The history of Shutterstock
Shutterstock entered the microstock industry in 2003. At that time they sold only stock images, but a few years after they started selling stock footage too. For people like me who soon understood that with moving pictures we could make a lot more money, from 2007 to 2010 it was just a mid-level site, like:
- Revostock closed in 2015
- Clipdealer and Clipcavas are still open, but they don’t sell anymore
- Fotolia is now Adobe Stock
- Istockphoto is becoming the new Revostock
But, in the meanwhile what happened to Shutterstock?
In 2011, when I was thinking about stopping to upload content there, they doubled my income in a few months, even if my collection didn’t improve. It soon became the second most profitable agency after Pond5. I don’t know what happened:
- They didn’t change the royalties guidelines (still 30% for the producer), sales prices (still $79 for a full HD clip) or user interface.
Maybe they just changed their marketing strategy, or they boosted their subscription program.
A Passive income
Thanks to Shutterstock (and Pond5, Videoblocks, and others) there are many gurus of passive income that went to live in a tropical paradise since almost all the work related to the production of stock footage and stock images can be done everywhere:
Why do I have to live in a cold city with pollution paying more than half of my income for the rent if I can live in the place of movies like “The Beach” spending less? What’s your answer?
I don’t know why mine is still:
No, thanks. I still want to live in my Country.
Microstock photography is one of the most popular ways to earn a passive income because with microstock agencies people make money with a passion that millions of people practice for free. Of course, there are only thousands (not millions) of photographers and video makers that left their job and travel the world with their cameras to produce stock images and stock footage full time or that make money shooting as a hobby. Sometimes they make a few dozens of dollars per month, sometimes a few hundred:
- Not enough to pay rent in a country like mine, but enough for living in some tropical paradise like this:
Ok, but before celebrating and start planning your life in a tropical paradise, I’m going to tell you about a big problem for people like me who have a stable income thanks to microstock agencies. I know it’s hard for everybody to live in this world: a friend of mine was fired at 45 with two sons, while his wife doesn’t work. It happened all of a sudden. He had unemployment benefits, but those last only for a few months.
What I have is a passive income that may be dropping gradually over time in case I would quit producing:
Today I get about $3,000 a month, next year I’ll gradually get $2,000. Not that bad!
What scares me is an infographic, even if it seems to start from numbers that producers love:
I knew the competition was growing fast, but I didn’t realize it was growing that fast (by the way: the infographic was produced in 2015 and today numbers are even more scaring!).
- In 2013, they paid $62,480,000
- In 2014, they paid $83,605,000 ($62,480,000+33%)
You should say:
Wow, what a growth! We’re going to make more money!
The problem is that in 2013 we were 35k contributors (they paid an average of $149 per month for each contributor), and in 2014 we were 80k contributors (they paid an average of $87 per month for each contributor). This number scares me because royalties grow less than the competition.
Let’s talk about money: this is what you want to read!
This post was originally created on May 2016 for my Italian blog about microstock, and I’m updating it in March 2018. Look at these 2 screenshots:
They show the prices for stock footage. In two year nothing changed. Please notice that in the first screenshot prices are in dollars and in the second one prices are in euros.
Bur the most important numbers for us producer is another one:
- On May 2016 there were 4,456,774 videos on Shutterstock
- On March 2018 there were 9,756,668 videos on Shutterstock.
It means that in the last 2 years it was uploaded more stock footage than in the first 10 years of Shutterstock video collection. It means that you have to hurry up if you want to make money. My first suggestion is to stop spending your time producing stock images and start producing only stock footage:
- sale prices are higher
- competition is less (even if it is rising fast)
Look at this screenshot:
These are the royalties I got for an extended license sale for a 10-second clip of mine:
Is $105 enough to convince you to start creating stock footage? Aren’t you sick tired of $1 sales for your stock images?
How to check your sales on Shutterstock
Ok, I’ll let you think about it, but in the meanwhile let me show you how check your sales on Shutterstock dashboard.
- Earnings Summary.
