The Golden Age of Stock is Over but there is Still Gold to be Found
Critics of microstock will tell you that the microstock business is a race to the bottom and a waste of time. And you know what? They're right!
When microstock first began, it was a boom for those who got in early. Contributors were making tons of money mainly because there wasn't much competition. I would liken the early days of microstock to a gold rush. The lucky few who were there when the gold was discovered cashed in on easy money but the gold dried up as everyone else rushed in to stake their claim. Most gold rushes throughout history is a story of great promise and excitement with only a handful ever striking it big.
It truly is becoming a race to the bottom. As more and more Contributors flock in the overall availability of images makes it difficult for a single portfolio to compete against the sum of all other portfolios. More and more stock agencies and partners are coming in and it's driving down the cost of royalties... and profits.
The hard reality for the vast majority of Contributors is they probably should take up other endeavors. For those who take a shot in the business, there is the thrill of those first few sales, but is it really worth the trouble? Look at your stats. Is the money making the effort pay off? Is it really fun for those doing it for fun?
The extremely small group of microstockers who can make a living at this, many of them complain about falling revenue, tougher competition, and it's just not like it used to be. Since when did easy money ever stay easy forever? The only constant since the beginning of time is those people who succeed are those who work hard and do the job better than the competition.
The critics of microstock are right about one thing: It's not like it used to be. In order to succeed you now have to actually work hard. You have to be better than the competition. You have to think outside the box. And I think this is a concept lost on virtually everyone.
Case in point: Yuri Arcurs. Yuri is the god of microtock. He rules the planet. But have you looked at his portfolio? It's the same concepts over and over and over and over... and over... The guy is stuck in a rut and for whatever reason is unable to step it up a notch and turn the stock world upside down with new and fresh ideas.
Word I hear on the internet is Yuri is seeing reduced earnings but to me that isn't a surprise if it's true. First of all, he's saturating the market with the same concepts. He's competing against himself. Second, I see a lack of imagination in his work, at least for generating revenue.
If you have a shoot lined up, studio and models all in place, how difficult is it to take the scene at hand and change it into something else? How much effort is it to take Happy-Smiling-Businessman and throw a Santa Claus hat on his head and shoot a second image? With virtually no change on the set you just doubled up on the types of images you can add into your portfolio. And that's just one simple think-out-loud idea.
If Yuri is the best of the best but yet not even he can think of simple and quick ideas to maximize resources, that tells me there is still much gold to find in them thar hills.
I think the critics of microstock are right. The industry is spiraling downward. Effort-versus-reward is diminishing. The vast majority of Contributors should get out and find more worthwhile activities. (This blog isn't going to change the status quo despite the advice being sound).
However, ever since the beginning of time, there are always those who succeed despite the odds. They are the ones who work hard, don't give up, and overcome the obstacles that face them.
Most of us are limited in what we can do because of available resources. Give any one of us a studio like Yuri and a financial stake to hire models, then it's possible we too could become a major player in the stock world.
However, no one is limited when it comes to imagination and creativity. The catch is you can't train someone how to be creative or purchase books for improving imagination. I will express the opinion that Yuri Arcurs is lacking greatly in imagination and creativity; that's what I see when I browse through his portfolio. He may overcome this by working hard and being an experienced commercial photographer but Happy-Smiling-Buinessman can only go so far. Give a model a dirty shirt and a wrench and do a few Happy-Smiling-Auto-Mechanic shots; maybe overall revenue will start to increase because we're covering more concepts!
Could it be that those of you lacking in resources and experience, imaginatination and creativity will help you to go far? Then why do we keep submitting images of Clouds-In-Sky and Girl-On-Cell-Phone?
The bottom line is this: The future of microstock is bleak. Virtually all who give it a shot will find it to be a great disappointment and will find it no dofferent than any other gold rush or promise of easy money. Most will rush in with great hopes but will leave with empty pockets.
In the end, only those who work hard, make the effort, study and learn, and have the talent, will make it in this industry. Look in the mirror and look hard. Do you see someone who's going to make it in microstock? I don't want to use the word "fail" for those who aren't going to make it, sometimes it's more of a matter of discovering other things in life at which you can be successful.
Also, it's up to you to define "success." Do you want to make $100/month doing stock? $500? If you've been working at this for three years and are making $20/month, are you happy with that? Or should your energy best be spent elsewhere?
There are no revelations in this blog; in order to succeed you need to work hard, set goals, and evaluate your progress. But you should understand the stock industry, it's future, and whether you can find your niche. The gold is still there but it's much harder to find. Not even the great ones like Yuri Arcurs know how to find all the gold.
Photo credits: Rene Drouyer.