Less than a week in yet that hang-over seems so long ago! I submitted 170 images last year, that's nothing like the number I was planning 12 months ago, that's despite upload being easier than ever. Thinking back 12 months and things felt very different, as I'm sure they will in 12 months time. Good news being that my earnings are up.
Looking Back - A 2009 Retrospective
February saw a trip to San Jose for UGCX where I had the opportunity to meet with fellow photographers, bloggers and big wigs from the stock photo world - in fact much 'bigger wings' that I imagined meeting. The whole thing gave me a much broader perspective on the industry, if you think microstock seems to be constantly changing and morphing you "ain't seen nothin". That said I can't quite get away from thinking about the "Random organizational changes" Scott Adams wrote about in as "management time fillers" in the Dilbert principle book. But what do I know!?
Veer arrived and caused a stir, with their, at the time "incredible shock! horror!" news that they would be mixing full price and micro on one website. 10 months later It just seems like a natural thing to provide clients with a range of images from various sources, some budget and some premium.
Probably the biggest change of the year from the contributors point of view was the launch of isyndica - that day uploading got a lot easier. In making the whole process easier for everyone we all face an even more difficult job getting our images accepted. While your workflow is still critical for success the focus of microstock is moving even more towards great photos (which it should) and not being an issue of overcoming technical problems like post processing and uploading. Lookstat also launched their paid services for processing keywording and submitting images, aimed at stock imaging professionals it caters for photographers who "only take photos" leaving them to do what they do best, in some respects combining lookstat and the agencies mirrors the process of traditional stock.
12 months ago the big agencies had about 5 million images each - right now they are hurtling towards 8 million, and shutterstock leading with 9,480,272 as I write this. 10 million is coming very soon with well over 1/4 million new images a month.
An old friend brings comfort in times of change
Towards the end of the last year we revisited the "microstock in evil" thread in the blogosphere (how 'last decade' does blogosphere sound!), this time extended into to the whole of stock photography being evil, some quite amusing posts were tabled:
stock photography is a gold rush, ("The only people who profit are those selling the tools", kind of ironic considering the website that's published on) If microstock is a gold rush then it's been rushing quite nicely for at least 5 years.
...oh and that bloody jar of coins, again the irony is not lost on me when considering the subject of the Time magazine cover story and the expectation that someone deserves 3k for such a photo.
and after the smoke has cleared your welcome to slit your wrists and end it all because we're all just wasting our time. (Sadly there is an air of truth to thoughts of a bohemian, in that while microstock quality goes up and up, the photos in print media which were always exceptional/thought provoking/cleverly chosen are now starting to look like something just pasted in to fill the space.)
and finally my favourite: a parallel between microstock and China's environmental policy.
I'm not blinkered to these stories, I do think some big change is happend and more on it's way for microstock and stock photography in general, these days change is ALWAYS on it's way. Microstock is still seen by some as the cuckoo in the nest throwing out the traditional business, but melodramatic as it might sound I think it's more the meteorite and dinosaurs.
I think these stories and arguments will go on forever: we work in an industry that at one end has amateurs who consider the cost of shooting an image to be zero, and at the other end professionals who are acutely aware "that time is money". Just because digital photos don't have physical processing costs does not mean that they are free! Microstock needs both, without the amateurs it will grow up into a tunnel-minded industry obsessed with churning out clone images just like the ones that already sell. No offence intended to those out there who create new and creative material each time they shoot.
Word(s) of the Year
The "GFC". I wrote a post back in March that the microstock industry did not seem to be affected by the global financial crisis. Last month Fotolia were telling us how much they grew during the crisis. I also read Getty contributors talking about sales 'falling of the edge of a cliff', microstock did not follow suit, but I'm not gloating about that. Any 'death' in the macrostock world, perhaps we should say 're-alignment', not only reduces of the ability for microstockers to 'move up' into premium images but also makes for a whole lot more overcrowding in microstock as macro photographers dump portfolios. Fotolia invited macro photographers to do just that with some enticements in their operation level ground, most things that FT do, if not popular, are quite shrewd - lessons in how to weather a storm.
Looking Forward, Plans and the Future
Looking forward to 2010 leads me to wonder can amateurs still sell their work at microstock? Of course I already know the answer to that: yes, absolutely, it's the amateurs that defined microstock, they are a vital part. Look at Getty trawling flickr to get 'natural style stock'... Sometimes looking at acceptance rates and comments from noobs I'm not quite so sure it's that easy.
I think making assumptions based on 'handed down' knowledge were the biggest things that I have learnt in 2009, in that they are not always correct. Lots of nice copyspace and the experience of thumbnail readability are one where I think microstock breaks a lot of expectations - we all 'know' that designers love copyspace, but they don't seem to buy it. I repeatedly hear that designers also hate contrasty images and over saturated colours, yet many of the microstock sellers seem to be just that (fine for web but not that good for print perhaps). There are no hard and fast rules here but I just get the feeling that a lot of things that I have learnt from other people and seen first-hand in the past 10 years are not quite as set in stone as I thought they were.
'Free' and Creative Commons, more important than ever.
I could sit here and make all sorts of new year resolutions about uploading more this year; one thing that is for sure is that I should probably be getting that next batch ready instead of typing this.
So stop reading and go start taking photos and selling them; finally, if a little belated, all the best for 2010 from microstockinsider.