Building a Microstock Tracking System

Microstock seems so simple

Upload your images to a microstock agency, then sit back and let the payments come in. But it’s soon clear that there’s a lot more to do. The newcomer  quickly is overwhelmed in keeping track of where images are; which have been submitted to which sites; how each site reviewed each image; and where the original image now resides.

I’ve dealt with variations on this problem for over 40 years. First, with slides and classical stock agencies [often called rights managed, with examples like Corbis and Getty]. I went thru multiple physical organizing systems – by shoot, by slideshow, by topic, etc, eventually settling on metal filing boxes for over 35,000 slides organized by category. I also kept a simple spreadsheet list of slide numbers and captions.

I’ve shot digital since 2001 and problems quickly multiplied with the greatly increased number of images now created. Most photographers aren’t computer programmers, but some computing oriented approaches are helpful. Rather than choose a software solution and force it to fit your needs, take some time to analyze what you currently have and what you’d like to be able to do. At that point you can decide what sort of workflow system works best for you. Only then do you need to decide what actual software might be needed.

Here’s how my approach proceeded.

I knew a big problem would be managing thousands of images at several stages – new images, edited images, captioning, submitting, tracking, and analyzing. [If you produce fewer images, the process will be much easier since you may be able to take each shoot completely through the process from initial creation to tracking after submitting to multiple agencies. A simple word processing program may be all you need to keep track of everything. ] The entire process could be automated, but for all but the largest shops, this is overkill. Most people will find a mixed system works well – combine old fashioned physical means with automated ones.

Now you’re ready to decide how the new system might achieve these goals. My highlighted two major needs:

1. Assign a unique number for each image The numbers produced by your camera aren’t suitable for this system.  But using text names like statue of liberty1,won’t work either. What’s needed is a single identifier for each image, that contains enough information to be able to sort by date. There are various ways to do this. My files are renamed to yymmdd-xxx.JPG.

Photoshop or Lightroom does this for you – you can run a batch process on a group of images taken on the same day and rename them with the year, month, day and a serial number. The result is a group images that will always be simple to sort, with no duplicates. Numbering sequentially has a major advantage over using text — when I’m traveling, I try to caption every night, based on my notes. I only need to identify the 1st image of any major sequence. For example, in India I could summarize over 300 images with 3 captions:

    • 070101-002 Arrival in Delhi
    • 070103-200 Arrival in Agra to visit the Taj Mahal
    • 070104-322 Ganges river

So there’s no need to caption everything right now. When I am editing image 070101-145.jpg weeks or months later, I immediately know it was taken in Delhi. We often visit many mosques or temples in a day, and this lets me keep them all straight, while still allowing for an hour or 2 of sleep each night.

2. Store all images in one place for simple retrieval

It’s important to have one place where all images can be found.

Once these decisions were made, the solution became simpler. I could quickly see there was no need for a database. Also a database requires too much maintenance, and a simple excel spreadsheet will do a better job.

The result is a solution that allows:

    • Storage of images for easy retrieval
    • Fast sorting by date, topic, etc
    • Instant access to any submission in progress
    • Ability to track and analyze images accepted

We’ll see how to accomplish this in Part 2.