Microstock: strategic changes


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?

  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 🙂

Using the DJI Pocket 2 in an unconventional way


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

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?

How to build a personal stock images website: essential technical points solved

vintage-stock-500 by .

For a long time I’ve been wondering how much would it cost, as toil, money and time, to set up a
working microstock website – maybe prodded by the mischievious but inevitable question “how large a share of my money does a microstock agency really deserve for selling my pictures?”.
Eventually I succumbed to the temptation and accepted the challenge.

As I keep seeing on Microstockgroup forum more and more question on this topic, I think it won’t harm to share what I’ve learned from this experience.

Building https://vintage-nostalgia.com


The server has to be very fast (you need speed to show your images!) and with enough memory,
not necessarily a dedicated server. Problem solved with A2 Hosting *), more expensive of the usual shared server but yet affordable. Competent feedback.

Basic shop

I’m using Easy digital downloads *) with WordPress. It is free and good enough.
Some years ago I gave a try to Symbiostock and didn’like it: too bulky, few automation, many flaws.

Automatic process to upload pages, files, categories and tags

Put out of your mind to upload manually your images and their corresponding pages.
This is the biggest challenge to face and I didn’t find any reliable solution out of the box: I tried and discarded all what I found ready on the market.
You must be able to prepare some hundreds of images and their pages in few minutes, stripping the keywords out to build categories and tags essential for the SEO and the internal search engine.

I decided to solve the complete automation offline with specifically written dedicated software, uploading thereafter the images per FTP and their pages & all related paraphernalia with a unique csv.file
Solved with satisfaction 🙂

Internal search engine

Statistics tell that stock agency customers don’t go usually far more than two pages searching for an image, in spite of millions of them stored. Therefore is of paramount importance that the website search engine works well tuned. The WordPress built-in search is not very good. I have found Relevannsi by Mikko Saari quite exceptional, sharp focused as long as tags, categories and descriptions are …relevant.

Compliance with EU regulation

A big pain in the ass: cookie consent, privacy policy, VAT calculation or exemption for different countries, VAT confirmed by IP Adress identification… ther’s enough for a headache.
As a web professional that’s my thing. I confess that I’m not complete satisfied by the checkout procedure, it must be smoother and friendly, needs still some thoughts about.

Smart photo galleries

The easier task: there are many excellent options out of the box to choose, I’m happy with Show posts pro

Anti-hacker protection

You cannot go around without a valid defense: more than in other websites we have to protect very valuable stuff.
Some years ago, even if “protected“, all my websites were brutally hacked.
The second time it happened I was prepared: I was aware of an unidentified back door in a website of mine. To this end I deployed several different anti-malware softwares on my server, all they assuring to be able to detect and defend, but only one was successful.
It scared me that most of the others didn’t even realized the issue (or only partially) and the possible consequent danger. They were only pretending!

Since then – honing my weapons even further – I was always able to protect myself and my customers from brute force attacks and similia.
Sorry for not giving away my solution, it took me a lot of stamina and effort to develop an exclusive active protection package.

*) If you make a purchase after clicking on one of these links, we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Shutterstock’s treason

shutter-red-b by .

Remember, remember!
The first of June,
The Shutterstock’s treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Shutterstock’s treason
Should ever be forgot!

The whole microstock world is talking about it: since June 1st 2020 the Shutterstock royalty system has changed.
For better or worse? Obviously for worse, and (surprise, surprise) the news were broken just a few days before.
In a nutshell: if until the end of May 2020 my basic income was 36 cents/download, now Shuttestock has decreed that 10 cents/download must be enough.
Sure, in case of special sales I might still get something more – but anyway less than half as before.

No problem though, thanks to Shutterstock’s magnanimity I can still yearn for better earnings provided that I have a lot of images and they sell quickly and easily: the more I sell, the (little) more I get.
But there is a small catch: such a privileged “top seller” status is reset at the end of every year, and on every January 1st I’ll have to restart from scratch. Isn’t that great?

Well, it might be due to the COVID-19, and Shutterstoch must face some heavy financial loss…
Nope: according to information gathered around they seem to be in full bloom, no debts, several millions $ cash, premises on the Empire State Building… pity those poor devils!
No, alas, apparently it’s just good old greed.

