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Can I Compete With Microstock?There’s no doubt about it, microstock is here to stay. And, as an entry-level stock photographer, if you’ve ever asked, “How can I sell my photos for ads, brochures, flyers, posters and calendars ?” –microstock can be photo-heaven for you.
Microstock is the place where a person can purchase photos for just one or a few dollars, or up to $500, -depending on the client and situation.
The “carrot”, of course is the revelation that your photo just might be able to be sold for $500.
If you’re not quite sure what microstock is, invite yourself to a viewing by clicking on any of these:
www.istock.co ; www.fotalia.com ; www.alamy.com ; shutterstock.com
Over the years, microstock has increased in number and improved in quality. But the predominantly "general" type of photos at these sites don't fit the bill for most book and magazine publishers, -the area of our concentration here at PhotoSource International.
If you check out the magazines on the rack at Wal-Mart or the airport, or the books at Barnes & Noble, or your teen's high school textbook, you'll find they include very few "generic" pictures. (Generic, meaning general, non-specific images that can be used as layout fillers, general illustrations, or ad backgrounds.)
It's not that editorial photo editors don't like microstock generic photos (if they had a job at an ad agency they'd love them), but rather that a photo editor’s job is to match the targeted content of the text in the magazine or book with specific photographs. Simple as that.
A customer who buys a book or magazine expects on-target information in the special-interest periodical, book, or publication -and that includes not only the text, but also the drawings and photos.
Putting a generic $1 photo in their layout opens up the possibility of a catastrophe for the photo researcher or editor.
Like what? Well, the same microstock photo might appear elsewhere, in a public brochure, newspaper or magazine advertisement, or worst-case scenario, in a competitor's publication.
Persons who invest in a publication, book, magazine, textbook, coffee table book, etc. expect exclusivity. They don't expect to see the same photo used elsewhere.
Many a fledgling photo editor has been burned in the early days of microstock photography, when they jumped on this source of inexpensive photos and used a picture that a month later (or the same month!) was used elsewhere in the publishing world.
There's a saying in the photo research industry, "If the photo costs a dollar, it could also cost your job." Publishers want to give their readers distinctive, relevant, well-researched text and photos. That's how they stay in business.
The perceived threat of competition from $1 pictures available on the Internet is not so strong when you look at what's happening when it comes to the selling of your editorial stock images.
On the photographer's side, editorial stock photographers have learned to personally keyword their photos with targeted words that guide the photo researcher to their site or a site like the PhotoSourceBANK, which has guaranteed high buyer traffic.
Photobuyers have discovered they can use the Internet to find the best, exact, exclusive photo for their publishing project. Using a text description and a popular search engine such as Google, Yahoo, or MSN, they type a "long tail search" (using several words to describe what they need) into the search bar*. This connects the buyers to photographers' websites or sites that feature the work of many photographers.
This system, of course, is in its infancy, but is the way of the future. The time is now to carry a notepad along with you in your photographic forays - overseas, or your local region, or your backyard. Every time you snap a picture, jot down several descriptive keywords you could use to identify it. Just the word 'camel,' 'weed,' or 'airplane' is no longer viable in your descriptive database (meta tags). Expect to describe each image in four or five words, because that's what the photobuyers will be using in their Google search.
You may ask, “Will photo editors buy my photos if they don’t have specific descriptive words riding along with them?” The answer in today’s Internet climate is, yes, but it might be a long wait.
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Rohn Engh, veteran stock photographer and best-selling author of "Sell & ReSell Your Photos" and "sellphotos.com," has helped scores of photographers launch their careers. For access to great information on making money from pictures you like to take, and to receive this free report: "8 Steps to Becoming a Published Photographer," check out his website at www.photosource.com