From stock photography old-timers to newly minted microstock experts, all the gurus will tell you the same thing: the key to succeeding in today’s market is to carve out a niche for yourself.
Shoot stuff no one else shoots. Bark at others upon approach. Defend your turf so no one else can take pictures of your subject.
It’s a bourgeois mentality, like that of a fearful suburb-dweller guarding his patch of lawn. In the face of adversity, retreat and protect.
Only problem is, it’s a doomed strategy.
Nothing to Protect
What is there for you to protect, exactly? You do not own your subject. You do not own your clients. You do not own anything except your equipment.
In microstock, clients belong to the platforms, not the photographers. Contributors have no clue who they are selling to or why. In traditional stock photography, sales report still include some licensing information, but the trend is to provide less, not more.
So tell me, if you do not know who your customers are, if you do not have your own data, how can you niche yourself?
You can look at the sales trends at iStockphoto to see what’s working in general. But all the other microstockers see that data, too.
Once everyone is in the same niches, they’re no longer niches, right?
Shooting What You Love
The commercial stock photography market has decided to walk on its head. It used to be that photographers would shoot what they loved and sell that. Some, very, very well.
That was back when photographers had no clue what others were shooting, except for what was published. Now, everybody can see everybody else’s body of work — the vast majority of which never gets sold.
So, based on seeing what other people are shooting (but not necessarily selling), they cross subjects — including very interesting subjects — off their list.
They look for something that hasn’t been found yet. They search for a niche, like miners search for a vein.
Instead of shooting what they love.
The “Field of Dreams” Strategy
Let’s say you find a niche. Then what?
Since you are the only one taking photos of your subject matter, I guess we can just assume the clients will find you, right? The “Field of Dreams” marketing strategy.
Unfortunately, images don’t market themselves, niche or no niche.
There are billions of images online. Do you really believe yours will find buyers simply because the subject matter is rare? Did it ever occur to you that it’s rare because no one cares?
It’s true that once you leave the crowded center of the marketplace for an isolated corner, you will find less competition. But you will also find fewer clients.
And if you don’t know who those clients are, or how to find them and sell to them, you have no chance.
The Talent “Niche”
Here’s a “niche” you might try instead: talent. No one can copy talent.
Shoot everything that everyone else shoots — with talent. With your own eye, your own style and personality. Make your specialty how you approach your subjects, not the subjects themselves.
And leave the niches to those who like living in caves.