The new Shutterstock royalty system punishes mostly the small contributors, those with few thousands of images to sell and those that count on Shutterstock’s monthly payments for their survival.

Not a very nice surprise indeed.

As a matter of fact $ 0.10 per download is a slap in your face: just think that you plan or stage your shoot, inspect your pictures at 100% size to detect any possible flaw, process them with Photoshop or whatever, swear on the keywording (an obnoxiously boring job, as you know) paying great care to put in front the most significant keywords and highlight the 10 most meaningful ones to comply with the agencies idiosyncrasies… a hell of a work.
Try offering 10 cents to a cleaning lady and see how much you get cleaned in return.

Someone doesn’t know that in this bizarre market the royalty for the same image can range from a few cents to over $100, depending on the agency policy and the buyer’s options.
No seldom occurrence, it happens quite often.
Then you may rightfully wonder if cashing those 10 cents will make you lose a way bigger earning somewhere else, and bite your own fingers. Do you really want to be your own cheap competition?

Like this you start deleting an image that might sell better elsewhere… then all the others with some sales potential, and eventually leave on Shutterstock only the oldest ones, uploaded when you had little experience in post-processing… you can tell now that they were a bit ugly… okay Shutterstock, you may try to sell them for the glory of 10 cents 😀

And to complete the job you remove from your blog, your website, etc. the links to your Shutterstock portfolio.
Then you can breathe again!

Stock images: is it time now for a drastic change?

Mishmash objects with statue by Luisa Fumi.

The state of the art

Just to feel the pulse and the vibe of the moment, I visit pretty often the wailing wall, a site well known to the photographers that sell images through the microstock agencies. Most of what I read there is mournful whining about the professional degradation and the brutal royalty cuts. Nothing constructive.

Due mostly to the steadily improving quality of cameras and smartphones, the images market is flooded by offers ranging from fair to excellent, a flood swelling like wildfire. The stock agencies, no fools, take full advantage of the situation by constantly shrinking the royalies – offer and demand, inevitably. A tough competition is going on too among the agencies themselves, and not surprisingly the smallest ones succumb.

What’s the use of 100 millions of images?

One microstock agency can count on tens of millions of images (at least). But how could a customer find his way through them all?
How will customers get to the “right” image they are looking for? According to statistics, most of the users while searching give up after the first page, and very few clench their teeth and hold out up to page three.
Rumors have it that the stock agencies, in order to offer a different image variety for the same search, sort them part random, part according to other criteria adjusted and twitched from time to time

I’ve been wondering long if it was worth wasting so much time and effort on the keywording ordeal, by far the most boring and time consuming task of image processing, if the agencies use just a small part of it. And above all: what’s the point for an agency to collect zillions of images when people give up searching after a few of them?
I’m smelling here another crisis looming in the air.

A possible way out?

Now it could be really the right time to reinvent the personal website where one can sell images without the support (?) of an agency.
I am not talking about a website meant to sell generic images the way small agencies do – and are now going through difficult times.
No, I’m thinking of a monographic website to offer many thousands of images focused on a theme of general interest or social relevance.
A well designed site, cleverly divided in sub-galleries, with an own shop. Something very user-friendly that a visitor looking for a picture of sport, touristic European regions, vegan lifestyle, sustainable energies, rock concerts, steampunk art, you name it… could easily navigate almost instinctively.
Perhaps also supported by a blog to make it more lively and interesting.

Think of your passions, of what you mostly love to shoot: in your (digital) drawer you’ll certainly find many thousands of images on the subject. 2000 to 4000 of them could be a good start for such a website.

Like this the awfully boring and demanding work of keywording them all would not go wasted: extracted as page tags, the keywords would be used by Google or duckduckgo to locate exactly your pictures. Take my word for it, I tried it on my own skin and it works 😀

Upon a second thought, why just one website? Along the same lines you could create several others centered on different themes – as many as your interests.
Cheer up: we don’t need million of visitors, nor to spend a fortune on online ads, while we can afford a better alternative and thus pocket the whole loot rather than just a minuscule slice of it.

stock by .

Stock images: è giunto il momento del sito personale?

Mishmash objects with statue by Luisa Fumi.

