Secrets of Microstock SuperStars
While in New York City last week for PhotoPlus Expo and the PACA (Picture Archive Council of America) International Conference, I attended a panel comprised of ‘Microstock SuperStars” moderated by PDN’s Daryl Lang. I heard some words of wisdom from the panel members that I thought might be useful to many of you.
Panel member Yuri Arcurs emphasized the importance of building your brand within the overall site. He offered that an important aspect of his success is a consistent and identifiable style. By having a recognizable look, he attracts loyal users that search on his portfolio, sometimes bypassing the general search. He keeps his name prominent by offering tips and suggestions on his portfolio page as well as offering educational and informative videos on his personal blog from his own website.
Andres Rodriguez suggested that creating original treatments of common themes and photographing neglected subjects are important. He offered his photo of a database designer writing on a clear surface as an example of a neglected subject that he discovered while searching for an image for a client. When he couldn’t find an appropriate image, he realized that others had probably also searched in vain for such an image and so he shot it.
For the benefit of the traditional professional photographers who normally are in the majority at PhotoExpo seminars, Lee Torrens from Microstock Diaries described the four types of microstock contributors as:
1. Single individuals that have found microstock as an outlet for their hobby or passion for photography.
2. Individuals whose skill levels have grown from amateur to pro that find that if they hire assistants and other staff, they can increase their output and sales.
3. Professional photographers who come to microstock already staffed up and working as stock photographers
4. Production companies that aggregate the work of a few or many photographers under one brand. All agreed that the average RPI (return per image) is around $3-4 up to as much as $10 for some ‘Microstock SuperStars'. Yuri also said that the RPI in microstock is now close to or exactly the same as the average for traditional stock. The difference is microstock photographers have learned to keep their production costs down. While a traditional photographer may spend upwards of $10,000 to twice that much on a production, the high for microstock should not exceed $4000/shoot day to yield 100-200 selects from a take of between 1500 to 2000 images. The highest costs are thus around $20 to $40/image. In a recent interview in PDN, Yuri, suggested that $10/image is a good place to land for production costs.
The superstars advised the traditional stock photographers in the audience to cut their production budgets in half in order to financially succeed in microstock. (I recall a quote from an earlier blog where I suggested that cutting a zero off a budget figure would be about right!) One way that the Superstars have learned to cut costs is by using their friends and family members as models. Lee Torrens mentioned that the most famous women models in the microstock world are Yuri’s partner and Andres’s sister.
The panel agreed on the importance of analytical research on what is selling, what keywords are the most successful and what subjects that are overlooked. The danger is over analysis that results in everyone attempting to copy the best sellers. This results in thousands of images that resemble each other. In my opinion part of what has caused some traditional royalty free sales to diminish is the never-ending repetition of subject matter and style in the collections. I asked the panel how they are combating the possibility that their colleagues on the site could cannibalize their sales by copying the most successful images. Andres responded that he always reaches for a higher level of creativity and to find neglected but important subjects to shoot. Yuri indicated that he storyboards prior to a shoot.
Storyboards have evolved from the world of film and cartooning where scenes are sketched out in sequence for the benefit of the production crew. For a still photo shoot, a storyboard can serve the same purpose: to ensure that all the ideas of a shoot are covered in a logical sequence relative to locations and props. It also enables a photographer to organize the timing of the arrival of models to coincide with a certain aspect of the shoot. For example, for the last set up in an office shoot with a couple before the crew and models exit to an exterior location, the production coordinator would like to have half dozen more models arrive for the last couple of hours before the end of the interior shots. By constructing a storyboard, a day’s workflow is much easier to map out. In this example, a group exterior shot that might be planned for late in the day to catch the best natural light needs to happen just after the group finishes with the final interior shots. Once the exterior group shot is accomplished, all the models but a couple can be dismissed as the production finishes up with singles and couples on the exterior set. With a complete storyboard, the model coordinator or photographer will not be paying for extra models to stand around while they are not needed and can schedule their arrivals accordingly.
The storyboard doesn’t have to be comprised of elaborate sketches. You can write down all the ideas for a shoot in a brainstorming meeting or from your research, on a separate ‘sticky’ note. Then move the notes around until you have them in a logical order. At that point you might want to draw a rough sketch of each general shot to ensure that you have all the props you need and that the day can be more formally organized. This is really useful I have found when I’m working with an advertising photographer shooting for stock the first time. He or she might spend way too much time trying to get just one perfect shot…that is the goal generally of an ad shoot…but when presented with the storyboard in advance, the amount of shots becomes self-evident. The storyboard will also help you to introduce different points of view and add to the creativity of the shoot.