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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Out Of The Micros

I have, in general, always found myself trying new things instead of taking the word of others. Maybe that is unwise (if you jump off a building, do you really need to experience the impact to know that it is going to hurt?), but, on the other hand, I have always been one to want to prove things to myself and not simply take another's word and surely there is some wisdom to that. And so it was when I decided to see if my images (as opposed to my prints) might sell in the open market.

This question launched my experiment with the microstock agencies that I wrote about a few months ago. And the results of this experiment?

Well, my images do sell. And there is a certain 'kick' that one gets when a download is registered (which, by the way, is, I believe, the drive for many, if not most, micro contributors.....like a hit of a drug, you want more). But is it worthwhile? Is it reasonable? Is it respectful to your work? Having, to some degree, immersed myself in it for 4 or 5 months, I have my own personal answers to those questions. Like my original posting, my answers are certainly not the answers for everyone, they are just my opininon.

First off, the sales. I have been earning about $75-85 per month. Some might think this is a lot and others might think it is very little. Certainly, it is not enough to represent a meaningful amount of income to most people. The gain or loss of this much will not effect my (our most peoples) life style at all. But it has taken a reasonable amount of work to prepare images, spot them, keyword them, upload them etc. In and of itself, that is not necessarily a negative as artists can work for a long time on images to hang in a gallery or show and not necessarily make a sale. They have, however, for their efforts, had people enjoy their work and attribute it to them. They have shared their artwork with those wanting to see art. But for my efforts, does anyone know me better as an artist (yes, I know that microstock is not art, but people don't know me any better as a photographer either)? Have I had any bylines or copyright notices next to my images? Do people know the images are mine? One word answer. NO. In fact, the venture has, if anything, detracted me from my more artistic endeavors.

Who has been making the most money? Without question it is the microstock companies. I believe they are laughing all the way to the bank. For the photographer to get $0.25 to $3.00 for an image (with 99% of my sales being $0.25-$1.00), despite the fact that the image can be sold many times over is, I have come to believe, an insult. At least it seems an insult if the photographer is submitting their 'good' work to the agency. And it seems a bit absurd to try to sell your bad work.

Should I have realized this before giving the micros a try? Perhaps. There is certainly enough information out there to have let me come to these conclusions without giving it a try. I guess I had to prove to myself that the micros were not going to give me what I was looking for. As I mentioned above, I do think a big part of their appeal is the 'hit' one gets from getting a download that keeps people coming back for more. But I do think that when one steps back they find that the laugh is on them.

For whom do I personally think the micros are a reasonable option. I think for those that are trying to make a substantial portion of their income from micro shooting and who are shooting topics specifically for micro (ie business people shaking hands, smiling families) and who are spending their work hours, not their private time hours, doing it the micros might be reasonable. But I don't personally want to spend my private time making these types of images. I would rather work on my more serious artistic images. And I don't mind selling them, but I would like the price to reflect the passion, time, and effort that I put into making them.

So what are my plans from here. I have decided to slowly leave the micros. I have either deleted or requested account closure from most of them (some require 90 days notice). I have left my Shutterstock, iStock, and Dreamstime accounts open for the moment and have just started to submit many of these images to Alamy after having been accepted there. As images hopefully slowly start to get accepted at Alamy and other macro-stock agencies I will delete them from these remaining accounts. Of course, the images that were sold in the micros will need to be sold in the macro stock agencies as royalty free and new images can be submitted as rights managed. Theoretically, one can, by the letter of the law, continue to sell Alamy royalty free images on micro sites as well (though PhotoShelter, which I also plan to apply to, forbids this). However, I plan to just remove them from the micros nonetheless, for all the reasons I noted above.

Though I did it as well, I find myself wondering what had come over me and why anyone would sell their images for such low prices? Well, at least I was smart enough to figure it out and do something about it.

One thing I do have to say, though. And that is that the quality of the images at the leading micros are very high with every image being carefully inspected...which does make me wonder why many buyers would stick with macro agencies unless it is for images that are rights managed, so they know where the images have been. Though I no longer want to participate, with, literally millions of images available on the micros, the horse is, as they say, out of the barn. And it doesn't look like it is going back any time soon. I can see why it is a difficult time to be a professional stock photographer.

So, for me, the microstock experiment has come to an end.