The Golden Age of Stock is Over but there is Still Gold to be Found


posted on 20th of august, 2011

Critics of microstock will tell you that the microstock business is a race to the bottom and a waste of time. And you know what? They're right!

When microstock first began, it was a boom for those who got in early. Contributors were making tons of money mainly because there wasn't much competition. I would liken the early days of microstock to a gold rush. The lucky few who were there when the gold was discovered cashed in on easy money but the gold dried up as everyone else rushed in to stake their claim. Most gold rushes throughout history is a story of great promise and excitement with only a handful ever striking it big.

It truly is becoming a race to the bottom. As more and more Contributors flock in the overall availability of images makes it difficult for a single portfolio to compete against the sum of all other portfolios. More and more stock agencies and partners are coming in and it's driving down the cost of royalties... and profits.

The hard reality for the vast majority of Contributors is they probably should take up other endeavors. For those who take a shot in the business, there is the thrill of those first few sales, but is it really worth the trouble? Look at your stats. Is the money making the effort pay off? Is it really fun for those doing it for fun?

The extremely small group of microstockers who can make a living at this, many of them complain about falling revenue, tougher competition, and it's just not like it used to be. Since when did easy money ever stay easy forever? The only constant since the beginning of time is those people who succeed are those who work hard and do the job better than the competition.

The critics of microstock are right about one thing: It's not like it used to be. In order to succeed you now have to actually work hard. You have to be better than the competition. You have to think outside the box. And I think this is a concept lost on virtually everyone.

Case in point: Yuri Arcurs. Yuri is the god of microtock. He rules the planet. But have you looked at his portfolio? It's the same concepts over and over and over and over... and over... The guy is stuck in a rut and for whatever reason is unable to step it up a notch and turn the stock world upside down with new and fresh ideas.

Word I hear on the internet is Yuri is seeing reduced earnings but to me that isn't a surprise if it's true. First of all, he's saturating the market with the same concepts. He's competing against himself. Second, I see a lack of imagination in his work, at least for generating revenue.

If you have a shoot lined up, studio and models all in place, how difficult is it to take the scene at hand and change it into something else? How much effort is it to take Happy-Smiling-Businessman and throw a Santa Claus hat on his head and shoot a second image? With virtually no change on the set you just doubled up on the types of images you can add into your portfolio. And that's just one simple think-out-loud idea.

If Yuri is the best of the best but yet not even he can think of simple and quick ideas to maximize resources, that tells me there is still much gold to find in them thar hills.

I think the critics of microstock are right. The industry is spiraling downward. Effort-versus-reward is diminishing. The vast majority of Contributors should get out and find more worthwhile activities. (This blog isn't going to change the status quo despite the advice being sound).

However, ever since the beginning of time, there are always those who succeed despite the odds. They are the ones who work hard, don't give up, and overcome the obstacles that face them.

Most of us are limited in what we can do because of available resources. Give any one of us a studio like Yuri and a financial stake to hire models, then it's possible we too could become a major player in the stock world.

However, no one is limited when it comes to imagination and creativity. The catch is you can't train someone how to be creative or purchase books for improving imagination. I will express the opinion that Yuri Arcurs is lacking greatly in imagination and creativity; that's what I see when I browse through his portfolio. He may overcome this by working hard and being an experienced commercial photographer but Happy-Smiling-Buinessman can only go so far. Give a model a dirty shirt and a wrench and do a few Happy-Smiling-Auto-Mechanic shots; maybe overall revenue will start to increase because we're covering more concepts!

Could it be that those of you lacking in resources and experience, imaginatination and creativity will help you to go far? Then why do we keep submitting images of Clouds-In-Sky and Girl-On-Cell-Phone?

The bottom line is this: The future of microstock is bleak. Virtually all who give it a shot will find it to be a great disappointment and will find it no dofferent than any other gold rush or promise of easy money. Most will rush in with great hopes but will leave with empty pockets.

In the end, only those who work hard, make the effort, study and learn, and have the talent, will make it in this industry. Look in the mirror and look hard. Do you see someone who's going to make it in microstock? I don't want to use the word "fail" for those who aren't going to make it, sometimes it's more of a matter of discovering other things in life at which you can be successful.

