Friday, August 22, 2008

Microstock: What is Success? (the Bolt/Phelps phenomenon)

Photo Credit: Flickr user Guano

So, is this topic just a ploy to get some Olympic photos on my blog?

Well, yes.

I do also have a point about microstock though.

Photo Credit: Flickr user RichardGiles

Like many endeavors, microstock has tons of participants, but very few success stories. For every Yuri Arcurs or Andres Rodriguez out there, there are tons of microstock contributors who have sold only a handful of images, and tons more who have given up after initial rejections. Of the hundreds of thousands of contributors (over 100K at Shutterstock alone), maybe 1% succeed at a rate that they can support themselves financially... And probably even less than that.

I hate to say this, but a typical photographer probably stands to make more money by getting a job at their local fast food restaurant than trying to break into microstock.

I'd love to survey microstock contributors and plot the dollar/hour distribution. And to really depress people, I could ask them to account for all the equipment they've purchased. I expect maybe 20% - 30% are actually profitable once they take equipment cost out.

This isn't an uncommon situation though. For instance, take track and field. Millions of people participate in track and field at the high school level (probably more like tens of millions or hundreds of millions). A fraction of that competes at the college level, and a tiny fraction of that fraction has success at a professional level. And on top of it all (for now) is Usain Bolt. In statistical terms, Bolt is an outlier (Freakonomics has an excellent post about Bolt's... outlieryness... and the New York Times slideshow that supports the post is well worth the look). Likewise, Phelps is an outlier -- a perfect combination of genetics, opportunity (what if he never had access to a pool?), and hard work.

Well, Yuri Arcurs is an outlier too.

And I have no reason to expect that I'll be able to break free of the tail of the distribution in microstock either.

Ultimately, that's ok. I'm going in to this knowing that, monetarily, I'd be better off spending my time working at the place my daughter calls 'Mixdonalds'.

But, I enjoy photography. I may enjoy the microstock struggle. If I don't... maybe I should work on my running and swimming.

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