Shutterstock (visit the website), like almost all its competitors which also sell videos, only sold photos when it started. It launched in 2003, the period during which the microstock business was born.
By the way, microstock is a business model based on the sales of low-cost online multimedia content, especially:
- Stock images
- Movie segments (stock footage)
When Shutterstock introduced videos in 2006, most photographers failed to get out of their comfort zones and realize that the business was changing. Producers like me, on the other hand, immediately understood that the profits from footage could be very interesting, for two reasons:
- It paid more
- There was less competition
Today, I'm sure I was right. But, if you still don't believe me, have a look at my Shutterstock dashboard, which will confirm what I'm saying:
The history of Shutterstock
At first, Shutterstock was a mid-level agency; with it, I made less than what I made with:
- Istockphoto (visit the website)
- Pond5 (visit the website)
My earnings on Shutterstock were more or less up the same as those on:
- Clipdealer (visit the website)
- Clipcanvas (visit the website)
Looking at the seven agencies just mentioned, one (Revostock) no longer exists, two (Clipdealer and Clipcanvas) don't actually sell content anymore and another (Fotolia) has been acquired by Adobe Stock. All this to say that the microstock world changes very fast.
In 2011, when I was thinking about stopping uploading there because of the lack of profits, Shutterstock tripled my earnings, even though I didn't significantly improve the collection I had there. In a few months, it became the second most profitable agency for me (after Pond5: read why Pond5 is the best microstock for stock footage contributors).
My statistics on Shutterstock
As shown by the previous screenshot, I cashed more than $40,000 on Shutterstock. Over the course of a decade, that is not much. But, to understand whether I have been a good producer or whether I have worked for the hourly pay of an Uber employee, you need to evaluate the time I have spent on production.
My time in the microstock business has gone through different periods. For one, I was fired, and for almost an entire year I didn't work. In that moment, microstock was a full-time job for me.
The rest of the time, it has been a second income:
- First, in my spare time as an employee.
- Then (and now), in my spare time as a digital entrepreneur.
How to check your earnings on Shutterstock
If you are also a producer trying to sell:
- stock images
- stock footage
on Shutterstock, in order to check your earnings you must go to https://submit.shutterstock.com/dashboard and click on:
- Earnings/ Earnings summary
On Show statistics for:
click the month you are interested in. (In the screenshot above, it was the month in which I published this guide for the first time, February 2018. Since then, it has remained unchanged).
There are important data in this screenshot:
The first one tells you the number of your files which have been purchased by buyers. In my case, at that time, it was:
The second was the total earnings that I had collected, which were thousands of dollars less than they are now:
- $ 34,464.27
Considering that contributors are given 30% of the sale price, in my case, that means that my content was sold for more than $100,000.
The other two important pieces of data tell you if those who bought your stock images and stock footage did so as single purchases:
- Cart sales (in my case, $12,525.37 total and $104.04 in February 2018)
or by subscription:
- Clip packs (in my case $21,554.00 total and $339.57 in February 2018)
Figures that most contributors can't dream of, but it's hard for me to explain in a single post how I did it. That's why I created a course (learn more about my course).
Let's say that the two most important things to do to make more money with microstock are:
- Studying the market
- Optimizing work procedures
Those things are far more important than looking for the technical perfection of photos and videos.
At what price does Shutterstock sell photos and videos?
- prices higher than most other agencies (up to $349 for 4k videos)
- packages/subscriptions more expensive than those of low-cost websites like Storyblocks
- different pricing according to the purchase of standard or extended licenses (for videos, extended licenses are compulsory for content used in movies, TV and on-demand services, such as Netflix)
- 150 thousand new photos and 11 thousand new videos uploaded every day
Shutterstock producers get 30% of the sale price. If you publish footage, it will be easy for you to find a lot of $23.70 in the Cart Sales column (30% of the $79 that Full HD videos cost).
You will also find different figures in the Clip Pack column, since the packages sold to those who buy subscriptions have different prices according to the quantity of content included in the subscription they buy.
How much extended licenses pay
By clicking on a specific day in the first column of the Earning Summary table, you can access the sales details for that day.
This is an interesting case study:
It is the dream of all contributors who have a single sale make:
and it's also the reason why I keep asking myself:
why photographers do not start publishing stock footage, while most of their stock image sales make less than a dollar.
Extended licenses on stock images allow buyers to use exactly the same content sold with standard licenses in “big projects”. Shutterstock does not report exactly what a constitutes “big project” for them, and you must contact them to learn more.