Also, it's up to you to define "success." Do you want to make $100/month doing stock? $500? If you've been working at this for three years and are making $20/month, are you happy with that? Or should your energy best be spent elsewhere?

There are no revelations in this blog; in order to succeed you need to work hard, set goals, and evaluate your progress. But you should understand the stock industry, it's future, and whether you can find your niche. The gold is still there but it's much harder to find. Not even the great ones like Yuri Arcurs know how to find all the gold.

Comments (25)

Posted by Ewapix on September 14, 2011
Paulcowan, thank you a lot for your honesty. I am a (really-struggling-but-not-giving-up) newcomer - wishing i started quite a few years ago, but then I had babies :-) and am very grateful to everybody who speaks abou their experience truthfully and objectively. Ewapix
Posted by Paulcowan on September 14, 2011
First, I think there is a misunderstanding about Yuri's strategy, He is not and never was about creativity, his talent lies in his excruciatingly careful analysis of what makes a best selling image. So his approach is derivative rather than creative, he determines factors that sell and then creates work accordingly. He is part of the business world, not the art world. Changing fashions require recreation of old work to embrace the new style, while flooding the market with similar, salable images increases his statistical chances of getting the sale rather than someone else getting it,

There never really was a golden age, because although standards were lower and dls per image higher, the pay per sale was far less than it is today. I remember when there were only 100,000 images in the entire micro-verse. My average return per sale was about 18c. My earnings per image then were about double what my earnings per image are today. So it takes twice as much effort - and a lot more technical...(More)
Posted by Calyx22 on September 10, 2011
Interesting article, with even more interesting comments. Would I like to earn more? Of course. Do I want to keep building my portfolio? Of course. I don't necessarily believe that the golden age of stock is over. But I do believe that the days of large payments etc for those early folks is definitely over. But the industry is changing and we have to change with it. Adapt or die. Will I be Yuri? Of course not, because I am me and we definitely do not have the same style (or I his budget, money, studio, etc. LOL). But I am happy with my success, my sales, my income, and stock photography helps me improve every time I pick up the camera. And that, I'm happy with too.
Posted by Tipareth on September 07, 2011
Interesting ideas... I've saw that Yuri has become repetitive, but let him stay this way, so others can come with something else!! :-) I've come to spend less time of photoshop, I've become better photographer these years with the help of the stock. But also I've become stressed out because of silly and annoying rejections ( other sites not Dreamstime ) Dreamstime seems very just about almost every pic. Anyway as I see it, is that a photographer should not limit to stock, there is macrostock, wedding photography, local photography, studio payed up shots ( and from those one can extract some and put them also to stock ). So yeah this is kinda how I see it. I am taking it better than before and I am becoming more relaxed and confident and happy to be accepted on one of macrostock sites and to debut as wedding photographer.
Posted by Tipareth on September 07, 2011
Interesting ideas... I've saw that Yuri has become repetitive, but let him stay this way, so others can come with something else!! :-) I've come to spend less time of photoshop, I've become better photographer these years with the help of the stock. But also I've become stressed out because of silly and annoying rejections ( other sites not Dreamstime ) Dreamstime seems very just about almost every pic. Anyway as I see it, is that a photographer should not limit to stock, there is wedding photography, local photography, studio payed up shots ( and from those one can extract some and put them also to stock ). So yeah this is kinda how I see it. I am taking it better than before and I am becoming more relaxed and confident.
Posted by Szczepko on August 31, 2011

