I’ve been doing microstock photography for about 15 or so years. I fell into it while working as a web developer building sites for industrial and mining companies. This opened the door for me to discover industrial photography as both a hobby, and then later as a business. As a business, I did not do terribly well at it and switched to event shooting as my main source of income, but I did discover the vast world of stock photography while trying.
In the early days, it was a game where a talented photographer could pretty well print money. Everything sold. Everything. Microstock created an entirely new market away from the traditional stock industry. no longer was it prohibitively expensive for a small shop to hire a custom photoshoot, or pay exorbitant fees for usage of a photo from an agency, where the usage was very narrowly defined.
It was fun. Being an event photographer, I had slowly mastered the art of on-camera speed-light shooting, which came in very handy when I started my stock photo portfolio. I could not afford a studio, or the expensive lights and gear that everyone else seemed to have. Later, I moved from industrial stock to food photography, which worked even better.
Microstock has taken me around the world, paying for trips and gear, pennies at a time. But now, there are new kids on the photo block, carving into the industry for many.
Free sites have grown from niche areas like Flickr, where some license their work under creative commons licenses, to mainstream, high end shops today like Unspash, Pexels, and others. Some have already been gobbled up by major agencies, or formed partnerships and affiliate schemes. At the end of the day, they make their money off us creatives, just with even less money flowing our way.
Within the micro industry, on the forums that I read, artists have sounded the alarm over these free sites. That they damage the industry, devalue our work, and a host of other complaints. Some I agree with, some I don’t. But at the end of the day, the industry has changed again, forever. Like them or loathe them, the free sites will not vanish in the near future, if ever, so it is in our best interests to make them work with us instead of against us.
I joined a few free sites to find out more about them, find opportunities to monetize, and promote my own work. I have had mixed results but, I will say that, yes, I have had some positives. Not only have I made some referral income, convincing other artists to try their hands at stock, but I have also found licensees have found my website through my free offerings. Some have translated into sales, or, in a few cases, book sales as well.
So what is SidexSide Stock (besides a potential new website for me)? Well, if I had to sum it up, I would say that promoting one’s work on a free site, with quality shots is helpful. Not the best photos from a shoot, but something unique and less commercial, giving a buyer an opportunity to see your talents, while still finding your better (or more profitably useful) work on an agency or agencies. It is a win for everyone. The free sites get volume and traffic, the photographer gets both the satisfaction of promotion, “likes” for some that count those, plus a potential new sale. This is especially useful if you have model released or editorial works.
So, at some point I believe we will see a mix of both free and paid images on agencies (we already do, I know, but it is not mainstream yet). I also believe it is in every stock shooter’s best interests to investigate, develop, and even give away some images, if only to promote your works in areas you have not tried yet. If nothing else, the stats alone can tell you what might have a good stock following, and what might not.
If you are an artist who found your way here from a free site, and want to try your hands at stock but do not know where to start, I strongly suggest Wirestock (my referral link: https://wirestock.io/?ref=terry.davis1). This site handles all your uploading needs to multiple agencies (you can choose some, all or even none, per photo) and they offer free keywording as well. They also payout at 30 bucks no matter what agencies you make your sales at. This is huge, in that it can take months or years for some to hit the payout minimum at some agencies. This is a good option for those who do not have large portfolios, old work, or simply don’t want to jump through the multiple hoops that are different for every agency. There are, of course, pros and cons to whatever avenue one chooses.
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