Tuesday, October 30, 2007


LuckyOliver: Boardwalk thru grasses

Over time, I have found that a number of my images have been "acquired" from flickr and used without my permission - or attribution to me as the creator. Because of this, I have investigated the numerous microstock agencies that have emerged in the past 5 years. My feeling is: if my imagery is good enough to steal, then maybe it's good enough to buy - if the price is right.

Microstock agencies came about because the massive expansion of the internet has affected the "value" of imagery in much that same way it has affected the "value" of music. There is so much of it available for free now that many buyers are unwilling to pay premium prices. But at the same time, the market for imagery and music has grown immensely. So the trick is to sell your product at a much reduced price but sell many more units than you would have before.

The record industry has yet to realize the truth of this and is, therefore, an industry in ruin. If the powers that be had decided early on that they should work with Napster to sell monthly download subscriptions at a very low price, and let people download whatever they wanted, they could have divided up the subscription money by number of downloads and ended up making more money than they have with the old model. Instead, they have encouraged their customer base to become thieves and are actively seeking to punish them to the full extent of the law.

Why would they make more money selling their product at pennies on the dollar? It's because people need and expect to have more music today than they did in the old days. How many albums did you own when you were a teenager and young adult? The really addicted music lover probably had a couple of hundred. I did. The average person had between 20 and 50, maybe. Now one iPod can carry more music than a radio station had in its total collection just a few years ago. That's a huge amount of music - a huge number of downloads - in the hundreds of millions. That's the money that the record industry is giving away by encouraging people to steal instead of buy. Of course, not everyone will subscribe and there will still be thieves. But if you make it cheap enough and easy enough to purchase legally, I think that the average person will opt for doing the right thing.

So as not to be a thief myself, I wish to point out that my thoughts about the record industry were formed by reading a very astute observer of the industry: Bob Lefsetz. If you're interested, you can read him online or subscribe to his letter. He's very opinionated and a real gadfly.

But back to photography: The same basic premise applies. There are countless more customers for imagery than there used to be. But they are unable and/or unwilling to pay high prices for that imagery. So you price it low enough to encourage people to buy instead of steal and you make up the difference in units sold. That's the idea that drives microstock. Does it work? They say it does. But like anything else, becoming a successful microstock photographer takes hard work and resolve. You can't throw a couple of images up and expect to make money.

So, I'm putting in the work. I'll see if I have the resolve. Right now I have begun to send photo files to: Fotolia, Dreamstime, Lucky Oliver, and iStockphoto. Click on the links to check my meager but growing portfolios. I'm not sure I have the right kind of imagery to be successful at this, but I'm willing to try. Instead of spending my time preparing photos for flickr (fotolog in the old days) to get that occasional attaboy from a viewer, now I'll spend a bit more time - the images have to be flawless, no shortcuts or sloppiness allowed - to get a sale now and again. After all, my wife wants to know how I'm paying for the 40D I just purchased.