Our own story of joining and working with Microstocks
Obviously there’s no two absolutely similar Microstock stories, but I’m sure there’s a lot in common among those different cases. The commonalities depend on where have you come from to Micro stocks. Were you just an amateur photography enthusiast, as we were, or a pro photographer already making a good living from selling photographs, when you first decided to join this ‘Micro’ photography business. Some people go microstocking as on their first opportunity to get some use and income of their photo hobby, others look for additional ways of selling their photo or vector work, being quite established in other variations of photography or design business. For both, it may or may not be the first attempt to earn some cash ‘online’, in a virtual internet world.
Our case is definitely an amateur-originated one. Before joining Micro stock agencies, we have never sold any photos before. Well, I did sell a single photo of mine for a calendar – it was a shot of a flying gull, which was noticed by somebody at one of the photo galleries/photo critics site, where I was posting my pictures at that time. It was quite amusing for me to be offered 20$ for that shot. I think, by the way, it’s also quite common that people exposing their photographs on web galleries and photo albums like flickr, picasa, smug smug, pbase and others do occasionally get requests from other people for the permission to use their photographs in any project – sometimes for free, sometimes for a compensation. If this has happened to you at least once – may be it’s already a good sign that you might try to make any use and even cash from your photos?
Who we are in the ‘real world’ and what photography is to us ?
As a majority of people dealing with Micro stocks, at least until a certain moment, shooting and selling photographs is not our primary occupation. We are in our early thirties and we have our full-time jobs, not related to photography at all. I used to deal with Project Management for IT systems, while Maria was working at one of the well-known advertising agencies. Today we are both in Marketing, myself – at a well-known car brand and Maria at one of the biggest FMCG company. We live in a big city of Moscow, with its crazy traffic and multi-hour road jams. So in addition to 40-hour minimum (plus common overtimes) work week, we spend on average 3 hours a day squeezing slowly through traffic. We have jams even on weekends! All-in all those jobs are still our main source of income, but also the activity which takes most of our time. And we think it will remain so for at least a few another years…
Photography, on the other hand, has been our hobby for quite a long time. Before we met with Maria we were fond of shooting and editing our pictures in Photoshop both on our own. I was more focused on everything which may be qualified as ‘travel photography’, such as landscapes, cityscapes, ‘postcard views’, etc. Maria’s favorite subjects were people in everyday situations, children, pets and various product and abstract artistic set-ups. We still have these personal preferences, which lets us have quite diversified, yet a portfolio with our own style and mood. Luckily, our main jobs provided us with enough means to support our hobbies well if not in terms of time, but at least as a financial source to buy decent-level cameras, lens and all the other gear.
Why we decided to join Micro stocks ?
Our families and friends have always liked the pictures we make, we were also posting them on the net in different online galleries, photo albums and photo critics sites. At some point of time, however, we realized that we make a lot of rather good photos and many people like them. So we thought we could try to extend their use from just our own fun, family memories and some other people amusement. So we started looking for ways of using our photography skills in a more fruitful way.
Wedding and event-shooting was not our cup of tea and we didn’t have time and flexibility for it. Portfolio-shooting was quite interesting for Maria, but again it needs arrangements with other people, which is quite difficult to plan with our lifestyle. Direct-marketing of our photographs was not an option for us either.
We have heard of photo banks (or macrostocks), who connect the community of professional photographers with the community of image buyers and users. However, we also new that their requirements in terms of quality (and especially the pixel resolution) are rather high, its quite difficult to join and very few agencies accepted electronic uploads of images (many requested mailing the CDs or even film slides). Luckily, I don’t remember where exactly, we came across a notion of Microstocks. By digging a bit into the subject, we came to the conclusion this model could be an opportunity for us to start in photography business. It suited us in all respects: no pro-level equipment needed, fast online registration and fully-online process, no time restrictions or commitments and very wide variety of images which may sell reasonably well. Looking at pictures in their databases proved that we could really go there with our photographs.
So, back in June 2007, we decided to join in. We’ve registered at a few microstock sites at once (Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Dreamstime, Fotolia, StockXpert and 123RF). We’ve been immediately accepted at Dreamstime, StockXpert and 123RF and we were able to start uploading our photographs if not the same, then the other day. It took us a bit longer – a few days to get into iStock, as they have their 3 picture entry exam. We’ve passed it on our first attempt though. However, we didn’t manage to pass the Shutterstock entry exam on our first attempt, so we had to wait for a month for the second try. In fact, we’ve passed it only on our third taking. At last, Fotolia had some technical difficulties and our application hanged in pending status for a few week, but finally we were there as well.
