Why Microstock? Part 1

The question I am often asked, and that I often ask myself is “Why Microstock?”  As I mentioned in my “about” page, I originally saw microstock as “abhorrent, a complete devaluation of “real” photography”.  There is no easy answer to that question.  The best I can do at this point is “why not?”  Several factors made it an inevitability of the market.  I decided that it was worth exploring, even if I still had some apprehension.

Besides art school and biology degrees, I also went through a Graduate program in entrepreneurship at the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management’s McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship.  If there was one thing that was drilled in throughout this program it was that the best (only) way to make money as a business is to identify a segment of the market that has needs that are not being met, and meet them better than anyone else.  Microstock has done this, generally successfully.

The market has changed since a decade ago when the Gettys and Magnums served the Time-Warners with premium images to fill the glossy pages of their publications.  And this has not changed (mostly).  But with widespread Internet use, a new market has emerged.   Small scale and niche sites need quality images just as much as the big publications, they just can’t afford to buy them from the big agencies.  I also run a number of science and eco-travel sites.  I would love it if my sites could afford the latest underwater shots from Getty.  They can’t.

I have come to appreciate the need for reasonably priced, good but not great shots.   I use them, so am I really that much of a professional to turn my nose up at selling my shots in the microstock market.  In the old days of film, I would have said “absolutely”!  But now, I’m not so sure.  Technology has changed not only the market for photos, but also how one becomes a photographer.  But then, that’s a subject for Part 2.

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