Bankable: Money in Microstock

Posted on 8/16/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Traditional stock photographers argue that it's impossible to make money selling at microstock prices. But microstock photographer Erik Reis is happy with his results.

Reis is a telecommunication technician who discovered microstock in 2005 and submitted a few files. Early results were encouraging enough that in 2006, he began to aggressively produce to give this "new line of business a chance." To date, his images have been downloaded over 35,000 times. He receives an average of about $.50 per download. The best-selling of his 1338 images on StockXpert has been downloaded 696 times. To view Reis' portfolio go to:

Close to 1,000 of his 1338 images were produced in the last year. On average, the sites he works with accept five or six variations of each situation, but often, he also tries to explore the same concept in several different ways. About half his images were shot in the studio and the rest on location. All his models have been family or friends, compensated with a few pictures, but he has some projects in mind that require paid models. Reis is also looking to move his studio to another location with more space.

About 94% of the images he has posted have sold at least once. However, he acknowledges that only about 10% are good sellers.

As is the case with the majority of the more than 70,000 microstock photographers, he has chosen to put the same images on many different sites. Currently, his two best-selling sites -- Shutterstock and StockXpert -- produce an equal amount of income and together, generate about 60% of his total stock income.

There are two interesting notes about this statistic.

First, iStockphoto is not one of his top producing sites. We have been led to believe that if you're in microstock, you have to be on iStockphoto. But many photographers say that iStock is not their leading revenue producer. In addition, the sites that pay better per download, like StockXpert or iStockphoto, don't necessarily generate more revenue for the photographer because they may not license rights to as many images.

The other sites where Reis' images can be found are: Fotolia, Dreamstime, iStockphoto, 123rf, BigStockPhoto, CanstockPhoto, ScanStockPhoto, CreStock, Lucky Oliver, FeaturePics and Album.

But why he wasn't trying to market some of his images at traditional RF prices through companies like "They don't have an upload system on their Web site," Reis says, "and its boring to save the files on a CD and send by mail."  He may try selling some exclusive images on the Macro market, but believes, "it's more lucrative selling a lot more at a lower price than a few downloads at higher prices."

Copyright © 2007 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Jon Feingersh Posted Aug 17, 2007

    35,000 downloads @ $.50= $17,500. How much time did it take to produce this work? what is the hourly return? let's contrast that with a "traditional" RF shooter who makes between $100-200 RPI/year.

    It' only a matter of time, and i think a relatively short time, before this microstock market gets so flooded that his numbers fall off precipitously.

    Jon F

  • Lester Lefkowitz Posted Aug 17, 2007
    Your lead-in sentance, "Traditional stock photographers argue that it’s impossible to make money selling at microstock prices," confirms the statistics in the balance of the article. Reis has GROSSED about $17,000 for two years of work. How many hours did it take to shoot, caption, keyword and upload 1,338 images, and to make arrangement with and give free photos to "family and friends." How much did Reis spend on photo gear, computer gear, props, gasoline and his studio? My guess is his NET, as well as income per hour, definitely fits the model of "micro." Whatever "Bankable" money your headline alludes to is probably insufficient to pay for six dinners in New York City.
    Now he want to use some paid models and move to a larger studio. Simultaneously the volume of micropayment images is exploding. As one of those "traditional stock photographers" you mention, I would strongly suggest that Reis not give up his well-paying day job, and continue to enjoy his hobby and the attractive tax benefits of being a microstock photographer.

  • Tim Mcguire Posted Aug 17, 2007

    Erik Reis could probably also make money selling lemonade on the corner with the kids and he might also be "happy with his results". 35,000 downloads at $.50 each adds up to $17,500 over how many years?

    The question is, can someone make a profit and thus a living, or a viable business or even part of a business from microstock distribution. Or, is microstock strictly an amateur endeavor? $17,500 over a year or more it seems equates to an expensive hobby. How much profit did he make? How much did the distributors make?

    I'm sorry but this is poor journalism / reporting in my book, especially with the misleading title you've given it. All this article tells me is that he made $17,500 over some undetermined period of time from 35,000 downloads of his images. Maybe the professional stock photographer is becoming a thing of the past but I thought that was the target audience of this newsletter. It seems at times now that "Selling Stock" is changing to a news letter reporting to and on hobbyists. Maybe a sign of the times… I'd appreciate a little more depth to your reports.


    Tim McGuire

  • Jim Corwin Posted Aug 17, 2007

    I am more than alittle disappointed in Selling Stock becoming nothing more than a sound bite news letter summarizing posts from other sources. And I agree with Tim but I would go a step further and suggest that not only isn't this good honest reporting but this seems like PR for Micro payment sites. What is Erik Reis's real job? How much does he earn outside of photography, that allows him to submit to these penny sites and call it good results? How much investment did he make in equipment, props, post productions etc.. that cuts into his 17,500 dollar so called profit? To make a living in this highly competitive Stock Industry it will take a heck of alot more that what Erik made over a year and a half. I am surprised that you would write such an article that seems to promote micro payments as a viable business model option for the Stock Industry. When we all know that the majority of micro shooters do not do photography full time and don't need to earn a decent wage for their efforts as a full time shooter does.

    Thanks for your time.

    Jim Corwin

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