Myths of the Microstock Industry

It is a constant for new contributors joining Dreamstime so there are always people who are beginning their journey into the business of commercial photography. And thus, many of them invariably ask the same questions over and over as they seek answers for being successful in the world of microstock.

One of the biggest problems they face is being able to separate the good advice from the bad. There are many myths and a general mindset that is perpetuated even by experienced microstockers. This is unfortunate as in many cases it can do more harm than good.

Myth Number 1: "Your Pictures Are Beautiful!"

Telling a photographer his images are beautiful and to be patient because sales will come is not helping. The contributor is asking how to get sales and will fall into the trap of having an ego that was stroked. Yes, the images may be beautiful, but that is not helping the person get sales. Pictures of sunsets, flowers, cityscapes, the database is overflowing with these kinds of images and even the best of the best will see very low sales.

Most contributors start with vacation pictures and landscapes. There is nothing wrong with that but being a good photographer is not enough. If you want sales, then you need to concentrate on CONTENT and CONCEPTS. This is a world of commercial photography and if you want sales, take off your Artiste hat and put on a hat for Commercial photography.

A significant number of new contributors get their ego stroked and then fail miserably because they were told they were good photographers. They never get the advice they really need: Change gears from landscapes to COMMERCIAL!

Myth Number 2: "Just Keep Uploading!"

I cringe every time someone tells a new contributor to just keep uploading and they will see sales. Tell a comedian to get onto a stage and tell a lot of jokes and some of them will get laughs. Yeah, he might have two or three good zingers but he's going to be pelted with rotten eggs.

Quality matters. In fact, quality is the ONLY thing that matters for getting sales. Upload crap and you will get crap for sales. Upload QUALITY and you will start seeing sales. Upload QUALITY in QUANTITY, then you will start seeing the real goal: A STEADY INCOME.

Myth Number 3: "Images Need to be Online for a While"

There are people who will say things like "An image needs to be online for about six months before it starts seeing sales." That is false. False! F-A-L-S-E!

A QUALITY image can start seeing sales immediately. An outstanding image will see sales at a steady rate. It's extremely difficult to upload a "winner" every time but think about this: If an image can earn $100 over five years, then what if you could earn $100 on 1,000 images over five years? For those of you slow with math, that's $100,000 or $20,000/year. I am no where close to earning that kind of money but it's apparent a small percentage of my portfolio is responsible for a large percentage of my income.

You should always be trying to come up with "Winners." You still need to upload the secondary images because they will generate income as a whole but the time an image has been online has nothing to do with its ability to get sales. Good images get sales. Mediocre images see occasional sales. Crap earns nothing. It's easy to tell the difference: Crap images don't sell! There is a reason why they don't sell. The reasons are many- figure out why they don't sell and you will begin to understand what makes a winner.

Myth Number 4: "How Do I Increase Views?"

New contributors are always asking how to increase their views. Views are a great tool for understanding which of your images are getting activity. A lot of views means the concept, subject, or the image itself is of interest. If that's the case, then you should pursue those subjects and ideas.

It should not be surprising if a bad snapshot of your pet cat will get very little views. If an image does not get much activity, it's because the subject is well covered in the database or your competition has similar images that are better in quality.

The problem is people do not use Views as a tool. There are ways to increase views if all you want is a large view count. You can tweet images, post links to them with social media, etc. However, if an image is crap, it's still not going to sell just because you found a way to get everyone to look at it.

You really want to know the secret to getting views? Two things: Keyword the image correctly and do good work. In the end, views do not equate to sales! QUALITY equates to sales!

Myth Number 5: "The Microstock Industry is Imploding"

The industry actually might blow itself up as the agencies rush to sell images cheaper than the next guy, but that's not yet the case. And yes, there are concerns where the industry is going. Dreamstime has changed its policy from being strict on concept and content to accepting virtually any image. This is making it impossible for buyers to find your images as the competition increases by virtue of a flooded market.

However, none of this is true, at least for the contributor who creates original, imaginative, and unique images. If you create images for which there is little or no competition, the market is wide open for you. Being on the cutting edge is easier said than done but you will find greater success being a trailblazer rather than following what has already been done. Just go to the latest uploads section on Dreamstime and you will see a flood of contributors who have failed in their microstock endeavor before they ever really started.

Use your imagination and creativity! Or you can take snapshots of your pet cat or copy what everyone else is doing.

The next time you see someone complaining in the forums about how their sales have disappeared, take a look at their portfolio. Is the industry to blame or the QUALITY of their portfolio?

Myth Number 6: "Giving Away Free Images Gains Me Exposure"

Buyers do not check out your portfolio if you put a lot of images into the free section. The free section serves a purpose for attracting new customers, but the vast majority of people who utilize the free images are doing just that: Looking for FREE images. They are the cheap of the cheap, freeloaders of the industry, and people looking for a free ride. A handful do become paying customers which is why you provide free images but free images do not get you exposure.

Since there is no rule of thumb, I will create one now: "You should not have more than FIVE images in the free section."

A large, robust inventory of free images only serves to take away sales from the collective community. A small, limited sampling of images helps to encourage potential buyers to come to the site and look around.

