The State of the Business


posted on 6th of june, 2008

As a newbie to stock sales, I've spent a lot of time lately doing research on microstock blogs. I've learned so much from more experienced photographers willingness to share what they know about selling their images with those of us who are newer to the business. Thanks guys! This blog is my attempt to share what I've learned about harnessing creativity to make it marketable.

There has increasingly been talk about a coming shake down phase in the microstock industry. Mostly this worry is attributed to the proliferation of new microstock sites and the number of wannabes jumping in to sell their images. After 30 years of marketing different forms of my creativity, it's been my experience that more competition usually makes an industry stronger, not weaker.

When I was selling handwoven textiles during the 1980s, I went to Santa Fe, New Mexico to sell my work. Why? Because that's where all of the best weavers went to sell. People from all over the world flew into Santa Fe specifically to look for weavings of all types. Did the gallery business in Santa Fe eventually tank for a time? Yes, but what fueled the down turn in the gallery economy of Santa Fe was the Texas oil bust of the 1980s. Much of the art in Santa Fe at that time was sold to wealthy Texans. An overload of competition among the galleries and artists in Santa Fe was not what precipitated the collapse of the market. Many poorly managed galleries did go out of business, however.

Today, Santa Fe has more than bounced back and is a world center for all areas of the arts. We'll see what the future brings for the art market in New Mexico. There may be another shake down phase coming for all fields of commercial art and graphic design. In my opinion, this is coming because of problems with the United States economy. The financial news out of the United States is not good and will probably not improve for some time. Small businesses will suffer the most, and it will ripple throughout the world economy. If it hasn't already done so.

Does this mean that I think that newbies should stop trying to sell their work? No, but it does mean that we should all, experienced and new photographers, take some basic steps to maximize profits. First, if you have a day job, don't quit it! Keep that cushion of financial safety while you work toward independence. Can you afford to pay for your own medical insurance? If it's currently covered by your place of employment, check to see how much the out of pocket expense would be if you were picking up the whole tab yourself. See if you are even insurable at all. Lack of regulation in the insurance industry has made it very hard for some US citizens to get affordable health care at all. Second, make business and personal budgets. Use the budgets to cut any unnecessary expenses. Stick to them and be ruthless about it! Do you really need or just want that new piece of equipment? Can you cut travel expenses? Third, work harder. If that's possible. Most often the people who thrive in any industry are the ones who have the most relentless attitude, refuse to give up, and have the most physical stamina to get the job done. Fourth, diversify. Explore new markets and expand the type of work that you do.

Some businesses can and do thrive during economically tough times. This blog has been my attempt to share some of the knowledge that I've gained from years of watching and participating in different segments of the art market. Stock photography may be a business, but it starts with skill and creativity. I hope that this blog hasn't been too simplistic, but I felt that the effect of the health of the whole economy as an influence on the market for photographic images has been downplayed by many of us. We all tend to focus too much on our own industry and forget that there's a huge world economy out there that influences our sales.

Sorry, about the body builder image. This blog needed some lightening up, and I just couldn't resist. It's a beautiful shot on many levels!

Pat Ballard


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Photo credits: Alain Lacroix, Niderlander, Pål Espen Olsen, Richard Gunion.

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