The precious moment of a first sale didn’t make us waiting long – in a day or two we’ve seen our first image sold and a first commission of the Dreamstime, then followed by Istock and gradually the other agencies. So our Microstock saga has begun. Among the first images we’ve been selling, which still sell quite well was our picture of long-tail thai boat attached to this article. And by the time we were accepted a Shutterstock three months later (due to several exam attempts) we’ve already had our first payment. But Shutterstock took the lead in sales and revenues from the very moment we started uploading to it and it remains our best-selling site today. iStocks comes very close though, with much smaller portfolio during long periods of no or little new uploads to Shutter.
Unfortunately, during to our personal reasons outlined above, we can not spend much time on this affair, but when we have some extra minutes, we always try to use it either to add pictures to our portfolio or to improve our skills or to make any research.
What is our progress now ?
Well, after some two years of our quite occasional, yet at times quite significant contribution of our time and energy to Micro Stocks, nowadays we think we can consider ourselves being rather well-establisher average microstockers. Our portfolio has recently passed over 500 images and our it now gives us quite stable extra bit of income of about 300-400$ each month. Is it much or little? Well, of course it is nothing you can make a normal living with. But considering the amount of time we spend on it, just a couple of hours during the week and a few hours over weekends, we find it a good way to enjoy our hobby in cash-positive (or at least not so strictly cash-negative) way. After all, it already covers our investments in photo gear for sure, or we can say it buys us air tickets and hotel expenses for a decent 2-week vacation each year.
We can also say that our skills have grown dramatically since the time we started with Microstocks. It concerns both our shooting and post-processing skills, as well as understanding what sells and what doesn’t. The key difference in the approach when you deal with Microstocks is that you are obliged to take very good care about the quality of your work, not just about its artistic side. Obviously, an image with rather serious quality flaws may look good scaled down for a web gallery or a family-album print, but it will never be accepted at photo stocks unless it looks good at 100% scale view of a resolution of at least 4 megapixel. It is indeed a huge difference and motivator to improve the skills!
But the most important thing that is quite clear for us now is that yes, we can make money on photography, on the activity we really like. And we are becoming more and more confident that if one day we decide to give up our day jobs, with all the extra time we’d have for Microstocks, the earnings should grow to a level above the minimum level our life demands. Realistically, it won’t match our current salary level for at least a couple of years since the beginning of this freelance affair I think, but with the grown of both skills and portfolio – nothing seems impossible.
We are, in fact, very optimistic about the potential of Microstocks for ourselves and in general. And after all, with the portfolio built-up, and skills growth we could even think of looking into any other, higher-margin and more ‘professional’ oriented means of selling photography. But still, it can always be combined with Microstocks, which proved to be effective in doing its job of selling multiple pictures at lower rates, resulting in decent cash-flows at the end.
What are our future targets and dreams
I think we’ve already passed our starting phase. It is no longer a big challenge for us just to shoot and get our photographs accepted. It gradually becomes a routine. We know that by keeping adding pictures to our portfolios we’ll progress a little as well, but it’s no longer a new step. And we feel it is the time to think about qualitative ways to develop, not only quantitative.
So first thing we decided to do recently was to open this site. We do have some experiences and ideas to share ourselves and we also like to invite other people to do so. I hope it will become a useful resource both for beginners in photo stocks looking for some general information and for more experienced people who might find a new idea or a tip. And, of course, we are not making a secret of the fact that this site is also targeted at promoting our images and making some extra revenues from referrals and ads.
Secondly, as we realize it too difficult to combine full-time jobs with any other serious affair using only our own efforts, we decided to outsource part of the job and offer some incentives for people who might be able to help us. So we’re inviting article writers to help us with the site and photo editors to help us prepare our photographs for Stocks. Please get us right, it is not due to our laziness or absence of skills to handle either of these tasks – we’d be happy and we are quite able to do everything by ourselves, if time allowed. As we are not ready to make too serious step and give up our current jobs, we feel that this kind of recruiting some outside help is the only way to make our hobby affairs develop at an acceptable pace. And finally, if you are reading this, then the photography is not only pure arts, but likely a form of business in your eyes. And in any business, we decide what we keep in our own hands and what/at what stage we employ others to do for us.
