It Just Got Harder To Be A Stock Photographer

It’s never been easy shooting stock for the likes of iStockPhoto, but once upon a time the highly ambitious could make a career out of microstock.

Perhaps that time is over. IStockPhoto, one of the largest microstock sites out there, recently announced that it was cutting payments to photographers to as low as 15 percent.

The biggest issue: IStockPhoto COO Kelly Thompson’s justification for the pay cuts seems wrong to many contributors.

Last week, Thompson posted this in the iStockphoto forums:

“Since roughly 2005 we’ve been aware of a basic problem with how our business works. As the company grows, the overall percentage we pay out to contributing artists increases. In the most basic terms that means that iStock becomes less profitable with increased success. As a business model, it’s simply unsustainable: businesses should get more profitable as they grow. This is a long-term problem that needs to be addressed.”

Yet in 2008, iStock told contributors this: “That our revenue and payouts have eclipsed those of many traditional stock photography companies confirms that microstock is a viable and profitable business model for contributors and clients.”

You can see why some photographers are upset.

One forum poster, though, indicated (as A Photo Editor blogger Rob Haggart said “the bit of schadenfreude pro photographers must be feeling about the whole deal:”

“All of you have been so happy to undercut traditional stock photography, copying the best selling images, shooting every hamburger you ever ate, and now that the traditional photographers (often derided as ‘trads’ by you) have come in to beat you at your own game, you’re shocked- yes, shocked!- to find out that this is a business, not a little happy family giving each other muffins and logrolling in the forums. Well, welcome to the real world- the one that you made for yourselves.

More importantly, if one of the biggest players in microstock is saying the business model is unsustainable, what does that mean for everyone who’s ever uploaded a photo or drawn a cute whale being lifted by birds out of the ocean?