Riflessioni sul microstock

Stato dell’ arte

Frequento non proprio ogni giorno ma quasi il forum microstockgroup popolato dai fotografi che contribuiscono con le loro immagini alle più conosciute agenzie di microstock. Così, per sentire il polso della situazione. Per lo più ne escono alti lai sul deterioramento della professione e sulle percentuali delle royalties sempre in diminuzione.
E’ vero, per i contributors la crisi c’è ed è in un buco nero.
Complice la diffusione di macchine fotografiche e smartphones sempre più perfezionati, il mercato è inflazionato: l’ offerta è enorme, di qualità da sufficiente a eccelsa. Le agenzie ne approfittano, i compensi calano. La concorrenza fra le agenzie stesse sembra sempre più spietata e le più piccole soccombono.

A cosa servono 100 milioni di immagini?

Le agenzie ora possono contare su perlomeno diecine di milioni di immagini.
Ma siamo sicuri che la scelta del cliente funzioni al top?
Come si fa ad arrivare all’immagine “giusta” se le statistiche dicono che la maggior parte degli utenti in una ricerca non va oltre la prima pagina o al massimo guarda le prime tre?
Sembra che le agenzie per non fare uscire sempre le stesse immagini in una data ricerca le ruotino, in parte random, in parte seguendo criteri che vengono aggiustati di volta in volta.

Mi chiedo se valga la pena di sprecare tanto tempo nel keywording che è la parte più noiosa dell’image processing. Ma soprattutto: che senso ha per un’agenzia possedere tante immagini se poi è come se ne avesse solo qualche migliaio da far vedere ?
Mi domando se non siamo anche qui in un buco nero di crisi.

Una via d’uscita

Forse è giunto il momento di rispolverare con altri criteri il sito personale, dove il fotografo vende da solo le proprie immagini.
Non un sito generico però, altrimenti ci confonderemmo con le piccole agenzie che hanno già vita difficile.
Un sito monografico su un argomento di interesse piuttosto ampio, che possa contenere qualche migliaio di immagini, ben studiato, diviso magari in gallerie secondo sub-categorie, facile da sfogliare dagli appassionati del genere: da chi cerca ad esempio immagini di sport, di difesa personale o alpinismo, di una certa regione Europea alquanto turistica, uno stile di vita vegano, concerti rock, energie sostenibili e altri temi molto attuali oppure un po’ retro tipo steampunk.
Magari aggiungendoci vicino un blog, che male non fa.
Pensate un po’ alle vostre passioni, a cosa vi piace fotografare di più: nel vostro cassetto (digitale) sono sicura che avete immagini in quantità.
In questa maniera le tanto sudate keywords estratte e divenute tags delle vostre pagine non vengono sprecate ma verranno usate da Google (o ancora meglio da Duckduckgo) per far trovare nelle ricerche proprio le vostre foto.
Parola mia, provato sulla mia pelle e funziona! 😀

Le vostre 2000 – 4000 immagini abilmente presentate e SEO ottimizzate possono farsi valere tutte e piazzarsi bene da sole con i motori di ricerca.

E poi perchè limitarsi ad un unico sito monografico? Sulla falsariga del primo potete crearne altri.
Coraggio, che forse una via di uscita c’è.

Dopotutto non occorre attirare milioni di visitatori e spendere follie in pubblicità quando ci si può permettere di tenere tutto il ricavato.

stock by .

A shower curtain?

shower-curtain-adv by .

Selling wall art & decor at Fine Art America
Virtual images are great! But if you’re looking for something solid, tangible, something nicely framed you can hang on a wall, or something artsy to wear printed on a T-shirt, or a very personal mug or maybe a shower curtain then…
why not to pay a visit to my shop at Fine Art America?
Near some fine art photography you’ll find images from my Old Times Collections stock images of https://vintage-nostalgia.com for a very unconventional and distinguished present 🙂


WOMAN-POSTER2-300 by .

Da un sacco di tempo volevo un mio sito personale dove vendere immagini.
Ci avevo già provato in passato senza molto successo: i problemi di manutenzione del sito erano troppo gravosi anche automatizzando parzialmente l’upload delle immagini.

