Remember the microstock photography debate? Time Magazine bought a cheap photo to use as a cover image and the microstock photographer was only paid a small sum. That apparently ticked off quite a few professional photographers.
It turns out it was not a rare exception but a trend that Time Magazine will try to cut cost by using low cost photos from microstock site such as iStockphoto. The August 2009 issue again used a photo (the green cupcake) from iStockphoto. The photographer, Stacey Newman, is a well established exclusive stock image contributor to iStockphoto. Her portfolio has more than 3700 images and have been downloaded for more than 11000 times. She was quite happy about the publication even though she wasn’t paid a huge sum other professional photographers would have demanded.
The story and the discussion of the issue was published on San Francisco Chronicle. Perhaps not by coincidence, Mr. Tony Blei was also mentioned in the story. He complained about his potential clients who cut costs by going to places like iStockphoto.
In my original post, I talked about the advances of digital technology that have enabled everyday people to take good quality photos. There are more influences from the technology on the whole photography landscape.
Technology provided the Internet and online social media sites that bring hobbyist photos to world wide audience instantly. Flickr, Picasa Web Album, Sumgmug, and others connect people with common interests and spread knowledge by promoting self-learning.
Technology also enabled low cost distribution channels like iStockphoto that are increasingly giving hobbyists the chances to sell their work and opens up more markets that were impossible with traditional channels and associated high costs.
The dark side of technology is also clear. Whoever is making a living on a given skill risks losing competitiveness as technology evolves. Technology enables more people to enter the market and to make the production of goods and services less expensive. As photo hobbyists snap up more business, pros will have to expand, move up, or risk of falling behind the curve. Bitter complaints about microstock devaluing their work and the stock photo industry are not very helpful.
Remember the video in which Hitler exploded over the news that Nikon D3X will cost him $8000 (check current price at Amazon, B&H, Adorama)? The video turned out to be very popular and many imitation mashups using the same movie clip have popped up on Youtube.
In the following video, Hitler is not happy about the Canon EOS 7D because it supports the native 24fps movie recording while the Canon EOS 5D Mark II he ordered from B&H does not.
Typically Amazon has very competitive prices for almost everything they sell including photography gears. However I just found this $193.89 Nikon MC-23 10-pin cable for simultaneous shutter release on two connected SLR cameras. That’s a ridiculous price for such a low tech item. Most reasonable places sell it for a far more reasonable price, for example, $74.95 at B&H. However you can buy compatible item on eBay for even cheaper price.
Sometimes you get what you pay for, which means you could be getting something inferior at lower price. Often the matter of the fact is that manufacturers and retailers are reaping fat profits from the sales of accessories. It appears that common sense is winning: More people are buying the $0.08 HDMI cable instead of the name brand that costs a whole lot more.
I came across this blog article from one of the tweets I received yesterday. In this post, photographer Tony Blei blasted the guy, Robert Lam, who sold his image to Time Magazine for $30 via iStockPhoto. This isn’t the first angry professional photographer who got upset by the one controversial aspect of microstock photography: making many small (=cheap) sells and making as much as they could from just a few large sales on traditional stock photography. Here is another one who got angry about the same photo. It is fascinating to read the article and the 100+ comments posted by his readers.
Not meant to stir up controversy but here is my take on this debate.
First, did Robert got screwed by selling his photo so cheap? Probably not. If Robert had not been selling his photos via iStockPhoto, would Time Magazine be able to find his photo somehow and pay thousands of dollar for it? Perhaps not. With super thin margins from the magazine business, Time Magazine was likely pressed to save cost so they could have found a similar photo from other microstock photo seller, or perhaps had their staff to shoot the image based on the same concept. Either way, Robert could end up with nothing. Not all microstock images get published by national magazines. Most end up in very low budget publications, websites etc. None of those can afford thousands of dollars those professional photographers demand. To a certain degree, microstock photography devalues the practice of photography but at the same time opens up a huge new market that wasn’t possible previously.
Secondly, technology has reduced the barrier for taking a good quality photos. Stock photography is no longer the exclusive realm of professional photographers. Non-professional photographers can take quality images, very often as good as ones taken by professional photographers. They can sell them at any price they want to. If there is anything wrong with this, that’s the fault of the Capitalism. Anyone can undersell others for their own benefits. We can certainly understand the fear and frustration of some professional photographers who were stunned to see amateur photographers who take great photos and sell for much less. It is also not strange some of that feelings turns into anger and disdain. However that is meaningless. The pros who feel threatened should really move up the ladder and distinguish themselves from lower tiers of the system. People like Robert or other non-professional photographers may never get accepted to high end stock photo agencies that do sell photos for more money and have higher standards for accepting photos and photographers.
Thirdly, can microstock cover the costs? The question is probably better suited for professional photographers who make a living on photography. Most non-professional photographers started in photography only because of their passion for photography or using it as tool to capture the moments of life. If they don’t sell anything, they would never recover the cost of their equipments. Selling any is better than selling nothing. Can microstock sellers make a living? It depends on how much efforts you put in. I know many who on iStockPhoto that make very good amount of money and even livings out of their portfolios. Personally, I joined iStockPhoto since early 2005 and I have only about 350 photos and some illustrations. I have made over $6700 since without putting in too much effort. That’s enough to cover all the equipments I have bought over the years.
What is your opinion on microstock photography? Please share your thoughts below in the comment section.
A quick scan of the Amazon’s new releases in Arts and Photography showed the following titles. The top three in the list are written by well known authors and appear quite interesting. Bryan Peterson’s book Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Photography Field Guide: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera will be released August 18th, all others appear to be available now.
DTown TV is a weekly video show in which Scott Keyby and Matt Kloskowski bring us some great tips, tricks, news, etc for Nikon digital SLR cameras. Probably due to its Nikon centric nature, many people seem to have gotten an impression that DTown TV is sponsored by Nikon. One most recent example is in the August 8th blog post about Nikon related news/links at NikonRumors.
Even the About page on DTown TV says so.
That makes it a little confusing: Does Nikon sponsor DTown TV or not?
As noted in the comment bellow by Phil. DTown TV has updated its About page and removed the words “is sponsored by Nikon”. So it appears that the matter has been settled: DTown TV is not sponsored by Nikon.
We said farewell to Polaroid Instant Films last December because the company had decided to stop the production due to the inevitable transition to digital photography. Many, myself included, thought it was the final end of an era. Now, according to the Time article, the instant film is making a comeback thanks to two men who still see great market opportunity for instant film.
Their endeavor is what they called Impossible Project, which looks very possible now. If everything goes as planed, monochrome version of the new instant film will be available before Christmas and the color version will be available in year 2010.
If you cannot wait to dust off your old Polaroid instant camera, don’t worry. There are still instant films available.They are not cheap though. The cost of single exposure seems to run between 1 to 3 dollars. It doesn’t take a math genius to figure out how fast you can pay for the fancy DSLR camera you have got by not shooting with the Polaroid Instant Film. 😀
In this story, a mommy blogger got her family photo stolen and the photo ended up in an ad in a Czech Republic grocery store, advertising its quick home delivery service.
Well, something like this (or even worse) can happen to anyone who posts digital photo online in blogs, social networking sites, or photo sharing sites. Putting the note “All right reserved” next to the photo doesn’t deter people who are determined to copy your image.
There some good advices offered in the story: