Tuesday, September 29, 2009

All You Really Need To Succeed: A Copy Of Macworld

Once again the feud between the pros and the amateurs heats up online. Now the hot topic on APAnet is the article in Macworld which seems to advocate that everyone buy a DSLR and join the ranks of micro-payment stock photographers.

I don't understand all the controversy surrounding this. What's wrong with micro-payment stock has more to do with the amount of money that's paid both for the license and to the photographer than it does with who, specifically, is supplying the photographs.

So what if Macworld tells its readers that they can buy a prosumer DSLR and get into a profitable sideline? That's not a problem for us. Why? Because no matter what market our work serves, there will almost always be an amateur to compete with. This is more true for wedding & party photographers than it is for, say, corporate and advertising photographers... and much less so for photojournalists. It's always been a big problem for stock photographers, even before the digital revolution. Haven't we always had to live with amateur competition?

As a teenage amateur photographer I took a job away from a pro when I accepted an offer to shoot my friend's sister's wedding for $100 (1967). That was waaaaaay before digital, waaaaaay before anyone can do it and waaaaaay before I was even really ready to compete with a professional. Is my crime ameliorated by the fact that, even at that age, I knew where I was going career-wise?

The problem is not who is making pictures but, rather, how they are compensated. Agents used to be called ten percenters because they took an average of ten percent commission for brokering the sale. Now, in the micro-payment stock arena, they get eighty percent. It doesn't matter whether it's eighty percent of $1 or eighty percent of $10,000. Eighty percent is a radically skewed number.

There are also, I hate to remind you, lots of full-fledged professionals participating in micro-payment stock. Do you really think a handful of Macworlders-with-cameras can easily knock a Jack Hollingsworth off his lofty perch? I don't.

Rather than seeing the crisis of our time, I see a crisis of confidence in some of us. Personally, I have no such crisis. I'm confident in my ability to compete. I have talent and experience, which translates into a career based on the same, rather than a sideline dependent upon being lucky enough to pull it off.

An amateur can bury his failures, a professional cannot. Which are you? Think about that, then go out and make pictures.

Oh, just FYI, I responded to Macworld in a letter to the editor.....

I've read your story, "7 tips for selling your photos," by Heather Kelly with great interest. Excellent reporting on a growing segment of the advertising industry. Though Ms. Kelly's article is right on target, there are a few things she left out that your readers may wish to consider.

First - I'd like to point out that Ms. Kelly has erred in calling it, "microstock." The actual name for this piece of the stock photography pie is micro-payment stock. Omitting the word payment from the name does your readers a disservice by creating the impression that there is actually a substantial amount of money to be made in that business, while micro-payment more accurately describes the situation: these companies pay you peanuts for something that is actually very valuable.

Second - It's true that stock photography is not easy money. Having been active in stock photography for more than twenty years (and decidedly not in micro-payment or any form of royalty free stock photography) I can attest to the fact that it is, indeed, very hard work. In fact, it's a business, and success cannot be achieved as a sideline to your day job. It takes a very strong commitment and about sixty-plus hours a week to achieve success as a stock photographer. It also is not quite as simple as buying a good DSLR camera and getting, out of the chair, [leaving] the house, and [seeking] out new settings and subjects.

Third - Let's not discuss your cat. Let's discuss real business issues such as major investments (and reinvestment every 18 months) in powerful computers, expensive software, expensive cameras & lenses, expensive lighting equipment, travel expenses, insurance, permits, legal advice, accounting, etc, etc... all necessary for stock (even micro-payment stock) photographers.

Fourth - Look at the best sellers from the micro-payment stock companies (let's not call them agencies because they're not agencies): these are all, without exception, images with very high production value. This is not something one does in one's spare time, not when attempting to earn 12% of a license that's usually priced at $5.00 or less in a volume necessary to equal real money.

I could likely write an entire book on what it takes to be a successful stock photographer (in fact, I am) so I'll stop here, but my point is this: Ms. Kelly's article was far too short, way too simplistic and unfairly raises the hopes of your readers to unrealistic levels, much less giving them an accurate picture of what they can expect to earn in micro-payment stock photography.

Joseph Pobereskin
Director, ASMP Chicago/Midwest Chapter
Immediate Past President, ASMP New Jersey Chapter
Founder, Stock Artists Alliance


Blogger Russell Kaye said...

I miss Tony Stone.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Joe P. said...

Brother, you're not the only one who misses Tony Stone!

3:46 PM  
Anonymous Von R Buzard said...

When is your book coming out?

4:55 PM  
Blogger Joe P. said...

When I finish writing it and sign-up a publisher?

5:01 PM  
Blogger laura said...

Awesome letter--love it and hope they publish every word.

12:12 AM  
Anonymous Hal Charms said...

At the Javits Center Photo Plus Expo, I was told by 2 of the companies that wanted to sell my work, that they were taking 80%. My response was "That's just wrong and greedy"
That's just my opinion.

4:22 PM  

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