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.

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.

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…

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