Microstock: strategic changes

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0233.JPG by COPYRIGHT LUISA FUMI.

Shutterstock never was my main microstock source of income, but they gave a decisive push to this bizarre new situation where stock images sold for free or nearly (a few cents) cover the best part of the market.
In this new age microstock is no more a gratifying source of revenue. What to do?

Alright, set aside the dreams, forget earning more, let’s just contain the collapse.

A quick analysis of my situation showed that the my ‘best’ agencies were – in that order – Adobe, Alamy, Istock and Shutterstock. Other minor agencies (Dreamstime, Pond5 etc.) were almost negligible as they provided just very occasional income.

In the light of that I changed my strategy, which proved to be a fortunate move: in some way I thus managed not only to contain the dreary “Shutterstock-effect” but also to stay stable at the previous level.
What did I do, exactly?
Chronologically:

  1. Diversify the offer:
    I didn’t want to compete with myself anymore. My new goal was to offer my best images only to my best vendors to avoid selling them ludicrously cheap.
    I drastically chopped the images with the best selling potential off the small agencies. Not an easy job, there was a lot of them, but it worked out fine.
    Yet I keep uploading regularly a few generic images (food, landscapes, animals, nature…) to Dreamstime and Canstock, my best choice among the smaller ones, as they still pay $ rather than cents.
  2. I clenched my teeth and closed my Istock account (where for a pretty long time I haven’t being uploading anyway), even though they provided a regular pretty good income. A matter of dignity, actually: most of the images there were given away even cheaper than at Shutterstock (!), though not many of us screamed about that…
  3. I left only a few hundreds really ugly images on my Shutterstock account, deleting one by one all the others with evil satisfaction. The best of the uglies is this, utterly topical at lockdown times 😀
    Three rolls of soft white toilet paper on a wicker basket by luisa fumi.
    Three rolls of soft white toilet paper on a wicker basket
    Nevertheless every now and then something gets sold even there: since last summer I made almost 3 dollars! (I’m considering buying a Rolls… 😀 )

As a result quite unsurprisingly the minor agencies are selling much less for me but my sales at Alamy and Adobe jumped nicely up thus compensating the burial of my Istock account and the loss of my huge (LOL) Shutterstock income.

In this way I’m not earning much more than before, but changing my tactics produced a very nice side effect: I feel now really better 🙂

However this is just an intermediate step: I’m still looking for further opportunities that comply better with the new rules of the game. They are there, they always are, it’s just a matter of finding them.
And let see what makes Adobe now, the news are a bit uncomfortable … the game is changing again, but okay I can play 🙂

Microstock: considerazioni e strategie

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0233.JPG by COPYRIGHT LUISA FUMI.

Shutterstock rappresentava una parte non dominante dei miei proventi stock.

E’ stato però il sassolino che ha fatto franare la montagna: il mercato micro ne è stato rivoluzionato: ora con molta offerta gratuita o semi gratuita (come quella attuale di Shutterstock) è più difficile pensare al micro come una fonte di guadagno.
Che fare?
Pur essendo per me un part-time job per passione, sono corsa ai ripari con lo scopo a questo punto non di aumentare i miei guadagni ma di non perderli.
E ci sono riuscita.
Sono partita da un’analisi della mia situazione:
il mio income veniva essenzialmente nell’ordine da Adobe, Alamy, Istock e Shutterstock.

Le altre entità (Dreamstime ecc, ) sono state purtroppo sempre trascurabili in questo gioco, non un importo mensile regolare.

