Recently, I visited the forum of a modeling Web site where a photographer boasted about his microstock image being used on the cover of Time Magazine . He was proud that Time had purchased the image — for $30.
Thirty bucks. Holy cow.
I don’t want to pick on Robert Lam, the photographer. I hope that he is able to parlay the Time tear sheet to get other work and sell more stock.
But when I visited his Web site, it was a pretty bare-bones place. If Lam’s image had sold for $3,000 (as many Time cover images do) instead of $30, he’d be able to upgrade his site as a fitting reward for his achievement. I also saw that he was selling an 8×10 print of his cover image (before Time’s post-production work) for $7. Time, on the other hand, is selling prints of that cover for between $19.95 and $94.95.
Microstock is a great deal — for those who are buying. It’s not such a great deal for those of us who are giving away our photography. Time saved thousands of dollars. And if the photographer who shot the image decides to buy a print of that Time cover, to commemorate the occasion, the magazine has recouped all or most of its $30, just from that purchase.
Call me crazy, but it seems to me the creation of photography is getting more expensive all the time — not less. When I started taking pictures, a pricey Canon A-1 cost me $350. My last camera cost 10 times that. Will Seberger  wrote recently about the rising cost of being a photographer:
Since about 2002, I have been stuck in an almost endless upgrade cycle. Where before I could do my job with some downright ancient hardware (by today’s standards, at least), today I have to move quickly to keep up with expectations.
Even if you are a hobbyist who only occasionally sells photography, you should understand your cost of doing business, shouldn’t you?
How long will your camera last? What about your computer? When are you planning to upgrade your imaging software? These are hard costs that need to be taken into account. Heck, your CF card costs more than what Time spent.
Oh, and don’t forget to factor in taxes. You are paying them , aren’t you?
The numbers don’t lie, and they all agree that selling microstock is a loser’s game.
I learned the other day that Twitter, which analysts value somewhere around $500 million, purchased its famous “birdie” graphic  through a microstock site for less than $15.
I wonder where that artist took his family to celebrate the news.