If there is one thing the Internet is full of, it is opinions…and in the photography corner of the ‘net there are very strong views both for and against websites specializing in microstock photography. While some photographers view these sites as fantastic ways to monetize their photography, others see them as extremely detrimental to the business of photography.
What makes these sites controversial is they literally pay their contributing photographers pennies for each download. On iStockphoto.com, the largest microstock site with nearly 2,000,000 files available, downloads sell for as little as $1 each with the contributor receiving as little as 20% of this income.
Why would a photographer want to sell their photos for such a low amount? The simple answer is Volume. While a local client might pay a photographer $200 once for an image, a good photo on iStockphoto might sell several hundred times generating much more income over the long run.
With this in mind, I recently decided to concentrate more of my photographic time on shooting for iStockphoto to see what I could earn. Over the past three months I have increased my iStockphoto portfolio from under 100 images to nearly 400. The resulting increase in sales has been dramatic. My June earnings of nearly $500 are over a tenfold increase compared to what I earned in March and July is showing even more growth. While I surely could not support my family on $500 a month, what if I were to increase this amount by another factor of ten? $5,000 a month is a viable salary and iStockphoto is full of stories of photographers earning a living shooting for them.
Todays image is a mosaic of my best selling shots. What strikes me is the diversity in the images. The open bible photo is my top selling image with nearly 200 downloads, yet the mountain road capture has earned more revenue due to its larger average download size.
I look forward to continuing to add images to my portfolio and monitor the growth. Is this a sustainable business long-term? We’ll have to wait and see.