Le cose fatte in successione:

  1. non competere con me stessa: ho diversificato l’offerta, falciato sistematicamente le piccole agenzie delle immagini con maggiore potenziale di vendita dove attualmente continuo ogni tanto a caricare immagini “generiche” magari utili ma non particolarmente “belle” (food, paesaggi, animali, natura ecc.), in primis su Dreamstime e Canstock da dove arriva più qualche dollaro che cents per singole vendite.
  2. Ho preso il coraggio di chiudere il mio account su Istock. Non ci caricavo immagini da tempo anche se avevo tuttora una buona entrata regolare. Guardando come erano distribuiti questi dollari, la maggior parte delle immagini andavano via a pochi centesimi, meno che con il Shutterstock odierno, ma nessuno (o quasi) l’ha gridato…
  3. Ho lasciato un paio di centinaio di immagini veramente brutte su Shutterstock, cancellando a una a una le altre. La più bella rimasta è una montagnola di carta igienica scattata per il lockdown.
    Three rolls of soft white toilet paper on a wicker basket by luisa fumi.
    Three rolls of soft white toilet paper on a wicker basket
    Non ho chiuso l’account poichè ero curiosa di vedere come sarebbe andata a finire. Ogni tanto qualcuno mi compra per 10 cents una di queste immagini (sono arrivata a quasi a 3 dollari!) e devo dire che non c’è limite alla bruttezza.

Il risultato è che sono diminuite le vendite piccole ulteriormente ma sono aumentate significativamente le entrate da Alamy e Adobe. L’income mensile viene praticamente solo da queste due agenzie e si è mantenuto stabile sui valori ante Shutterstock compensando non solo le agenzie minori, ma anche la chiusura del mio account Istock .

Non ho guadagnato ma non ho perso, ho spostato. E mi ha fatto sentire molto meglio 😀
Poi mi sono guardata intorno, cercando altre opportunità, dopotutto non si sa cosa di preciso farà Adobe dopo le ultime news. I giochi stanno cambiando ancora, ma non mi fa più paura, posso cambiare le carte in tavola anch’io.

Di questo ve ne parlo in un prossimo post.

Using the DJI Pocket 2 in an unconventional way

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0008.JPG by .

This is me in an ectoplasm version, having plenty of ghostly fun with my new camera.
My husband and I gave ourselves a Christmas gift in advance: the new DJI Pocket 2: a tiny pound of pocket-size camera with a great sharp sensor and a gimbal head allowing absolutely smooth 4K video clips at a very affordable price.

But I’m not going to describe the characteristics of this great new gadget here, you can find much more on YouTube and on specialized reviews. As I am not particularly fond of movies (I like still pics much more) I wondered if this pocket-size camera could replace in some way my good old one.
No sooner said than done, I began taking shoots outdoors and indoors with both and then comparing the outcomes.

My first images were accepted at Adobe, Alamy and Arcangel without arching a brow.

Voilà some of them:

Not bad at all 🙂

My first images at Arcangel!

AA11665980-500 by luisa fumi.

Since the microstock ship has begun to sink, thanks the Shutterstock coup de grâce, I gave some thoughts about escaping the frustration of the current situation.
It saddened me to see the Stock Coalition profile photos on FB : so many stunning images from many talented photographers on one side, and the fight for a few cents or (occasionally) a few dollars on the other.
This is not right.
These images tell a story: nobody should ever have to sell them this way.

Thanks to the suggestion of Alex Rotenberg’s Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock I applied to Arcangel, a stock agency that licenses images for book and disk covers. I had applied in the past in a lazy way and was discarded. Now, trying really to understand the mood of their images (and having fun doing it), I sent 20 resized pictures on one Sunday night and on the Monday morning after was instantly accepted!

Here a first batch of images:

I don’t know if this new adventure will sale well (if at all) but:
– in few days I learned about image processing more than in a decade
– I discovered the difference that ought to be between microstock and stock (the subject of my next post)
– I DON’T have to do the keywording job 😀 (I hate it even if is of paramount importance)
– I keep having fun discovering in my hard disks images not yet published and processing them in a quite different and emotional way

One promising alternative to the self-hosted site: Picfair

luisa-photogr3-1000 by .

I always hear the same refrain: yes, they are fair indeed, pity though that they don’t sell much…
Actually so far my experience at Picfair had been… fair: for a few years I’ve been putting every now and then some images there, having three or four sales promptly paid in the meantime.