Are you here to work for free or to get paid for your work? Then give away a slice, not the whole cake.

So there you have it. The above is a set of the common myths that abound in the microstock industry. Simply put, if you want sales, the focus should be on images with COMMERCIAL potential. Keyword images properly. Imagination and creativity and quality execution go a lot farther than copying what everyone else is doing. If images don't sell, then don't make excuses, figure out the REASON why and adjust as needed.

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September 21, 2017

Mgphotostock

That's a great article of tips, very thanks for sharing this tips!

August 08, 2017

Rik57

Great post.
Unfortunately, Myths are made of the most un-malleable stuff in the universe.

June 13, 2017

Biotabby

Thanks for posting this totally agree. I have yet to sale anything but I am heard from other photographers that its a hard industry. However I am also learning a lot from it.

June 01, 2017

Romanotino

I agree

April 23, 2017

Aurelielemoigne

Thanks for this interesting article.

June 14, 2016

Qiwoman01

Thanks!

June 07, 2016

Photographycornwall

I think your blog makes a whole load of sense, which is why I was so surprised to see the level of animosity in some of the comments below. Whether we like to admit it or not, microstock is a business. To get ahead, we need to understand how that business works. I for one am grateful for your advice :)

July 19, 2015

Wickedlydivine

Exactly this makes allot of sense, since I may be a beginning photographer that's one of the things that's bugged me the most is that people just keep saying upload as many photos as you can and you'll get rich fast well yeah right I look at there profiles and they've usually earned a handful of sales themselves or in most cases none.

That's the same with the free images some people have urged me to flood the market with free images to boost my profile exposure but I always think to myself yeah let's flood the market with free images that I've worked hard to get just so I can give handouts out, with the main return being views, and free downloads not sustainable compensation for my work.

But all in all you have a very good outlook on this, as you have answered a few of my questions I have wondered for awhile.

June 11, 2015

B8900456194

EDITED BY ADMIN

Please do not spam blogs requesting votes for assignment images, thank you.

June 03, 2015

Mntmamaof2

I think this was a good read. I am new (started in Feb. 2015) and have only made 5 sales so far. I actually am pretty pleased with that considering how many photo's there are to choose from. When I get discouraged, which is often, I look to the message boards and blogs on DT to become motivated again and again. I just really do not understand the % the contributor gets from a sale. The last photo I sold was sold as a TIFF and I only rec'd .35. Out of my 5 sales I am at 6 dollars and some change. Anyway, good article, thank you.

June 02, 2015

Marcelaelvira

Premise: I'm a newbie, so have some patience.
Thanks for the good advice, but I'm not very good at "customizing" photos... I just take them, I wack my head for the best fitting keywords. I vary the subjects, but I'm often forced to put my creations under editorial licence... not to mantion that I have a pretty low approval rate: I have the bad habit of uploading wildlife images zoomed on the "model" - they get refused more often than not because archives are full of them...yep, they don't accept pictures of our pet cat anymore...unless you decide to donate them...which I plan on doing...

June 02, 2015

Marcelaelvira

Premise: I'm a newbie, so have some patience.
Thanks for the good advice, but I'm not very good at "customizing" photos... I just take them, I wack my head for the best fitting keywords. I vary the subjects, but I'm often forced to put my creations under editorial licence... not to mantion that I have a pretty low approval rate: I have the bad habit of uploading wildlife images zoomed on the "model" - they get refused more often than not because archives are full of them...yep, they don't accept pictures of our pet cat anymore...unless you decide to donate them...which I plan on doing...

May 23, 2015

TMarchev

Good article ! I'm agreed with your point of view.

May 19, 2015

Debratos

@WisconsinArt, Introduce a topic and you will get many different opinions....and that's ok!
You do have a lot of good ideas and techniques which you list under "Myths", SOME of which I plan to practice SOME of the time with SOME of my photos. Thank you for your blog. However, for me in particular, success is not how many photos I can manipulate to appease customers. You see, photography to me, has a much deeper impact. Photography to me is capturing the moment, sharing it and holding it as a memory. Because I have a degenerative eye disease, I use the camera to remind me of exactly how the world is: beautiful. I know as a contributor I won't have as many sales as you but I do believe there are still buyers who want the real thing, the snapshot as you say (as we have witnessed from all of us photographers who have less sales than you). I applaud you for conforming to the wants and needs of the stock photo buyers since you are trying to make a living at this, but I hope you don't lose...

May 19, 2015

Data2203

Need to know! Thank you!

May 14, 2015

Seawatch1

"I guess that's why some people become critical of the blogs. They expect instant answers and will nit pick."

You sure are correct on that. People have to want to learn. And some want to learn without doing any work.

That's OK. More sales for us.

Larry

May 14, 2015

Wisconsinart

WisconsinArt, I agree with most of what you have posted, but I wonder at what point do I jump in and tell a photographer they need to make some changes to their photos to help them sell. I think, and I maybe wrong, that some people are looking for a little positive feedback. They want to hear their photos are nice. Which many are. But I hesitate to just jump and say, "Hey, pay attention to the rule of thirds." (Which I don't myself sometimes do.)

