The Tyranny of the Microstock Lifecycle
You’ve probably heard that diamonds are forever. Right! But all else is subjected to the unforgiving laws of nature. Unfortunately for us, our stock assets are no exception.
Everything you upload to a stock marketplace will have it’s prime selling days and eventually fade out to never again be bought by buyers. This strict rule applies even to the most successful contributors.
What can we deduce from this? It means that if you do not upload regularly, replacing older files with newer ones, eventually your portfolio will stop making money.
That begs the following questions:
- Is is possible to increase revenue as your older files fade out?
- How much do you have to upload just to keep your revenue constant?
At Stock Performer we often talk to our users about this issue. We enjoy analytics and wanted to tackle this issue with maths. In this blog post we explore how the image lifecycle works against you and what you can do to protect yourself.
Every image has a lifecycle
Let us start with some basics: images do not sell forever. I’m pretty sure that hasn’t gone unnoticed!
There are various reasons why an image will eventually stop selling:
- It is outdated and does not represent current image trends
- A competitor has produced a better and more successful version of your image
- Your agency’s search algorithm is not prioritizing your image anymore
Images tend to have their strongest phase within their first 6 to 9 months. That is when they make the most money. Afterward they continue selling slowly for another year before weakening considerably.
Modeling the typical image lifecycle
The following chart displays an estimate revenue lifecycle of a typical image from my portfolio. Please note, that this estimate has been produced with my Stock Performer data (user alvarez on iStockphoto) and represents the most likely (average) lifecycle of any one of the images in my portfolio. Other photographers and other agencies will have different average lifecycle curves, but in most cases, the lifecycle of an image will start with a surge followed by a decline. That surge/decline pattern will serve as basis for our following discussion, which will be illustrated with my particular lifecycle curve.
For instance, in the chart you’ll see that on the fifth month, an image makes the most revenue, with $6. From there onwards it fades out. After 18 months it only produces about $0.30 per month. This lifecycle chart will look different for other photographers and agencies. But in all cases, the lifecycle has an upwards phase followed by a downwards phase.
If I upload 100 images, you can estimate from the lifecycle chart how my revenue will evolve:
- The 100 images will make $100 on the first month …
- … $300 on the second …
- … $400 on the third …
- and so forth…
How much money can I make from one year’s uploads?
Thanks to the typical image lifecycle model, we can now estimate how much money I will make for all the images I produce in a year.
Suppose I uploaded 100 images per month, every month of a year. That’s 1200 images spread throughout the year.
Using our mathematical model based on the above typical image lifecycle, the revenue of those 1200 images for the next 3 years would total $60,060 and look as follows:
The chart clearly shows that if you upload only for one year and then stop, your revenue will slow down considerably. After the 13month it actually drops steeply.
Should I upload regularly every month?
Uploading regularly is the only way to defend your revenue! Obviously, quality is important, but if we ignore the evolution of your creative skills, you must upload every month the same amount or more! Never less.
If you don’t then eventually you will have more images in your portfolio dying than images producing fresh revenue. Your sales will inevitably drop every month.
Let us continue with our sample charts to prove that uploading constantly is necessary.
If I upload 100 images every month, during 3 years, constantly, this is how my revenue will evolve during those 3 years:
You see the pattern? The first 12 months are great, time to party! But from there onwards, despite the constant 100 uploads a month, revenue increases frustratingly slow.
In the first 12 months you go from $0 to $4000 per month! Wow! It then takes 20 months to go from $4000 to $5000…
But that’s ok! Because at least revenue continues growing, and that is most important, rewarding the hard work uploading constantly every month.
Our simple mathematical model is a good way to put things into perspective.. The reality of microstock can be more complex. The typical image lifecycle can change, due to factors out of your control, thus influencing positively or negatively on your total revenue.
Nevertheless, what our model does state quite clearly is that uploading constantly is the best pro-active strategy you can have at protecting your revenue. Not doing so, your portfolio revenue will always fade away.
Going forward in 2013, sit down and decide how many files you can produce a month, and then stick to that number religiously for the next years. If during that time you increase your creative quality, then consider the extra income a bonus!
About the Authors
Luis Alvarez and Oliver Rivo are founders of Stock Performer. They want to offer you the best microstock analytics around and invest a lot of time giving users great advice on understanding their numbers.
Oliver Rivo, M.Sc. Computer Science, has more than a decade of professional experience in software development. His major projects include mission critical software for airlines and numerous web services – and a few-year stint as a full-time touring musician in Germany. While not a microstock contributor, Oliver Rivo enjoys photography. It was therefore a natural fit to team up with his long-time friend Luis Alvarez to create Stock Performer, the market leader in analytics for microstock photographers.
Luis Alvarez, M.Sc. Computer Science, spent many years working at a large German IT company before discovering the joys of stock photography. After many years contributing as a diamond exclusive for iStockphoto he teamed up with Oliver Rivo with the aim to produce the best analytics solution for microstock, giving birth to Stock Perfomer. Without analytics it is impossible to manage your stock business efficiently.
If you haven’t tried Stock Performer yet, sign up now for the one month free trial and see it for yourself!