes, this still doesn’t mean that they will sell a lot or even sell at all. The competition is extremely stiff and generally the best images rise to the top. If you are thinking of submitting images to microstock agencies, with the hope of making lots of money, go to any of the leading agencies, do a search with a keyword of your choice using the ‘most downloaded’ or ‘most popular’ filters, if you think you can or have produced work as good as what you see, or better, then go for it. If you can’t match or better the work that’s already there, then you probably have a long road ahead of you.

To those who keep writing blogs and articles about microstock, proclaiming to have knowledgeable information which is in fact mostly misleading supposition…Give it a rest!

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10 thoughts on “Don’t believe everything said about Microstock

  1. Very good article and i really like how you pointed out what some “writers” say about Microstock. I must admit, i did wrote something similar in my older post (in german) but i also see that a lot of non-professional “students” improve a lot since the agency requirements are so high and getting serious photographer over the time.

    1. I know you’re kidding Luis 🙂

      It is possible to make money folks, many people do. But to make a really decent amount requires far more commitment and professionalism, than so many of those who write about microstock will try and have you believe.

      1. ahah I was! sure there is money to be made in microstock but I don´t want more competition which doesn´t mean it will not happen :/

        imagine if we get 50% royalties, that would be really a ton of money to be made, not cents..

        1. haha, I managed to avoid the subject of royalties in this post, but seeing as you brought it up I’ll give my opinion. When agencies cut royalties, they come out with the tale of how it’s necessary in order to compete with other agencies. The agencies which cut are usually far ahead of most of their competition and they got to their position whilst offering good or at least reasonable royalties (par IS). The smaller agencies generally don’t cut and offer around 50% to contributors.

          Most contributors continue to feed the big agencies with their work regardless of royalty cuts, as that’s where the bulk of the sales are, but as far as I know they do take a hit by the smaller royalties. I’ve often read on msg from people who’ve contributed for many years, saying things like ‘it took me so many months/years just to get back to the same earnings of previous times’, this despite the agencies claiming that the extra cut they take from us is to spur growth. “Don’t believe everything said about Microstock”, is equally applicable to many agencies unfortunately.

          And yes, it stands to reason that you, I and anyone else would be making much more if we received a larger percentage from every sale, but it’s their business and they don’t really care about what we make (despite us making them 😉 ), they care about their bottom line.

          1. very well written and said! agree totally! the main problem is that small agencies have very few budget to advertise and get in touch with buyers, I do support them and they are becoming better and more relevant to my income, last month I made 34% from agencies beside the regular top 5 agencies which in my case aren´t the top 5! apart from our dreams and hopes we will never know our future in microstock, its a lot of fun!

            1. I support some of the small agencies too. The irony is, since the big agencies cut royalties many contributors now upload to agencies they previously wouldn’t of, in order to maintain or increase their income. Some just support them because they keep their royalties at good levels and want them to do better. Maybe to an extent, decisions made by the big agencies in order to increase profit are inadvertently aiding their competition. One can only hope 🙂

  2. I agree. I’m a professional photographer, and have been for 12 years. I put quite a bit of time into uploading and all that, but I don’t shoot for stock much. I mainly try and sell images on archive anyways, but I have to say, where I do shoot directly for stock, you do earn much better.

    However, easy money it’s certainly not. My income from stock images are probably not even 3% of the total turnover of my business.

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