Used to be that stock photos cost a couple hundred bucks or more. Used to be that photographers could make good money in stock photography. But now millions of people have (more or less) high-quality digital cameras and broadband internet, sites are finding ways to leverage the public’s massive image database.

In The Rise of Crowdsourcing, Wired follows a stock photographer watching his business being undermined (if not decimated) by the rise of sites like iStockphoto, where the public can contribute images to sell — at prices ranging from $1 to $10, rather than the more traditional $400.

Of course all of the images at iStockphoto are by “amateurs” rather than pros. But browsing the collection, it’s clear that there are thousands of images there that most web/print designers would consider to be “good enough.”

Aside from the fact that most amateurs will never earn enough from a site like this to pay the rent (or even buy a bag of groceries), I’m curious about what kind of revenue the site itself can make with margins that low. As brilliant as the idea is, seems like usage would have to be extremely high to make it sustainable.

And there are 100% free alternatives out there, such as the Creative Commons collection at Flickr. stock.xchng is another. Other royalty-free or low-cost image sources you guys know about?

Music: David Thomas :: Bicycle

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8 Replies to “Crowdsourcing”

  1. Actually, I think this is fair. I think competition will drive up the quality of stock photography by forcing the pros to do it better. I have no doubt that a pro can take better pictures than I can, no matter how good my available gear, and my feeling is that most pros would find assertions to the contrary insulting at best. The pro sites I’ve looked at say over and over that it’s not the gear that makes the photographer. The gear’s only value is that it makes the photographer’s day easier.

    What it will do is cut out the mediocre pros. Get good or get out, I think is how the mantra will go . Of course, the problem comes for students trying to make their living at this stuff long enough to get the skills and the art down.

    It will also devalue digital photographs. You won’t see any impact on this sort of photography. Nimoy is using ancient methods to make one of a kind photo art. (yes, THAT Leonard Nimoy).

    Not all pros seem to have a problem with us amateurs. Witness this guy. He’s a pro who works for a newspaper, and in his spare time is teaching us amateurs to light well.

    Anyway. Interesting thoughts.


  2. I’m not really thinking of fine art photographers here – they’re generally a different breed from stock photographers (the latter group must create work designed to sell, which means it’s other-directed rather than inner-directed).

    As for pros being pushed to do better, I think a lot of them would take umbrage at the suggestion that they’re not already doing their best. But I think you’re right that general “pro” stock photographers must learn to think more like fine art photographers in order to set themselves apart from the masses.

    On the other hand, you can find some pretty incredible stuff on Flickr if you look hard enough – there are people out there who aren’t working as stock photographers, but who are simply gifted, and could throw their hats into the ring at any time.

  3. On reflection, I think you’ll also see new stock photographers cutting their teeth in these services and using it as a stepping stone to a pro career. IE sure, you may make 1/10 per photo what a pro stock photographer used to make, but instead of a closed group of a couple hundred photographers who make their living that way, anyone can play, and quality wins.

    Also, I think the reason you see stock photography crowdsourcing is the demand for affordable images for websites. At $250/picture, only big companies and rich websites can afford to buy them. At $5 or $10 a picture, everyone can play. You may actually see a stimulation in demand, and again, a need for higher quality as big companies start looking for images that will set their pages apart from the pro-sumer pages.

    I also realized why I’m so unsympathetic to the plight of stock photographers. The art of which I am guilty, writing, received a similar democratization with the advent of the word processor about 30 years ago. Now, everyone thinks they can write. Once publishers realize that their *only* value add is quality control and actually try doing some quality control, I think we’ll all benefit from that explosion, but it’s still frustrating to realize that thirty years ago, all you needed was a typewriter and the ability to form coherent sentences and spell, and you could probably get published.

  4. Jim, I see the distinction you’re making. Whether you’re talking about images, words, music, etc.:

    Past: The Man controls both the machinery of production and the editorial gateway (deciding who and what merits your attention, i.e. an editor deciding what to publish and what to trash).

    Present: Cheap digital cameras and word processors and blogging software put the machinery of production into the hands of the masses. But with all the noise that generates, editors can still say “Come to our site, we filter the noise and bring you the best stuff. We do the wading for you.” But sites like are eroding that role as well, so that soon The Man will have nothing left to do.

    This comes full circle back to the Editors –> Algorithms post.

  5. You make that sound like a bad thing. :) Seriously, I think as the information age goes on, we will be more and more willing to pay people to pre-sift the information for us, rather than to consign the job to machines that only do it so well.


  6. S’funny, I’m just getting into this whole photography game, have decided against stock photography because I don’t seem capable of taking the sort of photograph that’s popular in these circles, and am only doing photojournalism sporadically because it seems it is nowadays impossible to do much more than scrape a living in that field. So I’m hoping I make it as an “art” photographer, although that in itself seems more about who you know than what you do.

    I just borrowed some photojournalism tutorials, 11 years old. There’s a big section on stock photography, saying that you should always shoot some when on assignment, some photographers view this as their pension plan, it’s something which won’t die out, etc etc. 10 years down the line and I’m reading this stuff rather cynically, wondering whether those photographers now have to come out of retirement.

  7. Amazing that that was written just 10 years ago. No, the demand for stock photography didn’t die, but the size of the source pool increased by a million-fold. Damn, history is accelerating.

  8. Hello,

    in the same concept, look at this website that I’ve just noticed This is a further step on the crowdsourcing as it aims to design and sale electronic products for the first time (it’s hardware development and not software for this time). It looks promising but it’s just started. I’d recommand you to join this community, who knows it can work and you can potentially earn money.

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