Nice to know your point of view on microstock. Maybe I should take all of it into consideration.
Marcin
Posted by Martingraf on August 31, 2011
with comments or blogs it's like this - do they help me get forward or do they distract me??? - to be honest, this one doesn't encourage me at all, doesn't help me in any way and is not really anything new anyway because after already a few accepted pics and a few months without sales your dream to live from the sales in microstock vanishes- but what helped me were the many good responses which do motivate - so at the end this Blog does encourage - at least indirectly ;) so thanks!
Posted by Afagundes on August 31, 2011
I disagree with you on that.
I am in this business since 2006, there hasn't been an year where my income hasn't increased by 20 to 30% since then.
The market is more competitive on the seller side, but there are much more buyers.
The prices in DT are not decreasing, the other way around, my RPD is increasing every year the same way as my income with new types of licenses.
At the beginning there were only what now we call subs and it was impossible to get a lot of money from here, today it's a completely different scenario, yes there are lots of subs, but higher value sales as well, like TIFF's, P-EL's, etc...
Just to put it in perspective, I just accumulated in 2011 the same income as the whole last year a few days ago and we still have 4 months to go!
So, IMHO, the golden age of stock is just starting.
Posted by Plaincrazy on August 29, 2011
i really am new to this. i actually just signed up on the site to learn photography. i even started without even owning a camera. my first approved photo was a scanned immage and several others i have done as well. but i have found that in even my illistrations things that show immagination and ingineuity are not accepted. and mostly for vague reasons. actually not a single immage that i thought was vary creative has been accepted. i really have given up tring to get them up and approved. I just basically do them for my self now and for backgrounds for artwork portraits that i do on canvas for people . it goes over ok.
Posted by Meryll on August 23, 2011
A great investigative blog.

Seeing Yuri Arcurs´s portfolio may lead to a conclusion he lacks creativity/imagination OR to a conclusion he devoted himself to a strong commercial industry which made him number one in microstock. I think he just let the rest he could not cover ( nobody can cover all ) to the others.

Seeing Wisconsinart´s portfolio leads me to a conclusion that he as a artist is very creative and full of imagination and that he fills the gaps in the huge DT portfolio.

However Yuri Arcurs has found gold mine in microstock for sure and you and others although very creative might not find another such gold mine today. Why? Because commercial success does not depend only on originality but also on demand, the bigger demand- the more downloads -the more commercial potential of images. I would say in these days of mickrostock there will be no other new Arcurs with such a huge commercial success (regardless wether your PF is pretty much commercialy orientated...(More)
Posted by Xiaofeng123 on August 21, 2011
I am exclusive here, And I am the kinds of 20$/month,But I think microstock is still in a Golden Age as the global economy rapid expansion.
Posted by Gmargittai on August 21, 2011
Correct me if I am wrong but I believe there are very few professional photographers that make a living EXCLUSIVELY from microstock. So when we are talking gold, what kind of gold are we talking about? What are the expectation? Is anybody fooling him/herself in thinking that with no training and a minimal investment, (few thousand dollars camera and lenses) one can really launch a career, working from home, no hustling, no nasty unpleasant clients, work as much or as little as you want? In a few years build a large portfolio that will just keep giving and giving? Lets get real.

I don't know about you but I would get bored in photographing isolated objects eight hours a day five days a week even if it would hypothetically lead to an income that would allow me to resign from my day job.

I think the reason so many people try their hand in this microstock is that they love photography and it gives them a purpose in doing it. It helps them become better photographers and also monetary...(More)
Posted by Silent47 on August 21, 2011
Whatever...
Posted by Fotosenmeer on August 21, 2011
I am not mean... actually I agree with the blogger, but I don't feel sorry for the girls and guys who made a fortune and making a bit less of a fortune today.

When looking at Yuri, the man himself states that the stock business is like playing major league football where anyone can join without years of training. Fortunately I don't hear him complain but i am almost certain that he his finding other ways like making footage besides his photos. He will make a success of it, I'm certain about that.

I know it is hard to become the number one in the business (any business). Staying number one is probably even harder because everyone is watching and copying the winning way.

Innovation is a way to stay just ahead of competition. But it is not just about winning when someone is making a living from it, I know.

Making 20 USD a month is probably nothing for a photographer in the western world but a small fortune for a photographer in the 3rd world.

I think Stock photography is among...(More)
Posted by smartview27 on August 21, 2011
Interesting.
Posted by Egomezta on August 21, 2011
I really liked your article, I guess you're right in many points, but at the same time there are many more buyers every day. I have read about the first photographers in stock photography many years ago, and they made fortunes, as it happened in many other business or industries. In my case I have been earning more every month, and expect to continue that way, as this is just a hobby and use the earnings to buy photography stuff. Thanks for sharing.
Posted by Wisconsinart on August 21, 2011
I am surprised some are finding "controversy" with this. The point is pretty much that if someone like Yuri Arcurs (after studying his portfolio) is not realizing his full potential, then there is still opportunity in a business that is getting tougher to succeed. While it will always be a business where anyone can participate, that doesn't mean you will succeed with minimal effort.
Posted by Karenfoleyphotography on August 21, 2011
sorry, appear to have hit enter twice ...
Posted by Karenfoleyphotography on August 21, 2011
Very sobering article, but well worth a read and a ponder ..... as you mentioned, a lot boils down to what your definition of success is. Thanks for the insight.
Posted by Silent47 on August 21, 2011
Are you happy with your achievements in stock????????????

