by David J. Watkins
Micro-stock is the offering of very large libraries of quality images at low-cost to designers.
Designers in the past would hire or contract photographers and often pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for images. Traditional stock agencies offered more of a variety to designers, but costs were still high, as much as several hundred dollars per photo. Traditional stock agencies typically worked with several professional photographers to build libraries of several thousand generic images.
The introduction of high quality digital cameras and the age of the internet have opened new opportunities for both designers and photographers. Micro-stock agencies typically have libraries of millions of quality photographs available to designers. This is possible because they have access to tens of thousands of photographers. Many micro-stock photographers are not career photographers but are part-time photographers or serious hobbyists. The quality of the images are better than ever because of the latest digital technology.
Designers benefit because the micro-stock agencies can offer a much lower price than traditional stock agencies for the photographs because they have huge libraries, as many as a million or more images available. Because of the internet, many more designers have access to the micro-stock agency. Because of the low cost, even more designers can afford to purchase the rights to images. In the past only larger companies could afford quality images. Now many small businesses, from the local restaurant down the street, to the local hobby shop, lawn service, maid service, to the self-employed designer can afford professional quality images for their advertising designs. Micro-stock images are typically offered for $50 or less per image with many as low as $1 or $2 per image, depending on the license purchased.
At $1.00 per image, how does a photographer make any money? A photographer using a traditional stock agency may pay as much as $50 per image to have it listed with that agency. Unless the photographer is really popular, that limits the number of photos available for sale by that photographer. Though a typical photo may earn a few hundred dollars per sale, there are not usually very many sales on a photo.   A photographer can submit thousands of photos to a micro-stock agency, paying nothing to have those photos listed. Since there are many more designers purchasing licenses, the photographer will receive many more sales. Photographers usually receive between $0.25 and $2.00 for a standard one-time use license, and around $20.00 for an extended license. Though this sounds like very little, photographers usually get thousands to tens of thousands of downloads or license sales. There are many photographers making $500 to $1000 per month on the micro-stock sites. There are a handful making enough to live on selling on micro-stock. Many of the pro's are recognizing the potential and are now submitting photos to micro-stock agencies.