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More Ranting About Microstock

So I'm in line to checkout at Barnes and Noble yesterday when a stack of books catches my eye. The title of the book is "Best Easy Day Hikes Orange County" and features a photo of a hiking trail on the cover. There's something weird about the picture. I know where that trail is, I know I've been on that trail, I know I've taken a picture of that trail... hey, wait a minute... that IS MY PICTURE. But something about it is off... the sky isn't how I remembered it, but I am almost certain this in my picture. So, I take a shot of it with my iPhone so I can compare it my file at home.

Sure enough, it's definitely my picture. They just decided to switch out the sky for something else and lighten up the whole thing. If you're thinking "well, maybe someone else took a very similar shot under a different sky." No. The perspective, the arrangement of leaves, the debris on the trail - everything is identical to my shot. Here, check it out:

And here's a closer look of the book cover:

So, there's no doubting this in my picture. But am I happy about my picture donning the cover of this widely-published and widely-available book? Sort of, but mostly no. Sure, it's good to add to the resume, if you will, and it's nice to say my picture is on the cover, but I don't remember getting paid for this!

Then I remembered my sad, early days with microstock (check out my†earlier†post entitled "My Thoughts on Microstock" to learn more about microstock and how I feel about it). I used to have my entire catalog of images with Shutterstock and iStockphoto - 2 microstock agencies that are raping photographers on a daily basis. Unfortunately I was uneducated on the market of stock photography and made the unfortunate decision to do business with these corporations.†

Nevertheless, I did†do business with these companies and I did sell some images through them. So with that in mind, I checked the book for a photo credit... it was on the back cover: (C) Shutterstock!†

That's right! Not "(C) Nick Carver"! It was "(C) Shutterstock"! I didn't even get a photo credit for this! And you want to know how much money I got for this wide use of my image on a book cover? 20 bucks! That won't even cover a tank of gas!

So that's why I'm not happy about this. I got 20 measly dollars for this major publication and I didn't even get a photo credit. And the worst part is, it's totally legal because I was dumb enough to put my images on a royalty free microstock agency. So I'm not mad at the book or the agencies, I'm mad at myself for being ignorant in my early days as a professional. If I'd researched stock photography better and if I'd really thought about fair use rights, I never would have sold this image for unlimited use†for 20 greenbacks. I'd rather not sell it at all than get 20 bucks for unlimited licensing rights.

Shame on me.

DISCLAIMER: I have strong opinions on this and I am blunt, I know that. If you are offended by any of this, I apologize, but I'm just being honest. I'm not greedy or self-righteous, I just feel artists should get fair pay for their hard work. And, again, it was MY mistake to join up with these agencies.

PhotoShelter Collection

The PhotoShelter Collection closed its doors on September 11. This date is turning out to be the Friday the 13th of the 21st century.

I was a recent convert to PhotoShelter. I learned about it through Chase Jarvis and finding it was like experiencing a heroic rescue from Batman. I felt like I could finally tell my microstock agencies to (insert f-bomb here) off so I could start supporting a stock agency that was out to make the industry better and actually make it possible for photographers to buy more than half a bag of M&Ms with an image sale. I was so jazzed to shut down my accounts with iStockphoto and Shutterstock and move my portfolio over to this gallant lionheart of stock. I knew it was the best thing for me, for the industry and for photographers everywhere.

Unfortunately, PhotoShelter broke the news on 9/11 that they'd be closing their doors on their Collection. They're still in business and will still be offering their Personal Archive services, but this is such a horrible loss for photographers everywhere.

PhotoShelter Collection, you are a fallen hero. Thank you for your efforts, honesty and integrity. You will be missed.

For more information on this announcement, read their blog about it and check out the FAQ.

Also, please read this blog by Vincent Laforet about the close of the PhotoShelter Collection and his thoughts on microstock. We share similar viewpoints on this matter.

