Microstock – hobby or business?

Many microstock photographers treat their photography as a hobby not as a business. That is very natural when you make just a little supplement out of it rather than a full-time income. Some photographers who have grown their microstock activity to a full time job still a kind of a hobby attitude. That is also natural taking into account the background and the speed of the growth from a pure hobby to a job.

Recent changes in microstock, particularly commission cut at istock and fotolia caused a lot of negative reaction from the photographers. Of course it’s extremely unpleasant when the agencies reduce the share paid to photographers. Although legal it is perceived by many as a very unfair step.

How to react besides expressing your thoughts in various forums is the question for many. Is it worth to boycott such agencies, is it worth to unite the forces? Are there any other options?

I tried to summarize my thoughts on these 3 questions:


Boycott it or not?

I think it mainly depends on whether you have significant revenue from these agencies or neglectful. If it’s neglectful you can easily stop working with the agency. You should realize that you would only please yourself doing that but the agency wouldn’t notice your leave.

If your revenue is significant I would take a step away and try to look at it as one of your income streams, emotions aside. If the stream is significant, and if it will remain significant after the commission cut I would rather keep it. However I would explore other possibilities to extend other streams and/or add more streams.

Can photographers influence the behavior of the agencies? There are suggestions to unite forces which is supposed to increase the negotiation power. The fact is that about 80% of the agencies’ income is generated by approximately 20% of top photographers. That means that even uniting 80% of average contributors that isn’t too much value for the agencies. It would only make sense if the very top photographers would unite to negotiate the policy of the agencies. If you aren’t one of them any attempt to unite with your peers is pretty much useless.

One other part of the picture is ever increasing competition. The growth of supply is higher than the growth of demand. I suppose that will cause further saturation of microstock contributor with the middle layer being affected the most. I mean top contributors making a full time income for several people in their “picture production factories” will certainly be able to survive. They will have to optimize costs but I have no doubts they will stay successful. The low layer of hobbyist contributors will not be affected much. The main difference will be increased threshold for the acceptance of their pictures as the agencies can afford to become more selective. Other than that the hobbyist making a hundred or a couple per month will just continue at similar level… I suppose еhe most affected by competition will be the middle layer, i.e. the people just making the living from microstock but being around the threshold of their survival level. If they will not be able to grow significantly they will probably be pushed towards the low tier.

It’s again about the same story about 20% of people making 80% of income. Most of increasing competition are eating from the 20% piece of the pie. Even the pie is growing too, number of eaters is growing faster. If you manage to get to the top tier you’ll compete for a portion of 80% piece of the pie – the piece is much larger and the number of competitors is much lower.

Is it still possible to get to the top tier, or did it become a close club? It’s very difficult but is certainly possible. Daniel Laflor is one of the recent examples, Cathy Yeulet is one before; and there are some other too.

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