Masterfile's Steve Pigeon recently made the comment, "The stock photo industry has been democratized to the extent where anyone can now be a contributing photographer, and anyone can afford to be a client. This is a good thing." The real problem is that few, if any, traditional sellers are developing systems to effectively take advantage of this trend.
Some microstock photographers are producing top quality images. If you doubt this, go to any microstock site, search on any subject and organize the image returns by downloads. Many ought to be included in RM offerings, or at the very least, in traditional RF offerings. Since these images are offered as RF, there is no reason why traditional RF agencies couldn't also sell the same images at higher price points. All RF images are sold at a variety of price points.
Many of these young photographers got into microstock as a hobby, but have now decided they would like to make their living taking pictures. However, the vast majority are finding that even with high volumes of downloads, they can't earn enough at microstock prices to cover their costs and support themselves. Some are pressuring the microstock sites to raise prices and royalties, but that likelihood seems slim. These photographers are prime candidates to be recruited to the higher paying offerings.
Getty Images has a program to recruit the top tier of iStock photographers. Jupiterimages is reaching out to Stockxpert photographers, and Alamy seems to be getting a lot of good word-or-mouth promotion on the microstock forums. One photographer on microstockgroup.com reported she recently uploaded a portion of her collection on Alamy, and in the first month, earned more from Alamy than from the combined total of all the images she has on several microstock sites.
Rather than belittling the image quality of microstock, other traditional libraries need to actively recruit these photographers - a significant portion of them amateurs - rather waiting for the photographers to come to them.
One of the things Alamy offers that appeals to microstock photographers is direct digital upload. More traditional sites need to offer this feature and find other ways to be more welcoming to microstock photographers with proven track records.
Finding the good photographers is not that difficult. Go to any microstock site. Find images you like and open the preview. In most cases, additional information about the photographer is available. Often, contact information is also supplied. If there is no contact information, Google searches can often produce it. On some of the sites, you can view a portfolio of all the photographer's images.
Photographers who have been supplying images as RM and RF won't be happy about the competition. But it will be better for them if images photographers have been selling as microstock are also being offered at traditional prices. If the best microstock photographers learn they can earn more from fewer sales at traditional prices, they will stop putting their best images into microstock.
Operators of microstock portals won't be happy because there is a risk that some of their best suppliers will kick the microstock habit.
Pigeon is right. It can be a good thing for both photographers and clients. But it will only be good for sellers - both photographers and portal operators - if they can figure out how to price all images. based on the value received by the client.