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Learning Stock Photography from True Sources?

There’s this gal I am following online. It is a lot of fun, though not in the way you might imagine. I don’t dislike her or anything, but the problem is she’s working for a seminar provider “teaching” people how to earn money as writers online, as house-sitters for holiday homes abroad, or from stock photography. In one of their initial teasers I saw, she mentions how nice the feeling is being able to make a car payment from one’s stock image income.

Well, or so they make you think.

The “fun” part comes in when watching the entire show more closely and marking those claims to reality. I have been mean enough to do just that for two years or so now. The reality is, unsurprisingly, not as simple as these claims, which are, in fact outrageous. That does not mean that it cannot be done at all or that it is not worthwhile nor fun doing it, or at least trying it. Some people still make good money in that business, even today.

Here’s what I found out:

Maybe, she even is overly unsuccessful and others can do better than she does (or the market has slumped so badly that even I am underestimating that slump, and I am just lucky to do better)? Anyway, she sells about 20-30 images at Dreamstime annually, and she’s doing this out of a portfolio of 88 photos she has for sale with that particular online image agency. She also is a fully-qualified photographer (learned photography, worked for a local photographer in the Pacific Northwest for a few years, and now is in the employ for that seminar provider for the very reason that she has those credentials. Apparently, these are supposed to add “credibility” to the pricey seminars they offer). She has learned the Ins and Outs of photography basics over multiple years of hands-on work in that very field.

In her seminars, she teaches you what to shoot, how to shoot it, and how to post-process it (and what software to use, which is an Adobe product — why am I not surprised)… She does exactly the same things for her own stock photography shots, and they are technically flawless and looking really good. She even uses models and does “all the right things” (which includes shooting all that crap that is supposed to sell so nicely as stock images in today’s “multi-cultural” and oh-so tolerant marketing industry). This type of content has recently been parodised by Vince Vaughn and the entire cast of “Unfinished Business” — so it’s not just me thinking these “messages” are ridiculous. There are even has those proverbial “business-people high fives” where that African-American face is smiling at the Half-Asian, and our girl also has the image of a box of “valentine’s treats” with some rather meaningless “Love, Oh-la-la” plastered across the picture.

At the end of the day, she has sold a total of 186 images over a whopping seven-plus year period with the agency. At the stock photography going-rate there of between 34 cents and $2 dollars (a little more for XXL-size images purchased without a subscription, which rarely happens these days), she would have all of $70-odd spread over more than seven years which equals roughly $10 bucks of income per year. (Even at the maximum conceivable in case she always managed selling XXL-sized images to a non-subscriber — which is entirely wishful thinking –, those earnings would still be under $500 total over a seven-year period).

Even considering the fact that she has a larger portfolio with iStock and also with Shutterstock — and Shutterstock is supposed to sell a significantly higher rate of your images albeit at a measly 25¢ a pop, which in my experience is not even the case — the original claim of making more than a totally negligible amount cannot be upheld in her case at all.

So much for that making-a-car-payment claim. So much for the overall credibility of that Publishing company offering those $$$ seminars.

Every time I make another sale from my (even smaller) portfolio with that same agency, I go and check if she has also sold something. She hasn’t. For the last four or more sales I had, and counting. Considering that I think my low sales rate is normal in today’s over-saturated microstock market and in light of my own very small portfolio of stock photos available through this particular agency, at least I must do something right there — and a lot better than that “coach” herself.

But she’s the one giving us advice.

Race to the Bottom

It’s not a secret that the online stock or “microsotck” business model is rapidly wearing out itself. This appears to be true for both buyers and sellers of downloadable arts files. The best part is the one of the agencies themselves where big automated profits can be made off however small a margin because of multiplication made possible by an intelligent business system. Even for the agencies themselves, things aren’t as rosy as they used to be though. It all burns down to the vast number of files stored in today’s agencies. With 60 million images on Shutterstock alone, you should get the picture — or not, because how on earth are buyers supposed to find something within a reasonable amount of time?

Particularly with the surge in video footage made available (and stored) online, all aspects have turned red exponentially: cost of storage, use of bandwidth on the part of the agencies, time needed to sift through the enormous amounts of content available on part of the prospective buyer, and lowered prices and profit margins mostly on the part of artists (but partially agencies themselves as well).

