Microstock No Longer Profitable for Chapple

Posted on 12/21/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (8)

Over the last four years, we’ve tracked Ron Chapple’s odyssey with microstock beginning with this story.  Ron has been a very successful professional photographer for more than 30 years, and has always been one of the first to embrace new business opportunities. At the beginning of 2009, and again at the beginning of 2010, we talked with Ron to see how his microstock business was progressing.

On December 4, 2010 John Lund published an interview with Ron Chapple—a must-read for anyone interested in a career in photography. In response to Lund’s question about microstock, Chapple said: “My studio had early success with microstock through our iofoto collection. While this 17,000-image collection continues to provide revenue, the numbers have dropped over 50% in the last 18 months. While some of this might be a result of the economy, I believe that most of the revenue downturn is from the overabundance of images. When we started, most micro sites only had a million images. Now those same sites have over 10 million images! The statistical chance of making a sale has decreased by 90%. Three years ago, in 2007, we made the tough decision to eliminate our in-house retouching staff, to selectively produce images at lower costs, and to outsource the workflow. All of our cost reduction measures were to no avail. Revenues continue to drop, and microstock is no longer profitable for our business.

“With ‘change’ being our studio mantra and discovering that microstock was not sustainable in the long term, we looked for new opportunities. As a caveat, we did make the decision to redirect our revenues to a new business instead of marketing our iofoto images. Perhaps if we had been more diligent, we could have propped up our microstock revenues for a longer time.”

Chapple has always been very open in explaining his business strategies. The entire series of articles are well worth reviewing for those with a long-term goal of earning a living as photographers.

Copyright © 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.  


  • Gildo nicolo Spadoni Posted Dec 22, 2010
    I've watched my Stock income checks go from
    4-5 figures checks to 3-2 even 1 figure
    ItZ no fun getting a check for $3.41. :o(
    Now, I've diversified into the wellness
    industry ($500billion Industry). ''Its either diversification or starvation.''
    I've regained my income ten fold. Anyone curious, give me a shout gildo@gildo.com I'm in NYC.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Dec 22, 2010
    This is why I tell you Jim to QUIT telling everyone to rush into Microstock! You told people who ]are not even photographers at all to send to Micro while they look for a job for "beer money" ----- Well, now you have helped create a GLUT of Micro images and no one can make a living at it. ---- I have been saying that for a long time, but even Chapple can't do it now. The only answer is shoot GREAT images and sell them for FAIR prices in RM.


  • Rahul Pathak Posted Dec 22, 2010
    I realize I will get some grief for this but from our data, microstock is profitable & lucrative for many shooters.

    There has been a massive increase in total supply, but if you know how to create great stock images, you'll see strong RPIs.

    CEO, LookStat

  • Ellen Boughn Posted Dec 22, 2010
    It's not an 'either or' situation. A smart photographer explores and participates in all opportunities, all business models.

    I have great respect for Ron but I must add the caveat that his operation is a big one with a large overhead. To succeed in micro, a photographer must keep average per image costs below $10. I don't think Ron was able to do that. Also he has a new business and has stopped devoting his and his staff's full energy to standard stock photography.

  • Shannon Fagan Posted Dec 22, 2010
    Experience has shown that to maintain revenue in stock earnings one must continually submit new imagery to the collections. This is important not just as a refresher to update content but also to maintain new higher-ranking searchable images. In microstock, the submission and ranking procedures clearly favor long term participants and regular contributors. It would not be surprising given the recent changes in the industry, that non-participation in microstock for time periods of a year or more would result in significant drops in revenue. Many traditional stock photographers have also seen revenue declines of similar percentages as reported above.

  • John Harris Posted Dec 22, 2010
    Isn't this a classic case of the irrational nature of the so called "free market"? Companies pile into a developing market, creating massive over production (which may be exacerbated by contracting markets), driving down price and creating a crisis of profitability which undermines production. In other industries this usually (and eventually) results in the consolidation of production and distribution into fewer and larger companies which benefit from the other's demise. One of the distinguishing features of the "stock industry" is that - such is the success of camera retail- stock distributers are blessed with a seemingly inexhaustible and endless supply of new contributors happy, or at least willing, to produce pictures for almost nothing- thus it defies gravity. Plenty more where you came from....

  • Fred Voetsch Posted Dec 22, 2010
    I agree with John Harris' comments; plus my new Samsung Android phone has a camera capable of taking stock-usable images. Yes, they are limited but everyone will have them; they will only get better; they go everywhere with you. Plus there is a growing market now for low res, snapshot images.

    The key to success, IMO, is to find a niche that works for YOU. There are more opportunities than ever and only those with closed minds or lack of drive and imagination will fail. Like always, you gotta hustle, work harder and outlast the rest.

  • Gildo nicolo Spadoni Posted Dec 22, 2010
    ''Penny Stock Photography''

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