So I will tell someone they have some nice photos and not elaborate unless otherwise asked to. I hope I'm not doing a disservice to some, but unless they ask, their photos are usually "nice."

Larry

Just depends on the photographer. Some are trying hard to figure things out. Those you can offer hard criticism. Some only want to be told what they want to hear. I think you've already figured that out.

The nice thing about a blog is you can offer advice without being personal....

May 14, 2015

Seawatch1

WisconsinArt, I agree with most of what you have posted, but I wonder at what point do I jump in and tell a photographer they need to make some changes to their photos to help them sell. I think, and I maybe wrong, that some people are looking for a little positive feedback. They want to hear their photos are nice. Which many are. But I hesitate to just jump and say, "Hey, pay attention to the rule of thirds." (Which I don't myself sometimes do.)

So I will tell someone they have some nice photos and not elaborate unless otherwise asked to. I hope I'm not doing a disservice to some, but unless they ask, their photos are usually "nice."

Larry

May 13, 2015

Yelo34

Jesus was and is perfect, yet, He got angry to the religious who took advantage of other people. So don't expect only the meek Christian. When I feel someone has to be exposed I am there for that as well. You are rude, mistreat people in your comments and think superior than others...that is my opinion. I don't hate you, I live in peace with myself, I just don't like you. You should apologize about the comment of uploading 5 million renders in one year (made with the intention of ridiculizing the author of some 5000 who had had had only two sales), apologize for believing your keywords are untouchable, apologize for the blog in which you almost mock those who fail in stock and present yourself as a success,also apologize for sending me to photography school,for calling me ignorant,etc. I have never offended you and I have the right to tell you what I think. So don't blame Christianity, in fact, you should learn a little bit about it to get humble. Your 13,000 thousand downloads don't impress...

May 13, 2015

Parkinsonsniper

Wisconsinart, I think you hit the point even with this single phrase

"Upload QUALITY in QUANTITY"

Newbies should keep in mind that a thousand images with low quality will bring you 0 sales per image, (except the exceptional sales) .... which means 1000 x 0 = 0 (zero)

But if you upload 100 images with high quality, they will bring you (app.) 5 sales per image...which means 100 x 5 = 500

This guy knows what he says..

Congrats my friend..

May 12, 2015

Helix7

The #1 myth in stock is that paying artists 50% (or higher) royalties is impossible, unprofitable, unsustainable, etc.

When in fact the opposite is true. It is sustainable, profitable, and not only possible but proven to work by several companies who are doing exactly that.

May 12, 2015

Hel080808

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They may remember me to the rules. And what happens with the Microstock Industrie will be seen.
Good luck for you!

May 11, 2015

Andrewmits

I think your post is straight shooting. My observations of what seems to work well or come up short on Dreamstime are consistent with your myths of the microstock industry. It is nice of you to share your thoughts on microstock and readers can only benefit by paying some heed to your conclusions. I see a lot of portfolios on DT with hundreds or thousands of images but only a handful of sales, and other portfolios that have five times or more the number of sales as images in the portfolio.

May 09, 2015

Clewisleake

I thought your post would have been more helpful if it didn't just crush the spirit of someone just starting out in microstock. I think you need to know your audience, I think the majority of new contributors have regular jobs and don't have time to sit in a room layering backgrounds together creating images that don't exist in the real world.

May 09, 2015

Wisconsinart

I've seen your web site, Yelo. Apparently you're a devoted Christian, you even say that in your profile.

Your posts pretty much exposes what you really are.

Good luck to you.

May 09, 2015

Yelo34

EDITED BY ADMIN: Please keep a respectful tone of voice.

May 08, 2015

Wisconsinart

When I check your profile I see the MOST POPULAR images are, let's call them, snapshots (except the one with the tsunami). I don't see any of your weird concepts. I think you should tell the reader that those are your personal experiences. Pls do not look my numbers here. I AM NOT EXCLUSIVE

Yelo, I don't know what your problem is, but this isn't the first time you sought to criticize me with the end result of making a fool out of yourself.

First of all, of my best selling images, there are multiple images that are heavily edited in the same manner as the tsunami picture. How and why, these are advanced topics of which it's apprent you are not ready for. I'll take it as a compliment that a "professional" photographer such as yourself is unable to figure it out.

Secondly, my current best sellers are old images. They really don't sell much any more and will eventually slide down the ladder in favor of stronger concepts....

May 08, 2015

Sugiyono83

Thank's

May 08, 2015

Kensee

Excellent article. No truer words were written. However, the adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder" still holds true. Although I don't think that all of my images are the highest quality, several of them are quite popular with end users because they serve the illustrative purpose that the customer is looking for. That's going to be the bottom line when a customer is shopping for an image.

May 08, 2015

Yelo34

When I check your profile I see the MOST POPULAR images are, let's call them, snapshots (except the one with the tsunami). I don't see any of your weird concepts. I think you should tell the reader that those are your personal experiences. Pls do not look my numbers here. I AM NOT EXCLUSIVE

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