Microstock Inspectors: Outsourced to Eastern Europe

Posted on 10/29/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

One of the things that is a mystery to most photographers, microstock and traditional, is the inspecting (or editing) process. Every microstock agency has slightly different standards that it rigidly enforces.

With the increasing volume of microstock images being submitted—tens of thousands per week—there is an increasing demand for inspectors. When microstock was first introduced, the inspecting process was often handled by a few of the most experienced shooters as a part-time sideline. Now, in many cases it has become a full-time career.  

Mark Milstein, the founder and managing director of Microstocksolutions, was in attendance at last week’s PhotoExpo in New York. Microstocksolutions operates in central and southeastern Europe, and a number of microstock agencies now outsource a significant portion of their image inspecting and processing to this company.

Milstein explained that his company hires full-time inspectors who work 40 hours a week in teams of two, four and six reviewers. They go through a weeklong training session designed by the company supplying the images. Such teams work for a single company. All reviewers go through a three- or four-month probationary period, with each expected to reach ever-increasing monthly targets before being allowed to graduate to full employment.

Depending on the client, each inspector can be expected to review 500 to 800 images per day, or 2,500 to 4,000 images weekly. For this, they receive a monthly average of 450 euro (about $668). They do not start out at this rate, and if they have not reached it in 90 days, they are let go. There are bonuses for those who can do above their daily average targets each month.

Every inspector must have experience in the industry. About 60% are photographers, and the other 40% are graphic designers.

At 800 images a day, an inspector has about 36 seconds to review each image (without bathroom breaks). During the 36 seconds, the inspector must determine if the model and property releases are satisfactory, and if there are any trademark violations. Inspectors must also check for noise, sharpness, chromatic aberrations, compression artifacts which can arise during JPEG conversion, and that the file is at the proper DPI and has not been upsized. They also check to see if the images are saleable by assessing aesthetics and composition, and if the images fit into the broader archive of the microstock agency.

About 45% of total submissions are rejected. Most of the top microstock producers, such as Yuri Acrurs and Andres Rodriguez, say that nearly 100% of the images they submit are accepted because they have figured out what the various sites want and only deliver images that meet all of a particular agency’s requirements. There are high rejection rates for many newcomers who have not figured this out.

The single most limiting factor in terms of the number of images a reviewer can go through each day is the ergonomics (layout) of the review screen the agency employs. If the Web page where the inspector toggles check boxes is poorly designed, it can dramatically reduce the speed and quality of the workflow. Given the volume requirements, it is understandable that inspectors do not have time to go into long explanations as to why an image is unacceptable and what could be done to fix it.

Some of the microstock sites demand that their images be inspected on high-end graphics studio-quality monitors. In most cases, the files are accessed on the servers of the company supplying the images, but in some cases the images are batch-downloaded overnight to the Microstocksolutions servers.

In the U.S., 400 to 500 images per day seems to be a more realistic production level for an inspector. Milstein says his company can review images for about half of what it costs in Western Europe, and about one-third of what it costs in North America. At a daily average of 650 images, it would take about 74 man-months to inspect 1 million images at about $49,500 in labor costs (plus overhead costs and profit for the company). If the work were done in the Western Europe, the same labor would cost about $99,000, going up to $148,500 in North America.

It is worth noting that at these prices, it seems likely that more and more of inspecting for microstock will be done in Eastern Europe, where $8,000 a year is a very acceptable salary. To some degree, Eastern European inspectors will probably base their decisions as to what constitutes an acceptable image on what tends to get used in the European market. It is widely recognized that European tastes in imagery are different from those of U.S. buyers. In the early 1990s, Europeans regularly complained that all the images in U.S. print catalogs, which then flooded the European market, had an American look that did not appeal to local art directors. The tables may now turn.

But Milstein says, “The quality, look and feel of the images chosen is ultimately determined by the agency contracting for the reviewers. If it trains its teams to look for images with an ‘American’ look, then those images will be chosen. If they demand a more ‘European’ look, this is the look that will be accepted. The client, not the reviewer, establishes the criteria for acceptance or rejection.”

Copyright © 2009 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 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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