Continuing my adventures in RF Microstock, I signed up some weeks ago with Dreamstime.com and began uploading various stock images, including some recent reportage stuff from recent years and some stock images I took in the summer here in Portugal.
I’m now heading for over 400 files on their servers and it will continue to be interesting to monitor sales on the RF Micro license (especially on the RF Microstock Editorial). At the time of writing, I had sold four downloads and made the princely sum of US$1.29.
It is of course, early days and I am quite sure the sales will look quite different in a few month’s time.
One nice feature about Dreamstime is their simple upload and submission system. It is pretty easy to put a file for submission and you can achieve a reasonable workflow.
As most of the RF Microstock market since they appeared on the stock photo scene almost a decade ago is commercial, I am expecting that high-quality editorial images are likely to earn less and be more erratic than an image which falls into the category of being a commercial RF Micro image.
So far, this analysis seems to have been borne out. Though, I have sold two images from the same set and also with work that has rarely ever sold on the Rights Managed Editorial licenses. Three of the images were of Nicola Sturgeon, the current Scottish First Minister, who I photographed on several occasions in 2014 during the Scottish Independence Referendum.
The other was a weather picture originally shot on spec for submission to the UK newspapers of the M1 motorway. The first one I have – to my knowledge – sold from that set.
My reasoning on RF Microstock is that Rights Managed licenses have been heading south for some time and it is hard to make any money at all from an editorial collection.
I have about 400 images on Getty Creative and the sales in 2016 to September are disappointing, under US$200. If they are averaging out at US$0.50 per image/per year, then it is not a tempting prospect to supply.
It should be interesting to see what happens with RF Microstock Editorial stock images in the coming months, as much of the clients have driven down prices to micro levels, though it remains to be seen (for me at least), whether this is actually sustainable in terms of resulting sales.
Time will tell, as they say. I have a broad range of editorial stock images on Dreamstime and will be publishing more posts in the future to see if indeed it is a good earner or not?
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.
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
Like many older photojournalists, when I began my ‘career’ in photojournalism in the early 1990s, photojournalists and news photographers mostly produced their images on 35mm film cameras, using black & white Kodak, Ilford and Fuji films or low ISO colour slide film. As the 1990s progressed, we began to shoot more on the new high-speed fine grained colour negative films that came on the market, particularly the excellent Fuji 800 ISO press film that was manufactured then (and still is in some guise I think!).
Stock photographers tended to stick more to colour slide and mono films, while most news was shot on colour negative. As a result, many of us who began our careers in the analogue days have a hotchpotch archive with large amounts of slide, plus mono and colour negs. Above, is some slides from the mid-1990s – when I based in Panama City as a foreign correspondent and photojournalist – and in that era, filing stock was a much simpler affair…For starters, scanning was done by printers and all the pre-press was the responsibility of the magazine or newspaper or book publisher. Mostly we just shot photos, edited them briefly and sent them off to the agencies that represented us.
I mostly sent my stock images to Panos Pictures, where they would be stored in filing cabinets and (if I was lucky) plucked out by a picture researcher and used in a book or newspaper. It perhaps seems quaint to younger photographers.
As the digital era came upon us in the late 1990s, I started scanning news images and then entire projects. It seemed the way to go. The clunky and heavy low res digital cameras were becoming very useable as the 2000s progressed, but few could afford them and resolution issues were a concern. I was (partly through poverty), very slow to accept digital cameras and still I actually prefer using 35mm and larger format films for certain subjects.
Seeing the transition from analogue to digital has been both amazing and disturbing. I like many aspects of digital photography, though much of my workflow is now a bit of a nightmare. In all honesty, I miss the days of shipping slide films to agencies like Sipa Press or Gamma in Paris or New York and the rapid editing process of preparing a stock submission for Panos Pictures. I don’t miss the drudgery and difficulty of printing A4 or 10×8 inch black & white prints and labouriously typing out the captions on a typewriter and gluing them to the back of the image. I like having my images available to study or re-edit. I find key wording tedious and inefficient.
