Not all microstock agencies are created equal.
If you are just beginning to weigh up your options, you’re probably bewildered by the amount of different agencies vying for your images. Enter Microstock Man’s FAQ – that is, frequently asked questions to do with microstock. If you haven’t asked yourself these yet, you probably should!
First things first – there are far too many agencies coming and going (yep, many fold within the first few months or years) to cover them all here. Microstock Man’s aim is to give you a head start on which sites you MUST consider if you want to make some money, as well as some of the low-mid range libraries that work for some and not for others.
Generally speaking, the sites that you should join ASAP would be Shutterstock, Dreamstime and 123RF. These are the highest earning for most independent photographers and you really want a foot in the door with all of them pronto. (Yep, I hear you say ‘What about iStockPhoto?’ See our review to find out why it’s not included)
These agencies have tough but (mostly) fair review processes that will sharpen your skills, but more importantly they WILL sell images for you. Especially Shutterstock.
Good question. Each site pays different amounts, and each site sells different amounts. Some may offer huge royalties but rarely sell anything. Others have smaller commissions for contributors but make up for it with sheer volume of sales.
Generally speaking, most sites will pay somewhere between $0.30 per download up to around $10, based on a standard license. You can earn additional revenue on extended licenses (gives the purchaser additional rights of use, but never full copyright) up to around $40 per license.
More information can be found here.
If you join the major agencies mentioned above and get your images approved, then yes, you will sell something. If you ignore the major agencies and focus on the smaller guys, then you are far less likely to sell anything worthwhile.
To give you a bit of an idea of sales, my portfolio works like this:
Currently around 1000+ images in 15 libraries. Shutterstock consistently sells 350-450+ images a month for me, Dreamstime around 50, 123RF between 40 and 100 and so on. The smaller agencies do sell for me, but far less and it can take months to get a payout. But with the big guys, you know you’ll get paid regularly and I’m happy to say sales just keep getting better with them. You can do the maths if you want to take a guess at my income…
This used to be a tricky one to answer, but lately the answer is loud and clear. Unless you are an incredible photographer with a brilliant, massive portfolio along with an uncanny understanding of making successful microstock images and you have little time on your hands – forget exclusive, go indie.
For most of us mere mortals, the old adage “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” rings true in microstock photography. The industry has changed so much in recent times that many exclusive contributors are now going independent. Some agencies have treated their contributors pretty badly, resulting in this backlash.
So my advice: Ignore the allure of increased royalties on offer by going exclusive. For almost everyone, you will be better off staying independent and joining as many reputable libraries as you can.
If you are determined to go exclusive however, as you just can’t be bothered working out all the different site’s then for my money only one agency is worth considering – Dreamstime. You get paid a small amount for each upload accepted, their royalties are fair and they are just all round nice guys to deal with. This may sound odd after saying that Shutterstock is by far the highest earning agency for most of us. But there is a simple reason – Shutterstock doesn’t offer exclusivity at this point. And most of the microstock community hopes that it stays that way! If they ever were to offer exclusivity, many fear it would ruin the industry as so many would probably jump on board that the other agencies just could not compete. Let’s hope they keep the status quo.
Also it’s worth noting that Dreamstime is one of only a few agencies (CanStockPhoto also do) that allows you to have exclusive files, rather than full exclusivity. So, like I have done, you can be totally independent but then choose to have say 1 or 2 images that are exclusive to Dreamstime alone. The reason you may choose to do so is simple: They may sell well on Dreamstime, but not on other sites. So by making them exclusive files to Dreamstime alone you get more per sale as well as improved search ranking. It’s a good little tip to remember.
- In the interests of full disclosure, any library that is reviewed here I have personally been involved with, either currently or in the past. The thoughts expressed on them are a balanced mix of my own personal experiences as well as the industry’s thoughts in general on each libraries pro’s and con’s. In the end though, it’s up to each individual to decide which stock library would be best for them.
Microstock Photography FAQ,