But times seem to be changing, and I decided that I need a personal photo website. I would know pretty well how to set up one myself, but for a small yearly fee Picfair offers me the possibility to have it under my own name, and as a very nice bonus also to sell my pictures as prints/posters/framed. So why not to give it a try?

So be it: luisafumi-photography.com
The presentation of the images is very good, and I can (beside having an URL of my own by them):
– sell prints,
– make albums and feature one on the first page,
– have a local search engine,
– create a splash page with a picture I love
– add external links to the menu (to my blog here, to my other website vintage-nostalgia.com, etc.)
– have a personal watermark. I retained the Pifair standard one, very well thought and designed, also because I am happy to be there in excellent company, as I find the overall Picfair image quality astonishingly high.

Time will tell if such a decision will be fruitful – now it is to early to make a reliable forecast about the destiny of the photo market at all.

Just few days after my new Picfair installation I was rewarded with a pleasant surprise: my first print sale, my splash image! A good omen and a nice startup.

SPLASH-PICFAIR-600 by luisa fumi.

Microstock Armageddon?

luisa-photogr2-1000 by .

Find you niche(s)!

I fear that Shutterstock has given the final blow to the microstock photos market with their unilateral action, by reducing drastically the contributors royalties to 10 cents/picture – promising more for big amounts of uploads and sales, but resetting the contributor at the beginning of each year – that is, forcing her/him to start from scratch @10 cents/sale, and thus humiliating legions of outraged submitters.
And I also fear that this deliberate act is actually a farsighted move: the SS people must have realized that the time was ripe to grab as much as possible before going out of business.
Just look around: the websites offering high res images for free are rapidly growing and some of their pictures are really beautiful, also considering that today’s smartphones are growing better endowed than most photographers.

What to do now?
I’m thinking of two possibilities:

1. Business is business: to upload all of one’s images on all agencies that sell (if just a little) in exchange for a decent (if just a little) royalty, and to hope for the best.
Alas, there is a heavy drawback about it, tough: a couple of years ago I withdrew almost all my images belonging to a particular well-selling niche from the less profitable agencies. As it happens, it proved to be a blatantly fortunate manoeuver: my sales at Alamy and Adobe more than doubled immediately. And they keep growing.
This way I understood that I was my own cheap competitor. When 123RF contacted me on behalf of a customer about a deleted image of mine, I told them that I was really sorry and explained candidly my problem. Quite surprisingly they accepted my point of view and respected it.

2. To accept the change without moaning and make plans. To leave and to upload your images on the trustworthiest agencies, but to keep aside the best ones and find other more profitable ways to sell them.

Still I think that the idea of a personal stock agency is worth a thought or three anyway – no matter if self-hosted or not: there are several alternatives on the market and at least two of them are very affordable (I’ll tell about them in a next post).
It could turn into a precious show-window for the images you like too much to give them away cheap.

At this point it wouldn’t surprised me to witness a revival of many curated niches over the mass cauldron.
Since many years I’m not only a contributor, but on behalf of my web customers also a microstock buyer, and as such I’m perfectly aware that my behaviour doesn’t deviate much from the vast majority of buyers, who statistically give up after the second page the local search engines produce.
And what with the tenths of millions of images stored by the agencies? Dead, almost completely dead.

Nowadays selling microstock is like winning a prize at a cheap lottery called “search engines”: partially random, partially influenced by hidden rules and only marginally based on the actual, hard-labored keywording.

What’s the point of such zillions of dead images, when just a few thousands of high-quality pictures, if well presented and properly selected, could make a really huge difference?

Microstock Armageddon ? (IT version)

luisa-photogr1-1000 by .

Trovate la vostra nicchia(e)!