Since those days, the post-image production is now fairly slick, but key wording means a slow rate of production of about 8-10 images per hour if working at a good clip. The industry demands (but does not like to pay for) all the pre-press work we do on the images and the enormous amount of time spent adding tags. The publishers then pocket the cash saved and effectively this work is almost zero pay.
If you take a peek in most professional photographer’s computers, you will see an enormous number of unedited photographs, often very useable ones at that. I edit hardly 25% of the images I shoot while on the road as a photojournalist and have literally thousands of great pictures unscanned, languishing in negative files or slide binders. The introduction of digital and the impossible demand of ‘everything as JPEG key worded online now please’ has lost me and many other photographers thousands and thousands in lost revenue. There is a ridiculous sense that an image does not exist unless it is digitised and tagged for online search and available on a large portal.
This is of course, ridiculous. Even if I worked full-time on nothing else, my estimate to digitise my film collection is five solid years of work with no holidays, working 40 hours a week!
Rates for stock photography – driven by selfish MBA types who brought in the concept of Microstock or “value stock collections” have nose dived in the past decade and are usually quite paltry. Crowd-sourcing it is thought will replace the professional stock photographer and I do not know many who actually make a decent living out of it in the editorial side of things. Even former super-seller web sites like Alamy.com return (in my case) around 2p/per image/per year for my editorial stock, which they do not seem to take very seriously. On top of all this, the mega agencies now offer lower and lower commission rates. It is indeed surprising anyone still bothers to edit editorial stock images, the returns make it simply, unviable economically. Of late, I have reached the point where I am reluctant to edit new stock images into my collection, though I often shoot them – as old habits die hard.
Personally, I find it quite bizarre that the stock library industry has been so obsessed with having everything on the web, searchable and downloadable. Storage on the Internet is not cheap and server costs for million and millions of highly useful stock images are high and the clients are often reluctant to pay, lest it deprive the publisher of another luxury car or shareholders of their dividends. Some may argue the world has gone that way. Which indeed may be the case, though it is a brainless way to operate archives, which are, in my opinion great cultural treasure troves, not simply data which is valuable in a monetary sense.
It seems increasingly clear to me that the current system is a mess and with some photographers (like me), still choosing to shoot some subjects on film and also prolifically producing new digital images (I shoot 30,000+ pictures in a middling year, maybe a thousand or so make it through edited), the agencies have it all wrong. Most photographers are not all that great at key wording and there is not usually a budget to pay people to tag or edit photos.
So why this crazy system of filing everything as JPEG? It beats me. Sure clients like to have everything on the end of a search box, but this is actually far from the case. One photo editor at a large German news magazine recently told me no one would buy images if they are not on the net. I think though, this opinion is a little narrow-minded, much of our visiual history in terms of still photographs lies unscanned, like most of my own archive. These are high quality images in which a huge amount of resources and time and effort went into producing. Why ignore them on such arbritrary lines?
It is high time that we dusted off the art of photo or picture research and reorganised how we archive the millions of great photographs which are taken, particularly by professionals. Online search has it’s place for many uses, but should not be the be all and end all. If we continue like this, not only do the publishers impoverish one of their greatest assets (the hard working photojournalist and/or stock photographer), but all of us and future generations too. Visual history needs to be taken more seriously, as these are not just old photographs, but the story of us. Future generations and the current one should not fall victim to selfish corporate policies which will deny them the gems and curiosities that photographers go to great lengths and dangers to make!
The only way to do this is to educate younger picture researchers and editors to end their addiction to online databases. More consideration must be given to careful physical archiving and methods of getting this type of work in front of clients (delivered digitally of course) and fullfilling their requirements. The technology has now settled down to such a degree that this is possible and highly-desirable for both clients and photographers. Badly-led agencies need to rethink how they operate and do more for the photographer, rather than squeezing them for more until there is nothing left to extract. This would help to make us more efficient and give a better service to those who find a use for archived editorial stock images in particular, though is also true of some other areas of stock photo collections.