For those who are anywhere near the microstock photography industry, you may have noticed that there is a lot of shouting going on at the moment about the latest release from Shutterstock.
If you have ever looked into the world of microstock photography, you can’t have helped but notice that Shutterstock is, possibly, the market leader within this industry. On par with them though is Adobe (aka Fotolia).
If you haven’t heard of these giants in a micro world, they provide ‘mass-market’ stock photography images via numerous different outlets. If you have a website your service provider may offer images for you to use on your website. In the main, these images will come from these or some of the other microstock agencies out there. Last week though Shutterstock managed to create a ‘bit’ of a stir with its contributors by announcing its latest royalty rates.
“Boycott Shutterstock.” That’s the cry heard from many Shutterstock contributors, many of whom are now claiming that they will withdraw their portfolios if the old royalty rate is not brought back.
The Numbers Game
Don’t get me wrong, I have been in the microstock game now for over 14 years and have seen many changes over that time. When I first started out it wasn’t difficult to earn over $1,000 a month simply by uploading a few images per day.
These days though the industry has changed and photographers have to work harder to earn a living from microstock photography. You can’t just throw a newspaper down, take a photo and it sells (trust me I did that and it has now earned over $1,000).
These days you have to invest to make money. You need to plan your shoots. More importantly, though, you need to be uploading images all of the time, and not just a couple of images a week.
Microstock is a numbers game. The more images you have the more chance you have of making a sale. That is the bottom line.
It’s also a numbers game the other way around. Microstock photography is open to everyone. You don’t need to be a professional photographer. It’s also a great place to learn about photography as there are strict requirements to get your photographs accepted (including the dreaded model release).
This is the reason why there are now over 100,000 Shutterstock contributors submitting over 1,000,000 new images every week. All this has created an image base of over 325,000,000 images.
$0.10 Per Download
The reason that the new royalty structure issued by Shutterstock has caused such a stir is that at 15% some contributors will now be earning as little as $0.10 each time their images are used. It doesn’t sound like much really does it when you factor in the cost of producing each image.
There is the cost of the equipment, the space to take the photos, and of course if you need to hire a model for the shoot. These though are just a few of the costs involved. Take these costs out and some contributors will be facing a loss.
It’s these contributors that are causing all of the fuss. The contributors with smaller portfolios or the ones whose quality of work is simply not up to the game.
The ones though who are keeping quiet are the ones who consistently provide good quality images that generate A LOT of downloads. These are the people who will come out of this the winners.
Back to the Golden Days of Microstock?
I doubt very much that we will see a return of the golden days of microstock photography, there are simply too many images already out there.
The golden days saw a modest portfolio of just a few thousand images earning $1,000 per month. The ones though who really put the work in could expect a lot more.
One of the success stories of that time was Yuri Arcurs, a photographer who inspired me with my microstock photography. Yuri started a year earlier than me and quickly learned to ‘play the game’. His work ethic and determination meant that by 2012 he was reported to be selling 450 images per hour. That’s a lot of $0.10 downloads and that rate of image sales would also put him in the higher bracket of nearer $0.40 per download.
Back then the royalty rate was higher than it is now, nearer the $0.50 per download mark. However, even if we translate that into today’s rate (at the higher rate of $0.40) it’s still $180.00 per hour 24 hours a day. Or put another way, almost $1,500,000 per year.
Not bad for starting out at $0.10 per sale.
Seeing The Positive
Seeing the comments that are being made, I am looking forward to seeing if some of these contributors will follow through with their threats to ‘Boycott Shutterstock’ and pull their portfolios. For one this would reduce the number of images available and increase my chances of making a sale.
There is the fact that Shutterstock chooses to offer the contributors images for sale as part of special offers. This is what Shutterstock is good at — marketing. Contributors need to remember that if it weren’t for Shutterstock’s marketing skills, they wouldn’t be making any sales at all. It’s this marketing to an ever-expanding client base that has made Shutterstock the leading microstock agency to be a part of.
Shutterstock has a niche in the market and that is what draws new clients to them every day. Clients that will continue to download images.
Have Your Own View
Many photographers will have their own views on how the changes at Shutterstock will affect the contributors and the rest of the industry. We will have to wait to see if the pressure put on Shutterstock by its contributors causes them to change their views. it may be that this is the start of a larger change and the other microstock agencies also follow suit.
In my view, this change could be opening doors to something new within the industry. To see where that door goes, though, we will just have to wait and see.
About the author: Christopher James Hall is a professional wedding, family, commercial, and lifestyle photographer based in Buckinghamshire. You can find more of his work and words on his website or by following him on Facebook. This post was also published here.
Image credits: Header photo by Andrea Piacquadio