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Microstock Photography also sometimes called micropayment, came about several years ago as an alternative to the existing stock agencies such as Getty or Corbis. With the traditional stock agencies, designers would purchase the rights to use an image for a one time use. This is called Rights Managed(RM) stock. This license can cost upwards of several hundred dollars or even more for exclusive use of the image. The Micro Stock agencies use what's called Royalty Free(RF) licenses. The name is somewhat misleading because the use of the images isn't free but it has significantly fewer restrictions then a Rights Managed license. A designer can purchase a RF image and use it as for as many different purposes as they wish although there are certain limits. A designer is also allowed to reproduce the image a certain number of times for something such as a brochure. Royalty Free agencies have also started selling extended licenses which cost more then the standard license but give them more latitude on how the image can be used. Also, when designers purchase a RF license they don't get exclusive rights to the image. The photographer is free to sell the same image over and over. The standard RF license costs significantly less then a RM license, the RF licenses may cost as low as a dollar. The photographer will get a portion of this sale, anywhere from 20%-75% of the sale. Not much in terms of money for a single sale but selling RF images is a numbers game. Sell 1000 images in a month(which really isn't very much once your portfolio is large enough) at an average of .50 cents an image and now your talking real money.
For the photographer, the process of selling RF stock goes something like this:
Step 1: Sign up
Step 2: Upload
Step 3: Make profit
It's not quite that simple but the process is very easy. Once you select which agencies you wish to sign up with(See my reviews blog entry for reviews of some of the RF agencies) begin collecting your images. The images can be of almost anything. You would be surpised at what sells, a picture of a brick wall for example. The images do need to be of a good quality though, such as decent composition, realitivly noise free etc... Once you have your images selected, you will then need to keyword them. This can be one of the most dificult parts of the process. Having good keywords can determine if the images sells or just sits there lingering at the bottom of someones search results. The next step is to upload your images to the agencies and wait for them to be approved. This is the most frustrating piece of this process. Not every image you upload will get accepted by the agency and some of the reasons for rejections can seem very odd. Over time you, will learn what the different agencies are looking for. Now comes the fun part, sitting back and watching your images get downloaded.
I don't even remember how I first discovered microstock, but I'm glad I did.