Tax at source
If you don't live in the USA, I'm sure you already know about tax at source, and you probably also know of W-8BEN forms. As I live in Italy and pay taxes here, Shutterstock takes 8% of the earnings I make on videos that I sell to buyers registered in the USA (about 35% of the total sales of Shutterstock), and 0% on stock images.
I pay taxes in Italy on the money that remains.
Tax at source are a complicated topic. For example, another agency, Pond5 holds no earnings from us producers, even though Pond5 is an American company. The globalized world can sometimes be very strange.
Teaching others how to sell photos and videos online
The success of my website was built on the idea of giving a solution to all those microstock producers who try to sell their photos online but end up taking home small change.
This problem is due to a faulty attitude. Of those who create images, as a good artist focuses on the technical quality of the content they produce, whereas a good entrepreneur focuses on what it takes to sell their content (production procedures, keywording, finding good subjects, etc.).
Before producing, a contributor who wants to make money must always:
- understand what the market wants
- produce with a strategy to create more in less time
- work on search engine optimization
Terms like “market” and “strategy” scare most photographers and video makers. As the secret to success in any business is to beat the competition, focusing on those aspects is the easiest way to make money.
What you need to know to make more money
Most of those who try to sell photos and videos on microstocks think that their sales will increase:
- at the release of the next Canon or Nikon lens
- upon the launch of a new agency that will change the market (which actually doesn’t even last a year)
No one is born as a microstock producer, and even professional photographers waste their time trying to create:
- • stock images
- • stock footage
that they won't be able to sell.
The problem is that offline photography is a completely different business to microstock, and if you are one of those who makes (made) money with the former, adapting to make money with the latter is difficult. So, you'd better hire someone to explain what to do.
I teach this on each of the pages of my book, as I spent more than 10 years maximizing my earnings.
The beginners of photography (unfortunately) earn more than the experts
On the ignorance of my competitors, I based my fortunes.
Exploiting what others do not want to study to create a production process suited to what buyers are looking for makes the difference between:
- a producer who earns real money
- a producer who tries to sell, then fails and complains about it on Facebook groups.
As the document I analyze below proves, there are now hundreds of thousands of the latter, and they grow like mushrooms after a downpour.
Photographers who are used to working with old methods do not sell on microstocks.
To make money with stock images and stock footage, you don't have to know the right people (as happens in the entertainment world, which is based on public relations). You just have to learn tools to help you understand what content should to be produced.
My next statement will make old-school photographers angry:
An 18-year old man who attended a 10-lesson photography course, from a technical point of view, has everything he needs to create microstock.
I hate this, too, but it is the reality, and starting a revolution to change it is useless.
One billion pieces of content sold
On January 31, 2018, Shutterstock announced that it had sold its billionth piece of content, at a time when it had online:
- 210 million stock images
- 9 million stock footage clips.
There are two important facts to be taken from this information. The first one gives hope – the quantity of content sold – because it shows that the microstock business is growing and in full health, even if unsuccessful producers who improvise their production spend their days on forums complaining that:
- times are not what they used to be
- agencies and customers do not understand anything.
But there is also a scary fact.
To understand today's competition, we must think about those 210 million images and 9 million videos shown in that old press release.
Further, every day:
- 150 thousand new stock images
- 11 thousand new videos
are published, with a growth never seen in the history of microstock.
If you don't hurry up, soon it will become almost impossible to sell new content.
The (hidden) document you must read
The second document that I want to talk about is kept hidden from us producers; it is released only to investors.
Shutterstock is a multinational company listed on the New York Stock Exchange with revenues of hundreds of millions of dollars. So, releasing this kind of data is mandatory, while finding them is part of the job of serious bloggers (like I hope I am).
The first important fact that you can find in the document, I would bet, you don't know. So, if you are not satisfied with what you earn, it means that you can improve a lot.
Where the buyers who use Shutterstock live
This is very important. Try to think. If you decide that your subject is food:
We all know the difference between what people eat in Europe, in America and in Asia.
If you want to make money, you should at least know whether your potential customers – even though the world has globalized the culinary industry – are more likely to buy:
- peanut butter
- spring rolls
In 2017, Shutterstock customers (listed by the revenue they generated) were from:
- • North America ($218.9 million)
- • Europe ($181.7 million)
- • Rest of the World ($156.6 million)
Among these, United States represented 35% of the total and the United Kingdom 10%.
Such data must be cross referenced with those given by dropstock.io, which is currently the most useful tool for understanding the best subjects to shoot.