Select the period you want to check:
- February 2018 for me
There is a lot of important information on this page:
The first one tells you how many files (stock images and stock footage) you sold:
The second one how much you earned:
The other 2 important information tells you if your buyers bought your content with a subscription plan or with single sales:
- Cart sales, $12,525.37 total ($104.04 in February 2018)
- Clip packs (subscriptions), $21,554.00 total ($339.57 in February 2018)
I bet you make less money than I do. It’s difficult to tell you how I did in a single post. It’s a matter of strategy, not of technique. I give you 2 ways to understand it, but only the first one is free (but you won’t be charged for only clicking the second link…):
This picture was taken during Hannover Film Festival 2005 (I was there with one of my short films).
Why newbies can make more money than skilled photographers
Today I earn $3,000 and not $300 only because my competitors don’t work properly. Most of the time they are talented photographers and video makers, but they don’t understand what the market wants. They love to be artists, even if they need to be entrepreneurs to make money.
For 10 years I’ve tried to be a short film director, but I do not want any more to be selected by festivals. I don’t feel happy to share on Facebook a local newspaper article saying I was awarded something. I just want to earn what I need to keep doing this work.
Old-school photographers don’t love microstock agencies because there’s a big difference between being a stock images producer and being a photographer. I don’t like artists because they think they are special ones, and they believe they have the right to live producing art, even if the world (and the bank) is sending them a message:
Change your job!
Guys: I don’t spend all my days on the soccer field because I want to play in the Champions League. I’m 40 years old, and in the 90’s I realized I had to grow.
I will tell you my vision: if you don’t know anything about photography and you want to start producing stock images, you need to study the technique for only a few weeks. From then on, your earnings will depend on how good you will be to understand what content sells and how to create efficient workflows. Profitable stock images are not just good photos; they are the photos that buyers want. Don’t spend your days with Photoshop! Spend your days using search engines to find the most profitable subjects and to learn how to use the right keywords to describe your content.
Documents such as those issued by Shutterstock can be worth thousands of Euros in terms of higher sales.
Did you read it before today? It takes less than the time you spend to edit a single image to read. Don’t you think you have to change your mind?
In 2014 Shutterstock paid $83 million royalties. It means that they grossed $250 million, as the producer gets 30% of the sale. Talking about money: I don’t know what the biggest microstock agency is. Maybe Pond5 or Fotolia (which was sold to Adobe for $800 million in 2014). Videoblocks/Storyblocks is also growing fast. Look at those numbers:
stock images and stock footage are not just hobbies; they are serious business.
If you want to be part of this industry hurry up, start studying and producing. Otherwise, you may end up as Nokia’s mobile phones or as Tom Selleck who refused to play Indiana Jones because he didn’t find it an interesting movie.
Where do producers live?
There is not a real ranking of countries with the highest income, but there’s another interesting point to make. If the US is third and the United Kingdom fifth (Europe worth almost six times America), the question is:
Who are the first two?
I assume Russia and Ukraine. Russia has 144 million inhabitants and can make sense. Looking at the numbers, the second country belongs to the Old Continent. It can’t be Germany (payouts are less than UK’s). For many reasons, I’m sure it’s not France, and it’s not Italy. It’s in Eastern Europe, so it can only be Ukraine. This proves that to be a producer you can be everywhere, even in a poor country with a lot of problems.
If you are a photographer with an empty store or someone who once earned 2,000 Euro for shooting a wedding and, nowadays, if you ask 200 Euro for the same service, the bride and groom may tell you that you are too expensive: stop playing the role of the genius.
Be hungry: microstock agencies can save your life!
Ukrainian photographers are there to tell you it’s not impossible to do it if you work hard.
In this page you’ve learned:
- How Shutterstock became an Agency that paid $500 million royalties to its contributors
- What is a passive income
- Why I made $34,000 as a contributor
- How to check your sales on Shutterstock
- Why skilled photographers won’t make money if they don’t change their mind
- Where stock footage and stock images producers live
My other pages related to this content: