Can PhotoShelter Turn Microstock Photographers Into Top-Earning Stock Photographers?

For hobbyists, the combination of digital photography and the Internet has opened all sorts of new opportunities. Photo-sharing sites let them display their pictures to other photographers, forums allow them to swap ideas and of course, microstock lets them earn money (and good ones, lots of money.)

For professional photographers though, technology has often been seen as more of a threat than a chance. With so many more photos available, and many of them high quality, forums and professional blogs are filled with photographers worrying about semi-pros under-pricing images and damaging the market.

Allen Murabayashi, CEO of PhotoShelter, however, feels that pros have nothing to worry about. “A lot of people have commented on the supply/demand effect that has resulted from the rise of the sub-$1000/DSLR,” he said. “Yes, there are more images than ever, but a good image is a good image. Period…. [I]f you believe in your product, you shouldn’t feel pressure to deflate its worth.”

PhotoShelter, which was founded in 2005, provides photographers with two valuable services: archiving, which isn’t a unique service; and distribution which, the way PhotoShelter does it, is. The site has integrated fotoQuote into its services, allowing photographers to sell their images rights-managed, as well as royalty-free and as prints. Photographers can use the program to determine the market rate for various uses of their photos, set their own prices and sell automatically to buyers who want to use their images.

“[P]hotographers really like anything that automates their sales because they can’t be near their computer all the time,” Allen told us. “We had a really great reception when we integrated fotoQuote into PhotoShelter, which all of a sudden gave the individual photographer the ability to license rights-managed images without manual intervention…. For RM images, fotoQuote is the standard, and so there’s no need to significantly discount off their pricing grid.”

The site is really aimed at professional photographers, and mostly at teaching those photographers to use technology to market themselves. “For example, the majority of photographer websites are still electronic translations of their printed portfolio,” said Allen. “With PhotoShelter, photographers can make their archives searchable and have built-in e-commerce.”

In other words, photographers are able to cut out the agency middleman (with the exception of PhotoShelter, which takes 10 percent of every sale and a subscription fee of up to $50 per month) and sell their pictures directly to clients online. But of course, that means they have to have clients. At the moment, PhotoShelter doesn’t promote its services to buyers, preferring to see itself as a tool for established photographers to bring their images directly to buyers they already have, something which Allen says his members are doing very effectively.

To help them, PhotoShelter together with Apple, HP and liveBooks recently announced that is putting on a series of town hall meetings that will bring together photographers and buyers. Included on the agenda is an hour-long discussion entitled “What Buyers Want Photographers To Know.” The meetings will take place throughout September in six cities across the United States and is open to photographers at all levels. Entry is free but pre-registration is required and can be done at PhotoShelter’s website. (If you can’t make it, don’t worry: there is a plan to put up a podcast of each session within 24 hours of its completion.)

But most photographers hoping to get the most out of PhotoShelter and move from microstock to higher-paying stock images will first need to identify clients with budgets large enough to pay full stock prices. They will then have to bring them to Photoshelter so that those clients can buy those images automatically. That might take some doing, but for photographers with returning customers with deep pockets, referral to a site that can sell your pictures for $400 instead of $1 would be well worth the effort.

[tags] microstock, photoshelter [/tags]

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