Adventures in RF Microstock

In late August 2016, after many years of being highly-critical of Microstock sites, I decided to follow the old cliche of “if you can’t beat them, join them”. And so began my adventures in Microstock.

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How did I get here? Well for many years, I have edited an editorial stock image archive of my own work as a photojournalist and even used to shoot images especially for stock. Back in the days of slides and prints, I was doing pretty well. Then in the late 1990s, the digital era dawned, I began putting my slides and negatives into 35mm film scanners and learnt all about IPTC (now XMP) metadata.

The world looked exciting, but scanning was very slow and quite tedious to edit all the dust spots and scratches off the film. Nevertheless, more of my work was digitised and I had some success in the early days of Alamy – before falling subject to the machinations of a certain Alan Capel (Head of Content at Alamy – I’ll leave it to the reader to guess what nickname I gave him!), who I suspect may have been bullied at school. This situation was repeated some years ago, when he had my collection deleted (after years of tagging and just as I was making money on the site again). Thanks Alan Capel! What a great chap!

Naturally, this plunged an already struggling photojournalist into poverty. Compounded by the inroads microstock sites were making in the market. Rights Managed was getting very difficult to earn anything from and gradually, the license fees dropped and dropped.

Thus, the large Rights Managed collection with TopFoto.co.uk began earning less and less. It was a similar story with Rights Managed stock images I have with Photoshot (now Avalon Media Group Ltd). On top of all that, UK newspaper budgets were slashed over the years and now in 2016 remain quite pathetic, large newspapers like The Daily Telegraph paying just £25 for a live news image on their web site.

I now run a photo agency myself called Atlas Photo Archive, though it is not earning much revenue and I am near to closing it down. This is because UK newspapers (my main clients) quite often use a news image submitted on-spec, though through a variety of accounting tactics (though scams may be a more appropriate word), do not declare the use. I have had to suspend several picture desks from my news syndication list as a result of catching them red-handed. In particular the Daily Mail, who coughed up almost £2,000 in undeclared image licenses in the spring of 2016.

The excuse of their accountant in New York, Patricia Pohl, was that my agency credit was the wrong way around. That it should be: Atlas Photo Archive/Jonathan Mitchell, rather than Jonathan Mitchell/Atlas Photo Archive. The system is unable to pick it up on the self-billing otherwise, she told me.

Not having a lot of time to consider it at the time I complied, then realised recently, that this is, well, quite a large porky – as all other agencies with images published on Mailonline put their agency credit on the end like this: Andrew Parsons/i-images!

Needless to say, my subsequent ‘self-billing’ statements have not been encouraging and I suspect that the good old Daily Mail accounts department has slipped into it’s old, dodgy, fraudulent ways.

The accountants at UK national newspapers know full well that little agencies like Atlas Photo Archive cannot possibly monitor their entire print and web output. In my experience, unless you present them with a ‘sighting’ of the image used, their policy appears to be not to pay the contributor. I’m no lawyer, though it appears to me, to be tantamount to fraud.

Hence, the collateral damage from this kind of accounting policy has damn near put me out of business and has diminished my profits no end, due to spend many a tedious hour dealing with these accountants in [an often vain] attempt to get the money from images they’ve published actually paid. Gallingly, these awfully clever corporate accounts types probably get a bonus for these dubious practices as well!

So I decided to sign up on several RF Microstock sites, like Shutterstock, Bigstockphoto, Dreamstime and a few others. The results have been quite interesting.

Thus far I have about 340 images (many editorial) on Dreamstime and have sold just 4, earning US$1.29. Shutterstock have less than 70 images on their site (at the time of writing) and a set of images from a archaeological site in the Shetland Isles has been doing OK. I have made around US$9 with Shutterstock at the time of writing.

One problem is haphazard and sometimes unprofessional editing. Around two-thirds of the images I submit being bounced out, which is quite frustrating when you have spent several hours editing a submission for them.

I am now learning how to up the rate of acceptance, though it an unpredictable business. Sales seem quite steady on Shutterstock and I hope to add more work in the future and build it up as a good revenue stream. I also contribute HD video stock footage, though I have been doing this with various agencies since 2009 and find it does not sell very well.

I hope to write more about the RF Microstock industry in the future and where it can fit in with some photojournalist’s workflow and cash flow.

If you want to look at my 1080p HD stock video footage, then please visit my YouTube channel: AtlasHD



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