Ho come l’impressione che Shutterstock abbia dato una spallata fatale al mercato delle foto microstock con un azione (unilaterale) che ha indignato non pochi contributors, facendo drasticamente scendere le royalties a 10 cents/foto, promettendo di più a chi galoppa per fornire più foto e vendite, per ricominciare però tutto daccapo a 10 cents l’anno successivo. E così via.
Temo purtroppo che si sia trattato di una mossa lungimirante: hanno capito che i tempi erano maturi e quindi deciso di arraffare quanto più possibile prima di chiudere.
Date un’occhiata in giro: si moltiplicano rapidamente siti che offrono high-res foto free molte delle quali bellissime. Tutti possono ormai contribuire con foto decenti da smartphone. Non occorre neanche sfoderare esperienza e capacità quando la macchina ne possiede per conto vostro.
Che fare?
Vedo due possibilità:
1. (business is business) buttarsi allo sbaraglio, caricare tutte le stesse foto sui siti che vendono almeno un po’ e offrono royalties non oltraggiose e sperare.
Ho una controindicazione in merito a questa decisione. Già un paio di anni fa, avendo delle immagini best-sellers di nicchia, le ho ritirate quasi del tutto (si lascia un filo di Arianna, no?) dai siti che pagavano di meno. Il risultato è stato eclatante: un immediato boom di vendite più che raddoppiate in Alamy ed Adobe, che cresce e continua tuttora.
Ho capito che non dovevo essere io il mio cheap competitor. 123Rf mi ha contattato poichè un cliente voleva acquistare un’immagine che avevo cancellato e ho spiegato il mio problema. Sorprendentemente mi hanno detto che capivano benissimo il mio punto di vista.

2. prendere atto che le cose cambiano senza mugugnare troppo e fare un po’ di piani. Lasciare e caricare le foto sui siti microstock che vi danno affidamento, ma tenere da parte quelle che sono i vostri punti di forza e trovare altre maniere di monetizzarle.

Considererei anche l’idea di un sito-agenzia personale, non importa se self-maintained o ospitato contro una quantità modesta di vile denaro (ce ne sono, ve ne parlo la prossima volta). Se non altro potrebbe essere una show-room per le immagini più belle che pensate non valga la pena di dar via per poco.

Non mi parebbe affatto strano infatti che ci fosse un riflusso verso più nicchie curate contro il calderone di massa.
Sono anch’io un’acquirente di microstock per conto dei miei clienti web. Mi rendo conto di fare esattamente come dicono le statistiche di chi acquista microstock: la stragrande maggioranza non va oltre la seconda pagina offerta dai motori di ricerca locali, poi si stufa.
E le decine di milionate di immagini stivate nelle agenzie? Restano là, morte.

Inutile dire che ormai vendere appare sempre più come vincere un modesto premio nella lotteria organizzata dalle search engines: in parte random, in parte influenzate da “opportunità contingenti”, in piccola parte basata effettivamente sul keywording.

Mi chiedo che senso abbiano queste quantità inverosimili di foto, quando qualche migliaio di immagini di qualità, ben selezionate e presentate come si deve possono veramente fare la differenza.

The importance of the right plugin

la013CARIC-500 by .

(Digital products online: the nightmarish EU VAT regulation can be even worse with the wrong one)

Setting the checkout page of an online shop that sells digital products in compliance with the EU VAT tax regulation can be a real challenge.

The EU VAT regulation

As you may know, while selling on line an e-book, an image or a piece of software to a private you must add to the net price the VAT in force in the EU country the buyer resides in. Companies resident in an EU country other than the seller’s one may avoid the VAT by providing their VAT number that you, the seller, are obliged to check against the company name and IP address. Non-EU buyers, no matter if business or private, are exempted from this ordeal.

No, please don’t ask! It wasn’t me who made this law. Such a task isn’t really easy to face, and I personally haven’t a very high opinion of the bureaucrats that enacted it, but a law is a law is a law.

At first I was tempted to write directly the code to do this VAT juggling, but then, considering my always busy schedule, I resolved to look for a ready plugin to complete Vintage Nostalgia, my Easy Digital Downloads shop.
Of course I didn’t expect to find such a plugin for free: making it entails a lot of patience, time and toil.

