Anyone involved with microstock falls into one or two groupings of people. "Contributors" "Agencies" "Buyers". Without any one of them, the system would collapse.
Contributors: Are basically the photographers / videographers / or artists. Most of whom could be considered 'freelance'. Basically shooting what they like, some without serious portfolios may be just hobbyist photographers with a few good shots. There are a few well known individuals in the microstock world who can make a comfortable living by uploading to microstock. Yuri Arcurs is most well known of these people.
Agencies: Are the middlemen, they arrange the websites and massive servers which hold 15 million photos for some agencies. They control the commission rates and the dreaded review process. Some popular agencies are alamy, istock, fotolia, shutterstock, and many more.
Buyers: The end user of the photo, for use in design, publication, etc. The buyers are using the photos for anything from school textbooks, to website design, logo design, magazine ads (and front page covers!)
Which agencies do I use? Who Do I Prefer?
The one with the highest return for me is Shutterstock. At 900+ photos online in my portfolio and a couple thousand files sold, it remains the most consistent. iStock comes in second. 60 files in my portfolio with 200+ files downloaded. iStock is less consistent, with a far more painful review process. However the individual commissions are usually higher on iStock than that of Shutterstock. Fotolia, is only mediocre. Their best benefit is information about the buyer of your photo. With most sites, you have no idea who is using your photos. Big Stock Photo even less consistent than fotolia, but they were just bought by shutterstock. So we'll see if something happens there. As for Alamy, I have signed up for them, and been accepted through review process, however - have only four photos in my portfolio. So it is not enough to judge an agency. I am also a contributor for 'dreamstime' and 'deposit photos' however I have not put enough time into my portfolios there. So I am unable to judge.
What is in the future of microstock?
With the growing numbers of aspiring photographers, the accessibility and price of high quality dslrs, and the ease of use. It is no surprise that some agencies advertise more than 120 thousand contributors. Thats about as big as my hometown of Oakville, Ontario. So microstock is popular - thats great, but the number of contributors directly translates into the amount of competition you have. I don't imagine those numbers will slow their growth anytime soon either.
It is important to find out what YOU shoot well, and enjoy shooting, but at the same time, people are looking for. In other words, your photos need to have a high commercial value. Everyone can take photos of computer mice and cables, keyboards and USB keys on a white background, but can you do something to make your's stand out?
So that is a little bit from my point of view, on microstock photography. If this interests you, please leave me some comments, send an email, or wait for the next post, stepping into the microstock work.