How I sold microstock to earn money and fund my hobbies

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It seems that after 5 years since I started venturing into selling microstock, till today, I find a lot of people who are fond of photography as hobbies being unaware of the microstock industry. Not even in this age of ‘Long Tail’ economies.

So, I decided to revive an old blog post of mine and update it to today’s relevance and share with you how I’ve effectively funded my photography hobby. And I’m not talking about funding digital cameras here that costs US$199. I’m talking funding DSLRs and lenses. Yup. My Nikon D300 DSLR was a result of this microstock endeavor. Convinced yet? Yes? So here’s a little note that I’d usually share with all my photography and graphic designer friends I come to know of: sell your works as microstocks!

The microstock industry has been quite misunderstood by many, mainly because of the low price and royalty one earns from every sale. One would think that selling a photograph for merely 20 cents of earning in royalty is really pathetic. And rightfully, I’d think so as well, only if you manage to sell it only once and only once.

You see, in the microstock business model, the collection of photographs are mostly sold on a royalty-free license on a per download basis. Each download costing from US$1 to US$20 depending on the licensing. Comparing this to old time stock agencies like Corbis or even Getty Images, it’s really a far gap because such photographs are sold for up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and some even licensed only for one time use!

However, what most people don’t realize is that because of the high price, most of these images (if not all) are only sold once in it’s lifetime. You’d be very lucky if your image can sell twice at those prices. But if you put a very affordable pricing structure like US$1 or 2 per download, even if the license allows only one use per purchase (download) it’s very affordable and many design agencies can actually afford getting images from such services.

The digital photography has revolutionized the whole industry in this area. Today, it’s so easy to purchase a camera and produce thousands of images without incurring too much cost. Therefore, more and more people are beginning to have very good photography skills. And that kick-started the microstock revolution.

These microstock sites began very humbly having a collection of photographs ranging from amateurish to professional photographs. The model was initially heavily criticized and many claimed that these microstock sites are just out to cheat a photographers money by selling it at a ‘cheap’ price. However, there are some that realize the income potential and jumped on the bandwagon. And before long, using only referral programs, word of mouth and internet-based marketing, microstock sites such as iStockPhoto, Shutterstock and Dreamstime began to garner much respect with their ever growing database of professional quality photographs, some even at par with what the big boys have to offer. At US$1 per download, design agencies must be stupid not to take up the offer and use these images.

So, what’s in for us photographers? Here’s the deal. As I explained earlier, because of the model of business that microstock runs on, images are download many many times over and over again. Therefore, even though the royalty of the submitted photographs are merely 20 cents per download, if you factor in the potential download rates per year, you’d see a much bigger picture on how much you can earn from your set of images on a microstock site versus the traditional stock agency model.

To give you a perspective of how much you can earn from microstock, let me just share this bit. My Nikon D300 DSLR was funded through a one year’s earnings from microstock alone. And that’s by selling photographs that might have just be nothing but bits and binaries sitting idly on my hard disk. These photos are only keyworded once and uploaded once to the various microstock sites that I participate in. And after that, the photographs are basically earning me passive income even when I sleep!

And you can hardly even consider my microstock effort as serious at all! In fact, my rate of upload is downright pathetic and it’s already earning me this much. Can I earn more? Of course. All I have to do is upload at the rate of at least 10 photographs per week and my download rate would increase exponentially soon enough!

Convinced to take a second look? For a start, here’s a list of microstock sites that I’m selling my stock photos in.

Stock Photography
Royalty Free Images
View My Portfolio

Stock Photos, Royalty Free Stock Photography, Photo Search
Crestock Stock Photos

My strategy is simple. I don’t go exclusive with any of these microstock sites but opt to sell through all of them. This way, I expand my photographs to a broader customer base as each of these microstock sites have a different reach, customer profiles and sales strategy. Basically casting a much wider net to grab as much fish as I can.

But here’s one thing about selling microstock. Although the potential is there and there are indeed people who’s gone full time selling just microstock, this business takes time to grow. It’s all about delayed gratification with this model and it’s also a pure numbers game. The more effort you put in, the higher the potential of returns you’d get down the road. So don’t get discourage if you don’t earn much over the 1st couple of years. I didn’t earn much myself in my first two years of selling microstock photos.

So what are you waiting for, start registering with the sites listed above by clicking through the banners and sell those photos of yours! And if I may humbly wish that you register into these sites under my referral code (embedded in the link on the banner) if you find my article helpful in your decision to do so.

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1 Response

  1. Ken Kelley says:

    How much you average a year in earnings from stock photography? Honestly?

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