My Thoughts on Microstock

I've been wanting to post a blog about microstock agencies for awhile. I have some very strong opinions about microstock, and well, I guess I'll just feel a little better if I know I've put them out on the web for others to read. Maybe some photographer will come across this post and it will help them keep their integrity when deciding whether or not to join up with iStockphoto or Shutterstock. Then again, maybe I'll just piss off a lot of people and sound like a ranting idiot. Either way, I think I'll sleep better tonight.

I am ashamed to admit that I was with iStockphoto and Shutterstock for several months. I joined because I was uneducated on the photography market and what pictures are really worth. I would justify it with things like "there's no way to compete with microstock" and "that's where the industry is headed" and "the number of downloads makes up for the horribly low commissions." I used to liken it to iTunes. "iTunes sells songs for $0.99. I'm sure a lot of musicians aren't happy with that, but that's where the industry is headed. Same thing for stock photography. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em," I'd say. I knew deep down that iTunes was selling songs for $0.99, but if you purchased a 12-song CD at Best Buy for $14.99, you were only paying $1.25 per song. So given the lack of CD production costs, selling a song on iTunes is right about on par with what the industry has always been collecting. Not to mention the fact that the songs on iTunes come with very limited rights!

Meanwhile, stock photos that used to sell with limited rights to a buyer for hundreds to thousands of dollars were now selling with unlimited rights for $1.00. I remember getting a raise at Shutterstock from $0.25 commission per download to $0.33! I couldn't believe the enthusiasm in the forums! They were excited about $.08 more per image! I find more than that in my couch cushions.

Shutterstock also offered extended license options to buyers. This is where a buyer can use more of their "credits" (or however the hell their system works) to buy an image that offered them more usage - billboards, multiple ads, anything. Earned me somewhere in the neighborhood of $20. Think about this: That would be like a movie production company purchasing a CD for $20 from Virgin Records and using a song on it, with no further royalties, in a multi-million dollar grossing movie. A musician and a record company wouldn't allow that in a million years - why are we?

I think photographers are doing this for a couple reasons.

The first is that a lot of the people signed on with these microstcok agencies aren't, in fact, photographers. Sure, they have a shiny new DSLR and they took a pretty good picture of their kid for which they will sign the model release, but they don't give a shit about the photographic community, the industry or what's fair. They make their living from a 9-5 and do this microstock stuff on the weekends. They have no reason to demand a fair compensation for their pictures - they're happy to get anything from their snapshots that they would have taken anyway. Their day job (or parents) pay their bills.

The second reason is because so many amateurs are suddenly "pros," the real pros feel like they have to sacrifice their integrity and what they know is fair compensation so they can compete with them. Rights managed agencies have been dropping like flies, so they feel they need to protect themselves by joining up with the microstock agencies. But if no self-respecting pro ever supported microstock, then the micrstock agencies would be flooded with so much crap and nothing of any real value, they'd all go under. People want quality - if the microstock agencies didn't have any quality to offer, they'd burn like the horrible garbage heaps they are.

There is some amazing work on these microstock agencies sprinkled in amongst all the crap. Here's an example search for "Half Dome". Both images are from Shutterstock. Clearly one is a much higher quality image. Why are they both getting the same shitty $0.33 commission?! If you have better work, you should get paid more!


And another example for "sunset."


And another example for "Golden Gate Bridge."


Now I'm not one to blow my own whistle and go around touting my pictures as the best thing since sliced bread. I don't claim to be a veteran or to know the ins and outs of this business. I've been taking pictures for 7 years, but hell, I'm only 21 and I've only been doing this full-time for a year now. I do, however, have the power of observation. I can see when a business model is ruining an industry. I can see when a picture is crap. I can see when something is unfair. And I can see when photographers worldwide are bent over with their pants down around their ankles.

YOU DESERVE MORE THAN $0.33 FOR YOU IMAGES. LET THE AMATUERS COLLECT THE $25 WEEKLY PAYCHECKS.