So even the agencies themselves increasingly appear to be hurting. Even iStock as a subsidiary of media giant Getty Images, is spinning non-stop and throwing out increasingly desperate changes to their pricing and overall business model. Mergers and acquisitions — most recently the one between Fotolia and Adobe — prove that cost-cutting is more than just the latest flavour of the day.

Further illustrating the problem is the fact that $1-or-below pictures and $2 video clips cannot possibly be very profitable for anyone, artist or agency alike. Saying just that, the banner below — while clickable for a commission sponsoring this site much more attractively than actual images themselves — is truly symbolic for the overall situation described.

video hive is an example for online video footage selling from only $2.00

In a world like that, truly new approaches are urgently needed. One could be reverse image search or “human-powered image discovery” as seen with ImageBrief. Others may be self-hosting and taking back control of one’s own content and intellectual property on individually-owned gallery websites and quality showcase locations online. Additional business models will — and have to — be developed, including the incorporation of disruptive technologies like Bitcoin and other Crypto currencies with a potential to solve crucial parts (like cost of payments transmission and general micropayments distribution) of the microstock business model.

The near future will be exciting, and we will be watching and reporting on things to come.

 

Stock Photography: An Art, a Craft, a Technology, or a Business?

One of the frequently asked questions around Photography and Stock Photography in particular is, whether someone working in this field is an artist, a craftsperson, a technolgist, or a business owner. For arguments sake, let us pretend that we do not know that tax authorities believe this is a commercial endeavour, hence a “business”, and let us approach the question without the bias of tax laws.

Stock photography, let alone photography in general, is very much at home in the Arts field. It is quite evident that without some artsy approach, there is little chance of producing good and salesworthy results. Even for repro, infrared, or engineering photography, one might argue that there is still some degree of an “artistic eye” necessary.

Equally many ingredients in stock photography are derived from the crafts area: not only is your camera and other equipment a tool, but lighting, creating a set, and shooting a technically usable photo are undoubtedly what a craftsperson does.

In the day and age of photography as well as video production going increasingly digital, technology aspects are getting increasingly important in all these fields. Even in the age of film, there were lots of technical aspects to keep in mind, from film speed to mixing the right baths in the darkroom to using the correct set of brushes and scissors if you happened to be retouching. Little can you do as an aspiring photographer today, if you don’t know about computer storage media, USB standards, computer file systems on one hand or ISO settings or sensor noise, and many more — ideally on a sound basis of “old-style” knowledge, above –, on the other in order to make good use of these aspects and produce results that have all the features you want to influence using these aspects and settings.

The business aspect: it is present in everything you do as a photographer, particularly as a stock photographer where you primarily want to sell your work, and to the maximum number of prospective buyers at that. In order to succeed with that part, a thorough understanding of both artistic trends as well as marketing, particularly internet and social media marketing, are essential.

So, in summary, Stock Photography is All of the Above. Working as a stock photographer includes myriad ingredients from Arts, Crafts, Technology, and Business aspects.

Depending on the scale ow one’s own stock photography endeavours, one or the other may have a bigger share in the overall equation. From renting significant floor space in a business park to pursuing a micro-scale commercial and object photography business literally from the kitchen table, everything is included in the broader meaning of Stock Photograph — and don’t forget, the cost-reward-ratios can even be a lot better for smaller-scale operators. It all depends on one’s personal style and also on finding a niche and how to work it, from Yuri Arcurs Photography, Aarhus, Denmark or Joshua Hodge right down to the little guy.

Photographer’s Darling: New Online Media Selling Tool

If you are like most photographers, then titling, tagging, and editing your descriptions is tremendously time-consuming and a huge overall turnoff. Many tools have been developed to try and ease the pain, but so far there has been very little available out there to truly make a difference. The only “solutions” are expensive or they are third-party hosted and do not give you any meaningful control over your own photography (or graphic design) business.

Even available WordPress solutions like the popular SellMedia Plugin, while providing great steps in the right direction, have certain shortcomings.

Solution to Indie Selling: Professional Tool for Online Media Selling

To the rescue comes “Indie Selling” for photographers, videographers, and graphics artists — all complete with a brand-new Plugin called “grfx” (stands for graphics). This powerful microstock photography (and, yes, graphics) plugin for WordPress had initially been developed as a Theme-based solution. It has gathered a following of a few hundred enthusiasts over the past few years and is much-liked in the microstock community worldwide. Independently selling or “indie selling” of art online, from graphics to photography, video footage and even including e-books and other Downloadables, has taken a major step forward with the outstanding grfx Plugin for WordPress.

