Art/photo stock sites: have you earned anything on one?
January 29, 2013 9:27 AM   Subscribe

I followed google image search to an art and photo stock site recently and became curious about the payoff, if any, for providing content to such sites. Some of the member artists have 100 - 200 pages of thumbnails, and a lot of the work looks quite professional to me. It's hard to believe anyone, let alone a pro, would go to such trouble if it didn't provide any payoff of the grocery-buying, rent-paying kind. Do any of our askme artists have any experience or war stories?
posted by jfuller to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It is exceedingly rare to make rent money in stock photography.

Those days are over.

You might make beer money on a regular basis if you have a very unique and contemporary take on a variety of popular keywords. But it won't return even a minimum-wage kind of investment on your time, especially considering all the keywording and portfolio management you must do.

There is also a "win-the-lottery" chance that one of your images might just get picked up as a trendsetter, used everywhere, and then you'd make bank until it got stale. Keeping in mind that "bank" is probably 10% of what the stock house would be making from it.

By and large most microstock participants are the underemployed who have a good eye and a lot of free time and are happy treating it as a hobby. If that sounds like you, go for it.

If you're looking for a reliable, pay-the-mortgage full-time job in photography, though, stock ain't it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:57 AM on January 29, 2013

My husband is a video contributor at iStockphoto. iStock is his largest 'client' - he earns about half his income from sales there. He spends on average 10-20 hours a week shooting and uploading clips.

However, because it's video, he gets paid anywhere between $20 - $120 per clip each time it sells. Photographs and illustrations sell for a ton less - you might earn 50 cents - $3 per image for each sale.

So yeah, as seanmpuckett notes, for still photographs, it's hard to hit even minimum wage rate.
posted by agentmitten at 10:09 AM on January 29, 2013

I'm considering stock photography myself. I've heard that you really need a HUGE quantity of work to make any money, but that on average you'll get $1 per month per photo. And obviously the kind of photos you submit matters--the more original, the better. But I get the feeling that most people don't make a living off it, it just brings in a little extra cash. This is all what I've heard, not firsthand experience, but I'm very interested, so I've read a bunch.
posted by eleanor_of_aquitaine at 12:21 PM on January 29, 2013

I used to work for a stock house. Our leading contributors cleared rent and grocery money every month. It wouldn't have been unusual for a hot image to sell 50 - 100 times in a month, and this was not a big site. It also would not have been unusual for duff images to never sell at all, ever. My biggest issues working with photographers on that site was getting them to understand the difference between a good shot from the seller's PV and a useful shot from the buyer's POV, and getting them to tag from the buyer's perspective. (Hint: stock is not about art. Stock is about the professional presentation of utility.)

I currently buy stock very regularly from iStock, Dreamstime and PhotoDune. PhotoDune is the smallest of those three, and will happily show you their top sellers by week and by quarter complete with sales numbers. You can see the image prices and check the split to work out amounts backwards. iStock and Dreamstime will have slightly different splits. All make their payment rates public.

There are many, many forums where photographers discuss, share, brag and bitch about their experiences with the top five sites and disclose profits and informations and discuss payouts in excruciating detail. If you're interested, I'd trawl through a few of those.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:37 PM on January 29, 2013

I made a few hundred off of the Flickr/Getty thing over about 18 months with only about 40 images. My mom made significantly more. It seemed to me that with a few thousand images and a continual stream of new material I could do OK. But that's hard and expensive and targeting the stock market is bad for the soul... particularly if you're into photographs of bugs and flowers.
posted by klanawa at 2:11 PM on January 29, 2013

I think the main thing to keep in mind is that once the stuff has been photographed, uploaded and tagged, it makes whatever money it makes without much/any additional effort. Further, its possible that each photo you have increases the overall percentage that any one of your photos will get bought. For example, if you have a photo of a small brown dog, someone who is looking for a photo of big brown dog might come upon it and then notice your photo of a big brown dog and buy it. Adding a photo of a big brown cat and a big white dog might provide additional chances of snagging someone looking for a photo of a big brown dog.

I imagine different sites have different dynamics, but it is hard to imagine that some of them wouldn't provide some added advantages to having lots of photos.
posted by Good Brain at 4:20 PM on January 29, 2013

This is the only guy I've heard of who makes a considerable amount of money selling stock photography.

If you look at his work, it's also almost all photos of people, which will look outdated in a few years as styles change--causing clients to need to buy more stock.
posted by inertia at 6:24 AM on January 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

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