It is recent news that Pictorama, one of the most popular iPhone microstock photography agencies, is shutting down. Pictorama’s servers, according to the company’s official statement, have already been disconnected. Likewise, the app is not available for downloading anymore.
Honestly, this doesn’t come as a total surprise. Given Pictorama’s overall sales, the turnover could not be enough to cover their costs. As Pictorama’s statement about the reasons behind the shutdown clearly explains,
Unfortunately not as many clients as we expected bought our pictures. This forces us to shut down Pictorama due to insufficient funds.
Whereas microstock seems to be flourishing in other forms, with new providers popping up continuously and older ones getting huger, mobile-oriented microstock seems unable to compete. Is this really an issue with resolution and final quality of images sold through mobile outlets and of flexibility concerning their actual use? Is it just a question of marketing? What are mobile shooters supposed to think?
It looks like the microstock market is not ready for mingling with mobile. If it were otherwise, the giants of microstock would have likely jumped on the wagon long ago — but they have not and are not going to for some time. As things are now, microstock is trying hard to steer clear of mobile photography. Most microstock agencies won’t even look at photos taken with a mobile camera submitted for evaluation to their quality controls and camera phones are more often than not found in their lists of “not accepted” cameras.
Mobile phone cameras are not mature enough to compete with dedicated cameras and their specs. The images they can produce can be all right for creative purposes or for general private use, but they have little commercial value and are thus far from ideal stock material. The microstock market is obviously not interested in embracing a limited medium such as this right now. Soon differences between camera phones and regular cameras will be indistinguishable and the situation will change. Camera phones are getting more and more sophisticated and their output quality is getting better; regular cameras, on the other hand, are going to add features that will turn them into something more than mere tools for photo taking. The two tendencies will merge at some point and nobody will be able to tell them apart. If the microstock market does not implode earlier, they will end seizing the new opportunities offered by improved technologies.
In the meantime, what about those that have invested something to shoot and submit images to services like Pictorama, hoping to find a way to monetize their passion? What about their time and creative effort? Pictorama’s single-line apology is more eloquent than anything I could write,
We are not able to pay out your account balance any further even if you have already requested the pay out. We are so sorry.
The chance that one could earn a buck or two by doing something one liked was without a doubt appealing, and that’s why people uploaded so many images to Pictorama’s servers, even accepting the fact they could not use the photos taken in-app anywhere else. But business and its logic are not about taking chances when numbers are big: the individual end user is one thing and the saleability of goods on a large scale, digital goods too, is yet another.
What about Pictorama’s database? Where will all the photos uploaded by users go? Directly down the drain? Printed in large to adorn the walls of Emperor Ming’s manor on planet Mongo? Transferred in block to some other company that will buy Pictorama’s remains — assets, that is — for a ridiculous price? This is a question the statement of course does not speak about. Is this really a negligible detail in an official communication? Or rather in this silence is the catch in the whole affair? If you are curious to know and have five minutes to spare, perhaps you should contact Pictorama and ask them directly.
Pictorama’s experiment probably came at the wrong time, but microstock can indeed be profitable for big agencies; this is why there will be more Pictoramas today, tomorrow or the day after. Microstock is however rarely source of significant profits for photographers and by the way it is not the fairest way to treat your images.