Knowing all of this can make the difference between:
- earning 20 dollars a month
- bringing home, at least, a second income that can improve your life.
Different television systems used around the world
If you are just a photographer and you don't want to create stock footage (which is what can turn your profits around), you may not know that North America and Europe have two different television systems and, if you produce stock footage in order to sell it on microstocks, you must decide before you start recording whether to do it for:
- the US and Canadian television system (NTSC)
- the television system adopted by most European countries (PAL)
A table like the one above will help you to decide, along with considering the type of subjects you want to shoot, as I explain on my course (learn more about my course).
In general, such choices must be based on data and must never be made in ignorance, because in the modern world you can find those data easily and it is crucial to understand them if you want to make more money.
Times have changed for photographers
If you are:
- a photographer with the desert inside your shop
- a professional who, 10 years ago, earned 2,000 euros shooting a wedding ceremony, but you're considered expensive today if you want 200 euros for the same service
doing nothing and complaining won't change your life for the better. Don't look like those people who spend their days on Facebook saying that the world is sad and unfair.
You cannot sell content without agencies
Another important fact should make all those who complain about leaving 70% of their earnings to Shutterstock change their minds. The assumption is that it is robbery to have to leave more than half of the earnings from their content to those bad guys at Shutterstock.
So, those producers sometimes think they can sell their content directly. And... guess what: they are wrong!.
Shutterstock collected $557 million in 2017 and spent $146 million on marketing.
In my book, I mention the cost on Google Adwords of the keywords related to microstock to explain to those photographers that it is impossible for them to sell images and footage without using microstock agencies.
It is, actually, easy to create a website to sell your images and footage – you just have to spend a tens of euros for a WordPress template, 100 euros a year for the hosting and 200 euros a year for a service like Easy Digital Download to manage yours sales.
The problem is the high cost of finding customers interested in buying directly from you, because no one will arrive on your website if you don't pay Google to direct people to your page, and this is now very expensive when selling stock images and stock footage.
Those 146 million dollars spent in a year by Shutterstock are proof of this.
How much Shutterstock pays its photographers and video-makers
The latest available data released by Shutterstock on how much it has paid to its contributors
is from 31 December 2016:
- $115 million paid out over the course of the year
That figure brings the total amount to 500 million and shows consistent growth since 2004, when they paid out only 3,900 dollars.
Of that $115 million:
- • $81 million was paid to European producers
- • $12 million was paid to Americans (both North and South America)
as certified by this document:
More than $1 billion paid out
On December 10, 2019, a press release from Shutterstock (which you can read on this page) celebrated the first billion dollars paid to its contributors.
Actually, that figure includes payments released by all Shutterstock's family projects, such as:
- Bigstock (a low-cost, subscription-based stock image and stock footage agency)
- PremiumBeat (a music library)
Nonetheless, it's a milestone in the microstock business.
The quarter of the year with the most sales
Another question that the do-it-yourself producers do not ask themselves, because they consider it unimportant, is:
In which quarter of the year do you sell the most?
The answer is unexpected. It is not the fourth quarter as one might expect, given that Christmas has become a very consumerist celebration and our images and videos support consumerism.
The answer is:
the next quarter
because profits are constantly expanding, as shown on the table above, which was created using data released by Shutterstock.
In the first quarter of 2017, there were larger profits than in the last quarter of 2016. The differences are due not only to the season, but also to the continuous growth of the agency (and the producers). Please, tell this to those who say that microstock is dead.
The data that should make you think about
I end this analysis by returning to a worrying question:
How many producers (photographers and video makers) sell content on Shutterstock?
As of December 31, 2017, there were 350 thousand.
I said worrying because, in 2014, when Shutterstock had been around for 10 years, there were only 60 thousand; in just 3 years, contributors who shared the cake of that $115 million a year quintupled.
If we all had:
- • the same skills
- • the same creativity
- • the same desire to learn
then I would stop selling my course and teaching photographers and video makers how to make money with microstock.
On the contrary, on this page I have just given you information that sounds like a treasure map in a business where 99% your competitors don't care about data.
If you want to seriously try to make money with microstock, however, there is one thing that is scarce, and with which I cannot help you:
- the amount of time you have to start working professionally.
So, hurry up and start studying or there will be nothing left for you.
How much you can make with Shutterstock?
I made $42,000!
And thousands of photographers and video makers sell their stock images and stock footage on Shutterstock, earning millions of dollars a year. Find out how with the video below!