Reflections: Microstock and Ministocking

Saturday, February 28, 2015 8:24 PM By Stephen J Christophers

It wasn't until recently that my attention turned to microstocking the best of my growing portfolio of stock images with a well known stock photography giant. I've been working with photography for a few years now, although my previous trade experience encompasses vector graphic production, I've built-up a large catalog of photographs that are otherwise just sitting around on digital memory earning me little in the way of income. I thought it might be a good time to put them to work, and this is a rundown on what it takes to get your stock images working for you through a microstock agent.

Microstocking or ministocking, is currently a hot topic among photographers. It can be a love hate relationship; love the money, hate the corporate machines that dominate the industry. Nevertheless, it boils down to your willingness to work at selling your photographs in a tried and professional manner, using the power of corporate networking and licencing to tap what is a highly vetted industry.

I have various accounts with companies that offer to sell and distribute my artwork in different formats. One might consider this as an artists portfolio, where microstocking is just one part in a range of avenues that sees your hard work turned into cash. This is fundamental to the way I consider microstocking, it gives me one more platform from which to licence part of my portfolio, with sales only contributing to the bigger picture of my business as a whole.

Before you take the plunge into microstocking, here's a rundown on what you can expect to encounter when you join a microstock agent: It's important to be aware of the fact that stock photography is largely used by medium to big business, in various formats, for editorial and commercial purposes. The images that they use under licence are categorized in such a way that they are able to meet, and pass, both legal and quality standards in this environment. That means you're going to have to meet and/or surpass those standards when submitting your images to such an agent. Because of this, it can be a difficult road on which to get started. Emphasis is placed on your fundamental knowledge of the craft of digital photography, not just because... but, you'll need those skills to determine the viability of each photograph you submit and how you submit it. It is more than likely you'll be tested on that knowledge as a means for the agent to determine your status for contribution to their inventory - much like a driving test. Once a member of an adjacency one is required to submit identification, banking and tax obligations to help with payment and registration. It's with this level of transparency that your able to commence uploading your images for licensing with a microstock agency, and the point at which the hard work really begins.

As previously mentioned, you must manage both the context and criteria under which your photograph is to be licensed before submitting it for approval or rejection. This can be an arduous task master. Due to the high volume of submissions I'm currently running at an average of three approvals per day. If a submission is rejected then my daily approval rate also drops. So, care must be taken to make sure all submissions meet exactly the required criteria on submission, if one is going to build-up an inventory of work that will generate a worthwhile investment in time and resources on your part.

The question that everyone would like to know is: "How much money can I make?" From my initial research - currently, not from experience - I was able to determine the following: In the event you upload work that is sort-after by a wide range of companies using the service, it is possible to average around $500+ a month from 500 - 1000 images hosted with your agent. This number is a guesstimate from several sources and better viewed from the following perspective: At a rate of three image file approvals each day, you're initially looking at a one year interim period, where you build on inventory. Yes, you will see earnings as your contributions to the site begins to rise, however they will seem more like pocket change, at first. It's a numbers game with quality stock images. And, it's important for you to consider a long-term strategy. You must be prepared to be in it for the long run, to accumulate a portfolio that will work for you.