Looking for a ready plugin

For the first one I run into the creators were demanding an exorbitant monthly fee, so I kept looking. And eventually, after some pondering, I opted for a more affordable one-time-purchase plugin and installed it.
The first doubts arose as I was faced with two pages fraught with mandatory settings accompanied by obscure and confusing explanations that weren’t of much help. I perused the documentation, run some tests… but alas! I had no way to really check the outcome as there was no way to simulate a sale abroad. Well, I thought, maybe it’s my IP address preventing me from simulating a sale in the US… and crossed my fingers hoping for the best.

Disaster!

Someone said that optmists have plenty of bad surprises: the whole thing blew up in my face as my first customer from New Zealand was charged a German VAT, and so the next one from Tasmania. What the heck???

Solution found!

I hastily put my shop on hold and started looking for a smarter alternative – and this time I found Barn2 EU VAT plugin More or less same price, extremely clear, exhaustive and properly written online documentation, smooth installation, just a couple of settings – and that was it.
Test and simulation were astonishingly easy, the customer support was friendly and competent.
And, as a most appreciated bonus, it would produce a detailed sales report to export in Excel.
No issues at all with the next sale in the US.

Thanks Barn2, I owe you a big fat breath of relief! As hopefully my readers will too 🙂

la260-350 by .

A pebble in the pond: a free Artists’ Marketplace

stock3 by .

For nearly a month (since the infamous 1st of June) a couple of disquieting questions have been bouncing back and forth within my skull:
what are we to do if/when the other agencies follow Shutterstock’s despicable example and start treating their contributors like beggars?
How come a fair agency like Picfair appears to sell nearly nothing even though they offer such awfully great pictures?

I do know all too well what it’s like to set up a photostock agency – I did it. Once you solve the technical problems (quite a hard cliff themselves) and get it to run fine, you find out to your dismay that keeping it up and running – server fees, updating, de-hacking, automation, you name it – is way more expensive (at least in time) than you optimistically thought when you started.

No, I don’t really think that setting up a new agency – with so many small ones out there struggling to survive – would be a solution. What we need is a new concept, something that would entice anyone who needs one or more images having specific requirements. The cue came from Alex Rotenberg as he told us how a customer, unable to find his images on Shutterstock any longer, got directly in touch with him.

So why not to put in contact clients and contributors, thus bypassing the agencies?
All it would take would be a surprisingly cheap and simple no-profit site, a sort of artists’ cooperative dedicated to illustrations, photos and video clips, where potential clients may freely ask for images having some specific features. Their requests appear on a board and get immediately sent per E-mail to all photographers who subscribed (for free).
A mother knows her baby, a photographer knows his/her images: the one who has an image that may satisfy the client (say, a kid playing in a puddle) replies uploading ASAP one or more watermarked images onto a page that only the client may access.

That would be really big news: a thoughtful human response, no AI at all, no 300 pictures of the same lonely puddle in the park taken from 300 different angles. And no time wasted on keywords ( do we all loathe them!)

As far as prices are concerned, that’s all to be seen: fixed price, normal and premium, private negotiation… a matter of taste. However the cooperative rules must be simple and clear, and accepted by all subscribers; that’s important, the one who doesn’t play fair gets kicked out without ceremony.
The site would be extremely simple – though attractive – and wouldn’t require any special server performances, or large amounts of memory, or special skills to run it. The only costs would be:

  • annual server rent (not much).
  • software maintenance (not much if regularly performed, but it must be done weekly to keep the software up to date and to prevent possible undue intrusions, malware and hacking).
  • start-up software development and further expansions if the initiative is successful (affordable).

No commission on sales – we’re talking of a no-profit initiative and this way it shall stay, lest greed creeps in and shatters(tocks) it to crumbles 🙂

The expenditures above would be covered by all subscribers after their first sale; if some 1000 – 1500 artists gather and join, it would be a matter of a few $ each yearly – transparent management, all expenditures publicly documented, no hidden costs.