Insomma ci avevo messo proprio una pietra sopra fino a quando una serie di considerazioni (di cui riferisco qui sotto) mi hanno fatto ripensare al progetto.
Ora però ce l’ho fatta: ho un sito automatizzato in tutte le sue parti, semplice da mantenere e mi pare funzionale e piacevole per l’utente.
Ho scelto per cominciare solo un mio prodotto di nicchia: la divulgazione high res di immagini antiche dai libri di antiquariato che colleziono con grande passione e che restauro e riproduco digitalmente con un procedimento collaudato e messo a punto in anni di esperienza

Le considerazioni preliminari:

  • Il mercato delle stock images è ormai inflazionato: tutti possono scattare foto di qualità con macchine fotografiche a buon prezzo e con cellphones. L’offerta e la concorrenza sono enormi.
  • Le agenzie lavorano con decine di milioni di immagini (a dir poco), ricercare lì in mezzo quelle ‘giuste’ per il cliente non è un compito facile.
    Mi sembra che troppe immagini comportino un effetto boomerang: già dopo aver sfogliato online 4-5 pagine piene di foto o illustrazioni l’interesse decade rapidamente. Mi domando se le mie immagini caricate sui siti delle agenzie vengano trovate anche se curo in maniera maniacale le keywords perdendoci molto tempo su.
  • Una riprova ai miei dubbi mi viene purtroppo dal fatto che – pur dopo aver alimentato di qualche migliaio di immagini i miei accounts sul pugno di agenzie dove ancora vale la pena di postare – il rendimento in royalties anche se non cala non aumenta.
  • Leggendo poi il muro del pianto che sono diventati i forums specializzati, mi viene un altro brutto pensiero: che non solo le royalties siano ormai in generale alquanto modeste ma che non esista nessun controllo su quante nostre immagini vengano effettivamente vendute. Ci fidiamo?

Mi sembra che occorra a questo punto riprendere in mano l’iniziativa e giocare nel web le proprie carte in maniera differente. Come fare? Sbrigliando la fantasia mi viene in mente che la soluzione potrebbe essere una coperativa online di artisti collegati in un megasito dove ognuno ha il suo spazio-sito e la sua nicchia-specialità personale

Era un po’ questa l’idea di Simbiostock che però sembra non abbia funzionato. Probabilmente il difetto non stava nell’idea in sé ma nella sua realizzazione. Le intenzioni di partenza parevano buone: ho anche usato il loro plugin per la gestione delle immagini che mi è però sembrato alquanto farraginoso.

Comunque il primo problema da risolvere rimane come realizzare un sito stock personale completamente automatizzato. Una volta costruito e funzionante, può eventualmente mergersi con strutture analoghe e crescere assieme.

Come il cane che rosicchia l’osso ho cominciato ad affrontare di nuovo l’idea del sito stock personale scomponendolo in task semplici.

I requisiti minimi del sito:

  • il sito deve essere veloce altrimenti non è competivo e viene penalizzato dai motori di ricerca: il host deve essere scelto con gran cura
  • Il sito deve utilizzare una connessione sicura: il protocollo SSL è ormai indispensabile per ogni sito per bene e in particolare per uno shop
  • il sito deve essere in regola con le direttive EU: questo vuol dire privacy policy e prezzi con tasse in evidenza.
  • Lo spazio del sito non deve essere limitato a pochi Gigabytes

Gli automatismi necessari

    Certo è sempre possibile preparare manualmente le pagine dei prodotti dello shop o caricare manualmente le immagini, ma non è questa la strada per poter avere un sito aggiornabile senza fatica ogni giorno. Mi sono posta il problema di come fare per automatizzare completamente l’aggiornamento senza intervento manuale:

  • Le immagini devono essere caricate a blocchi per ftp, la connessione più veloce fra il vostro computer e il server online
  • Occorre estrarre offline i metadata dalle immagini automaticamente, soprattutto le keywords estremamente importanti per l’ottimizzazione delle pagine web per i motori di ricerca dove vengono usate come tags
  • Occorre caricare tutti i dati per popolare un blocco di pagine web dello shop automaticamente con un file di testo. Un protocollo generalmente usato sono i files .csv preparati in ambiente Excel.
  • I files .csv a loro volta devono essere costruiti offline dai dati delle immagini e completati con i rimanenti parametri delle pagine dei prodotti (categorie, url’s dei files da scaricare ecc.) in maniera automatica

Last but not least…

Un ultimo requisito importante: l’investimento monetario iniziale deve essere modesto.
Occhio ai costi dunque: quando e se l’agenzia personale prende le ali si possono allargare i cordoni della borsa.


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