Microstock is Fulfilling an Unmet Need – and Assignment Photographers Should Participate

Recently I heard of a customer who was looking for a picture of an air conditioning repairman working on a home system to use in a small yellow pages ad. I thought it would be interesting to see what was available. I started with the Big Three and found this:

  • Getty had one picture of someone working on a large industrial system.
  • Corbis had three pictures, two on industrial systems and one very nice one on a homeowners system.
  • Jupiterimages had nothing.Then I went to iStockphoto. They had 20 images, all taken on the same shoot of two guys working on a home system. While I think they are good images of the subject matter it seems likely to me that if the iStock photographer had shown her images to the Big Three she would have been blown off with the comment, “The subject is not something our customers need.”The Big Three focus on all the classic “high demand” subjects that have been selling since the print catalog era. They keep adding more and more redundancy of basically the same picture.

    The woman who took the air conditioning repairman pictures started putting images on iStock in January 2005. She has a total of more than 1,500 pictures on the site now. I estimate she may have earned around $20,000 from them, including about $500 from the air conditioning pictures.

    I don’t know this for a fact, but this photographer may have shot her pictures on assignment; then, posted them on iStock for additional revenue. Put it all together and it is not too bad for a half-day job for many people.

    It may be time to begin thinking of “stock” as we did 30 years ago — as residual income from images generated on assignment. Certainly the micro-payment sites are going to get a lot of images from photographers with this attitude.

    In any event, it seems likely that those big ticket sales we used to expect and hope for are going to become fewer and fewer.

    [tags]jim pickerell, stock photography, microstock[/tags]

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