I'm happy with every buyer/customer/income.... small or big...

If a man thinks its over with the business.... just quit. don't complain. finding new ideas yourself is the only way out/up. Don't tell others and get the gold out first.

Don't forget to mention that every contributor giving up is a benefit for yourself

just my 2 cents

best wishes

Don't be mean.He has a point.The stock market is way to saturated with business,isolated etc. photos.I try to stay away from all that photos but all ideas i have are not worth a dime.So?What to do when the best seller are saturated images and the photos i create,dont'sell?
Posted by Midosemsem on August 21, 2011
The Microstock business is not over and will not be. I'm a gold seeker who was just dreaming that his images get accepted. And now I'm happy with what I do and what I will do.

People have different concepts, cultures and ways of thinking and working. You can see a tree with a view that is far different from mine. This does not mean that your image will sell better, it just means that you'll have customers searching for your concept and I'll have others seeking mine.

Of course some of your words are quite true, but you're looking at the empty half of the glass. This will lead you to despair instead of motivation.
Posted by Jerryway on August 20, 2011
Excellent article, and I think Wisconsinart's analysis is quite objective. He is not the only person who says that it is harder to make $$$ out of the microstock business nowadays. I have seen other microstock veterans sharing the same opinions in various Internet forums. A few years ago, Microstock photographers used to be able to sell a lot more images, and royalty for each sale used to be a lot higher. The sale price is lower and the market is more competitive now. It is a hard fact, no matter you want to hear it or not. For those of you who have a portfolio in DT for a few years and less than a hundred download, are you really satisfied with the $$$ you earned, for all the time you have spent?

The Microstock business is not over, it is still here, just getting more and more competitive. Those who really want to makes $$$ nowadays needs 1) talent, 2) work hard, and 3) a bit of luck. And not everyone meet all three criteria.

Of course it is a whole different game, if...(More)
Posted by Solidsdman on August 20, 2011
I disagree with your analysis. If you take just one area of image use, which is the Internet, the number of users throughout the world continues to grow at a faster rate now than previous years. According to Miniwatts Internet Marketing Group, there was a 500% increase in Internet usage over the past ten years. The number of blog and commercial sites is increasing as well, as more businesses develop easier and more customer-friendly sites to sell their good and services.
Yes, more and more new photographers are getting into the stock image business, but the business is growing faster than there are people getting into the business.
There are 4 billion, yes billion, photos in Flickr, yet with all that saturation, commercial designers and bloggers are still flocking to stock agencies to buy images because that's the place to find quality images.
Yes, there's only one Yuri, and others at the top of other agencies, But in ten years there will be 20 Yuris to compete for the top.
Posted by Digikhmer on August 20, 2011
For my concerns, I have already achieve my target which is "get accepted my photos by professionals". I get it as a game/attraction for pull my skill up again and again with a poor equipment. If any buyer drop me a mist of gold per month, I am more than happy already. As you wrote, my revenue is about $20/month.
The second purpose of being contributor here is the challenge to buy my dream camera with the income of my hobby. I did not fix any duration. The more I wait for the better will be the dream camera. So I have time and exploit the maximum that my 40D can deliver ;) (with a lot of pain ;)
Posted by Fotosenmeer on August 20, 2011
Are you happy with your achievements in stock????????????

I'm happy with every buyer/customer/income.... small or big...

If a man thinks its over with the business.... just quit. don't complain. finding new ideas yourself is the only way out/up. Don't tell others and get the gold out first.

Don't forget to mention that every contributor giving up is a benefit for yourself

just my 2 cents

best wishes



Comments (25)

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Photo credits: Rene Drouyer.

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