Of course there should be a page telling the cooperative’s history and its goals, with a nice name (how about “Shutterstock’s castaways”?) and some well-groomed galleries of monographic pictures about current topics, something like the Photocase’s ones.

Maximum publicity to all successful sales on the site.
No a-priori exclusive, though it may be individually agreed with the client case by case.

All the above should obviously be discussed in detail once (if) this initiative takes shape and color. Mine is just a stone I’m throwing in the pond, let’s see now if it makes any waves…

Artist marketplace – Un idea nuova

stock3 by .

E’ da un po’ che mi rigiro in mente diverse domande con inquietudine:
cosa fare se le altre agenzie seguono l’esempio di Shutterstock, trattando i contributors da pezzenti?
come mai un’agenzia “buona” come Picfair non vende, pure avendo magnifiche foto ?

So cosa vuol dire mettere su un sito tipo agenzia di fotostock. Pur risolvendo con successo tutti i problemi inerenti al suo funzionamento la conduzione è costosa in termini di server e in tempo per l’ automazione e aggiornamento.

No, credo che la ripetizione di un’ agenzia – con le piccole esistenti che già arrancano – non sia la soluzione. Ci vuole un’idea nuova che possa attrarre chi cerca una o più foto con specifici requisiti.
Lo spunto me lo ha dato Alex Rotenberg durante il Shutterstock boycott quando dice che un cliente di punto in bianco si è messo in contatto con lui.

Perchè non mettere direttamente in contatto il cliente con i contributors saltando le agenzie?
Basterebbe un sito no profit molto semplice e affatto costoso che si presenti come una cooperativa di artisti (illustrazioni, foto, videos), in cui un cliente può fare una richiesta in dettaglio su cosa cerca. Il messaggio viene messo su una board mentre la richiesta parte per email a tutti i contributors.
Chi ha qualcosa che corrisponde ai desideri del richiedente (es. bambino che gioca in una pozzanghera) risponde con una o più immagini con watermark su una pagina apposita a cui ha accesso il cliente.
Questa sarebbe veramente la grossa novità: una risposta mirata “umana”, niente AI, niente 300 foto di una pozzanghera solitaria in un parco da diverse orientazioni. Niente tempo consumato in keywords (come le odio!)

Per i prezzi al cliente si può vedere: prezzo fisso, due fasce di prezzi di cui una premium, a contrattazione privata… è tutto da decidere. Sono regole della cooperativa che devono venire messe in chiaro precedentente. Sono importanti, perchè chi sgarra o non è leale viene messo alla porta.

Il sito sarebbe alquanto semplice, non richiederebbe prestazioni particolari dal server, nè grandi quantita di memoria da gestire. Le uniche spese sarebbero:

  • affitto annuale (poco),
  • spese di manutenzione software (poco se fatta di routine, ma va assolutamente fatta con cadenza settimanale per aggiornare il software e anche per prevenire malware e hackeraggio),
  • spese di design iniziale e eventuali sviluppi se la cosa ha successo (contenute).

Dopo prima vendita personale gli artisti contribuiscono alle spese (gestione trasparente!) con pochi dollari all’anno se si tratta di almeno 1000 – 1500 artisti che aderiscono all’idea.

Ci sarebbe una pagina che descrive la storia della coop, con un bel nome tipo “i fuoriusciti di Shutterstock” e qualche galleria ‘curata’ di foto monografiche su argomenti di attualità tipo quelle di photocase (https://www.photocase.de/) che mi piacciono molto.

Nessuna percentuale sulla vendita.
Massima pubblicità alle vendite condotte con successo.
Nessuna esclusiva a priori, ma può far parte della trattativa col cliente.

Tutto da discutere nei dettagli, la mia è una pietra buttata nello stagno, vediamo se fa cerchi…

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