What is Microstock?

MICROSTOCK PHOTOGRAPHY, is a part of the stock photography industry. What defines a company as a microstock photography company is that they (1) source their images almost exclusively via the Internet, (2) do so from a wider range of photographers than the traditional stock agencies (including a willingness to accept images from “amateurs” and hobbyists), and (3) sell their images at a very low rate (anywhere from $.20 – $10) for a royalty-free (RF) image.

A number of microstock sites also sell vector art, and some sell Flash animations and video as well as images.

The pioneer of microstock photography was Bruce Livingstone, who created iStockphoto, originally a free stock photo site that quickly became an industry phenomenon – Livingstone sold iStockphoto to Getty Images in February 2006 for $50 million. Many other sites sprung up in the years after iStockphoto’s inception; some of the larger ones are Shutterstock, created by Jon Oringer and is primarily a subscription based microstock site, Dreamstime, 123rf and also Bigstock which is now owned by Shutterstock.

Practices and controversy

Each microstock agency uses a different pricing and payment scheme. In some instances the same photo can have several prices. Photographers can upload the same pictures on multiple sites or, with some agencies, become an exclusive supplier and receive an increased commission and additional benefits.

There is no fee to post photos on a microstock agency website. However, microstock agencies do not accept all submitters or all photographs. Each employs a team of reviewers who check every picture submitted for legal issues and technical quality, as well as artistic and commercial merit. Photographers add keywords that help potential buyers filter and find pictures of interest.

The mindset of microstock supporters is that quality will prevail and some photographers believe that they will end up earning as much income from many small sales as they would from a few large sales on a traditional stock photography site. Others participate simply as a hobby or for a side income. Although not many microstock photographers post their income levels online, those individual small sales multiplied by volume can add up to thousands of dollars.

Some professional photographers believe microstock devalues the practice of photography, since most pictures on microstock sites have been taken by non-professional photographers, and that the business model is unsustainable. Professional photographers see the growth of microstock sites as reducing their own incomes.

This text comes under a Creative Commons License


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