The new grfx Plugin for WordPress extends another popular WP solution, the popular Woocommerce e-shop, to allow mass-upload and selling your stock images online through your own store — and, unlike Shutterstock, Fotolia, iStock and others, on your own terms! Sell multiple image sizes, licenses, file types, useful for any image market including photography and selling other files, images etc. for download, but optimized for illustrators. The Plugin is brought to you by Leo Blanchette in Hawaii of clipartillustration.com who set up grfx, the illustrator network.

The grfx WordPress Plugin reads your meta-data from images, streamlining all  upload/description processes and providing a huge productivity advantage to every photographer or microstock artist — no tedious editing required anymore.

Summing It All Up: Main Features of GRFX:

Great community support, and very strong SEO functionality built-in. Further details of the grfx Plugin for WordPress include:

  • Compatible with Woocommerce and Woocommerce themes: Enjoy the benefits, security, and extensibility of a Woocommerce based store that sells stock images.
  • FTP Support: Bypass the uploader and easily FTP your images.
  • Beautifully watermarks your images: Protect your images with a professional looking watermark – automatically provided or of your creation.
  • Automated image processing: – Set it and forget it. Process thousands of images at once.
  • Set your own licenses: Easily set EULAs (End User License Agreements) for your images.
  • Processes image Metadata: Extracts title, keywords, and description from your image files’ EXIF information and applies them to either all or single ones of your products, saving you lots of time.
  • Illustrator network: Join the grfx illustrator network, open for photo and graphics artists alike.
  • Support forums and community: (now closed)
  • Tested and stable: We’ve been doing this a long time, and this package is well-tested and very stable.

The grfx Plugin is highly recommended.

 

 

Why Sell Independently?

As to why anyone would want to go down the route of selling their photos, graphics work, or other media on their individual website at all, however great the available tools, let’s simply have a look at the professional artists forum Microstockgroup from Sarpsborg in southesastern Norway’s Østfold province and bear in mind what real-life micro stock artists have to say about pay and other policies of conventional microstock agencies like iStock, Shutterstock, and similar. In light of steadily declining revenues and established agencies’ tendency toward lowering acceptance thresholds even further and favoring quantity over quality, selling individually on one’s own website can beat microstock selling very early on. Done right, it will not even beat but can easily surpass conventional microstock income levels as Search Engine Optimization can be done more effectively for self-controlled images and media files.

Google Update: Still Promoting Your Site Effectively

Beginning in April 2012, Google has started to modify their way of “looking” at websites. Changes in basic structures of underlying algorithms around the “Googlebot” and database handling are meant to siphon out useless and dishonest results. These are most often achieved by dubious “consultants” tweaking their SEO methods in order to force overly-advantageous results for their own or their clients’ websites. Comment spamming or building an extensive web of — more or less legit — content that then, oh-so surprisingly, all points to a certain location are chief among these methods.

In order to restrict these con-artists and limit the success of their methods even further, Google has introduced yet another modification, an update to their Penguin update of last year. The consequences are not yet fully understood throughout the community — or rather communities (namely of legitimate SEO and illegitimate black-hat operators).

Here is some advice though:

Whatever the intricacies of the update or, in fact, any future modifications, staying with high-quality content and accepted ways of sharing, commenting or promoting that content will never be wrong (nor “punished” by any reasonable search engine). So instead of thinking up all sorts of stuff, comment spamming and doing stupid things, why not spend just a fraction of the time and effort involved for writing some meaningful content and create some legitimate Social Media buzz around it? Google and all the other bots love Facebook and similar sites. This is hardly a secret, it is a well-established fact, and while it is long known throughout the industry it is actually surprising that it is not the only thing all these strange characters out there are after. Would save them a lot of elbow-grease — and, indeed, trouble. On top, it’s also an integrity thing: as a business person, you really do not want to abuse someone else’s effort (and resources) by exploiting or tainting their operation with your garbage. Get out, you and your dirty BS down there under “comments” are not invited — not anywhere in the world, that is –, and it is not even “helpful” for your own little games anyway. So spend some time thinking (if you can), get a few new books or do some proper research over the net. Then, finally get it right. For all our sakes: your customers’, your own, and ours who do not want to have to constantly clean up after the likes of yourself…