Is microstock the antithesis of a fair trade photography?


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© Feng Yu –

Is microstock the antithesis of a fair trade photography? An opposite opinion.

Microstock is giving the opportunity to a large amount of amateur and hobbyist photographers to enter in the photographic market. The user content generated concept of the beginning is still present but microstock has become a well established industry and in the last period we are observing a lot of pro photographers that are joining the arena. Someone is doing a good money, someone else is very happy about an extra earning that let him to buy, for example, a new gear or lens.

My position is that, as an amateur photographer, I'd hardly be able to enter in a traditional stock photo circuit. Also consider that some smart and valid photographers could gain the access of a more prestigious market, such as the Vetta Collection for iStockers or the potential to move from micro to premium collections for Moodboard contributors. We also write about the advantages of microstock but it's not all a bed of roses. I understand the position of many photographers that never will sell their pictures for some pennies and think that microstock is playing down the photographic market. I've found a page of PhotographersDirect to be very representative of this opposite approach.

PhotographersDirect is a photographic portal to help picture buyers and researchers find suitable stock photos for any media and they have pioneered the concept of “Fair Trade Stock Photography” (photographers receive 80% of the sale price of their images). In the page “Why will Photographers Direct not represent photographers who have images on microstock / micropayment sites?“, they explain the opposition to this kind of market.

Here some focal quotes:

The only people who benefit from these (microstock, ndr) sites are:

1. The site owners, because they make money from the images and do not care about the damage they are doing to professional photographers' livelihoods.

2. The buyers, who cannot believe their luck at being able to get images for a few dollars, and being able to use them as often as they like, for as long as they like, wherever they like.

The people who lose out every time are the photographers

Imagine the day when you see one of your images on a book or magazine cover. You will probably be very happy and proud, until you realize you earned less than a dollar from an image that is helping to generate possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars in publishing sales. Is this fair?

Can IBM afford to pay market rates for images? Of course! Would they pay 500 dollars for this same image if that was the price? The odds are they would. So why did they pay 1 dollar? Because that was the price

What I would like particular emphasis on (because it is often overlooked) – said Chris Barton Director at PhotographersDirect  – “is that we do not have a problem with microstock per se – we agree that it has opened up a whole new market of ‘micro-buyers' who just want low cost images for their personal blogs, small business websites, etc.  The problem with microstock is the completely open RF license which allows images bought for a few dollars to be used for anything – even the cover of Time Magazine.”

Full page available at

Just published a related topic post by FastMediaMagazine, Is microstock really killing markets?

Debate is open…


About Author

I write about the stock photo and microstock industry since 2006 on my several online-magazines. My goal for MyStockPhoto is to teach photographers and stock photographers how to sell more photos and earn money with their photography hobby.


  1. I really agree that most of the time this things happen, the photographers must be really recognized and given copyright terms if they use their photos.

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