For a longer term perspective we also have our dreams, which we’ll be gradually building bridges to. Our biggest dream is to move away from Moscow to any place in a world with a mild climate, nice nature, the sea nearby and a comfortable lifestyle. We also want to keep the decent standards of living we are used to, keep the ability to travel a lot. but become more independent. The only way to make this dream which we see is to have our own small or medium-sized business, which we’d be able to run remotely. Will it be related to photography and Microstocks? Well, maybe. At least this is what we like doing, its really flexible and seems realistic to provide good financial means it you take it seriously.
How much cash will I earn this month on Micro stocks?
Unless we are on a fixed salary or have any extra source of income which may get you varying sums of money every time, it is always interesting to know in advance what your revenues will be this month. With Micro Stocks, we normally either rely on our own monthly or daily averages, or just trying to guess. Such methods, of course, cannot provide accurate previsions. Without any serious statistical base, it’s difficult to take into account seasonal fluctuations, market trends and other factors that are likely to affect our sales. We should expect at least 15-25% margin of error with all our simple calculations (thout the margin can be less for experienced artists with big established portfolios).
However Yuri Arcurs (www.arcurs.com), best-selling micro stock photographer (or at least one of such) has recently presented a curious tool on his site, which is supposed to provide you with more precise view on what the ongoing month will bring you. He calls it “projected monthly income calculator (PMI)”. According to the author, by entering your current earning figures of the ongoing month for each stock agency in an extremely simple online interface (see below), you will see the total amount you will get this month from Micro Stocks. The claimed accuracy is 5 percent starting from “just a few days in the month”, but the minimum required days to get a representative sample is not indicated. I tried to fill in my current values for September (it is only the 3rd day in the month yet) and the tool already suggests 6-7% accuracy on its predictions. Quite an ambitious promise, I should say!
However, there’s no doubt that Yuri Arcurs with his many years experience and outstanding success as a Micro Stock photographer, can perform such estimations better than most of the rest of us. He says that his tool takes into account big number of criteria and solid statistic database. Well, it’s too early to judge on the results, because not a single full month has passed as of yet since this tool has been released. We’ll see from our own experience and from other users’ comments in a month or two, whether it is really worth using this calculator as opposed to making our own predictions in a way we are used to. From the estimate for September it gives me now, I should say it may be a bit optimistic compared to our usual monthly averages this year. I did add quite a few new images to my portfolioin August though, which should certaintly do good to my sales in September. As it stands now, I’d be glad to know the calculator provides the result which is precise enough ;)
Still, there’s a few things, which I’m quite sure this tool will not take into account, which may affect our monthly revenues (at least for average stock photographers, whose portfolios are big enough to eliminate the ability of these to beat your figures of the normal track). Such factors are:
- Effect on your sales caused by new images you have just added or will upload during the month. We know that at least on Shutterstock, new photographs may give our sales a certain short-term boost;
- Any occasional extended license sales which you already had or will have during the month. The same is true for expensive big-size image downloads on some stocks, which are not too common for you. If you already had any of these in the current month, I suggest you exclude their revenues from the number you enter in the calculator, otherwise you risk to get way to optimistic estimate.
Anyway, let’s see in a while whether this new tool will realy prove to be useful in predicting our Micro Stock income for the current month. I hope it will, knowing that Yuri Arcurs is really a person on whose experience we can rely.
By the way, here’s yet another interesting article related to this subject on Yuri Arcurs’s site. It lists the ‘bad days’ of the year (national holidays in biggest Microstock markets) where the daily revenue falls far below normal daily averages. The statistically-based coefficients are also given for these days. You may see now why December and January are so particularly bad in Micro Stock revenues, as opposed to retail markets in the same period
As usual, you are welcome to share your thoughts and this subject using the comments box below.
Hello to everyone!
Hooray, we have started our first site! Our aim is to bring to you any interesting information on Microstocks and related Photography subjects. We are not planning to rewrite or copy any of the plenty ”how to microstock” guides, we plan to focus more specificly on different points of interest, share our own experiences and feelings and ask for your opinion as well.
In order for this site to grow valuable in less time, we are planning to invest a little and offer other people post articles here and we plan to pay 5$ per accepted article in the beginning. I’ll post exact details soon, so stay tuned!
Hope you will enjoy this site and find it useful.
Yours Vitaly and Maria,
owners of Stockforfood.com