How to sell 40 thousand photos per month: interview with Aaron Amat

There's a mantra of photographers and video makers who start to produce stock images and stock footage and don't get good results:

Microstock is dead

If you have the awful idea of spending your precious time on reading forums or Facebook groups about this business everyone is complaining about an agency that rejected their beautiful photos or that single sales royalties are always less.

We live in a world where people's problems are always someone else's fault. If you talk with one of those people who spend their days writing posts on Shutterstock's forums, and ask them questions like:

How do you find the most profitable subjects to shoot? What do you use to find the best keywords for your stock images and stock footage? How do you organise your production?

They don't have answers, simply because their strategy is improvising and complaining.

They actually don't care about sales. They just can't wait to feel relieved by sharing their awful results with other awful contributors and say, once again:

Microstock is dead

They think their portfolio on agencies must be like their social media photo collection. They think they have to produce the same kind of images they should offer to an art gallery trying to have the exhibition that they won't ever have.

Why Aaron Amat is the guy who can teach you something

Aaron Amat is none of that.

His growing portfolio has more than a million stock images. He managed to sell a thousand photos in a day only on Shutterstock and he's always looking for new business opportunities, like launching his own microstock agency, krakenimages.com.

Let me tell you:

If you want to make money with this business you will need to have good teachers who get tangible results.

Those teachers don't waste their days on forums complaining about the good old days of microstock. They spend their time producing and trying to find the most efficient workflows to earn more money.

In the interview below Aaron Amat shares some of his secrets.

Who am I (the guy who made the questions)?

My name is Daniele Carrer and I have been selling my images and footage online since 2006.

A few years ago I opened this site, along with my course and book, I help photographers and video makers to make money with their content.

Who's the guy who answered?

Aaron Amat is one of the greatest stock images producer in the world.

He focuses his production on lifestyle content and sells 40 thousand stock images per month on agencies like Shutterstock and Adobe Stock, and he recently launched his own microstock, krakenimages.com.

How did you start your career in the microstock business?

I started at the end of 2008. I had bought a DSLR camera a few months before, a Pentax K10.

When I discovered stock photography, I was not a photographer and had no idea about photography. I was learning step by step. Fotolia was the first agency I discovered: later on I found out about Shutterstock.

It was a different time. I think there is a myth created around the early years of stock photography. I didn't experience any of that. When I started, it was already very hard to grow. In fact, I spent many months earning from $200 to $300 a month, working many hours a day. But at that time my images were not good: I was learning and for me any money I was given was well received.

A collection of 1.5 million stock images

How big is your collection now?

We currently have about 1.5 million stock images in our gallery which makes us (if I'm not mistaken) the stock studio with the most images in the world.

We are currently producing about 60,000 images per month and we are selling about 40,000 licenses of our images every month.

I recently published a message on the Shutterstock forum about a milestone I got: 1,000 images sold on Shutterstock in a single day.

How has your production changed beween today and when you began?

Our production has changed radically since I started.

Once it was heroic to produce 10,000 images. Today we are a perfectly organised team. We can produce more and better every day.

Right now we are building a new studio that will be much bigger and we will be able to produce many more images. It will be a 6-storey building entirely dedicated to producing stock images. We are still far from finishing it, but I am sure that in a couple of years we will be working from there.

I have always refused to make any commissions, we prefer to concentrate on growing our stock gallery.

In what agencies do you sell your stock images?

We work with:

We only work with the main agencies and those that give us the best results.

Shutterstock royalty structure change

It sounds like all the world is complaining about the new Shutterstock royalty structure. I'm quite sure you're one of the few contributors who now gets more than the 30% they had before the change.

Do you think Shutterstock made a good choice by giving more royalties to more professional contributors like you, and less to others?

The truth is that we have not been benefited by the change. I think it is still too early to know for sure, but our profit per sale dropped by about 8%. It's not a huge drop, but the point is that we were supposed to benefit from the Level 6 contributors. But that hasn't been the case.

It's been a drop for everyone, including the big guys. We sell more images than ever, but we earn a little less per sale. You also have to take into account that maybe they're spending all that money they're saving with the contributors for marketing and that's going to make us have more sales, but it's hard to tell.

You also sell on Adobe Stock, which is one of the few agencies that still sell stock images at a fair price.

Did you notice any change in sales on it after Shutterstock started selling low cost subscription?

We haven't noticed any changes: our sales at Adobe have continued to rise normally, nothing unusual.

The best workflow to shoot models

You focus on lifestyle content (I know one of your idols is Yuri Arcurs).

Let's say you hire a model: Do you have a standard workflow to shoot them or do you just improvise when you're in front of them?

We always have everything perfectly planned, but we also have a margin for improvisation.

Usually we are collecting ideas in shot lists. When we go to a location we try to do them all. Our goal is to create new content every day. We always try to do concepts that we have never done before.

The number of images per shot changes a lot, depending on the style. When we take pictures in real locations they can be about 200, while in studio we can reach 1,000. It is very easy for us to produce in the studio: we have lots of costumes, uniforms of different professions and hundreds of interesting props to cover all possible topics.

It is true that we produce many images with coloured backgrounds and we are aware that it is a type of image that sells much less. Many photographers are doing the same thing and the market is flooded with that kind of images.

Our goal is to reduce the percentage of such images and produce more real-life images. They sell more, they are more fun to make, but they also cost more money, because each session produces fewer photos and you often have to pay several models.

The importance of a good keywording to sell more

By teaching photographers to become microstock contributors I noticed that most of them just focus on the production, and think that description of their images is not important. In my opinion, this is one of the most common reasons why great photographers don't always become good contributors.

How do you handle the keywording of your photos?

Without a doubt, it is very important that your images have good descriptions and keywords. At Kraken we work hard on that.

Our special concern in this matter is to be able to focus on a multitude of niches, very small ones. This means that we can produce a lot of images without them competing against each other. When you see our collection it's easy to think that there are many images that have the same style, but if you investigate a little more you realise that each photo has different keywords, and therefore they are focused on completely different customers.

Maximizing that diversity of keywords is our goal right now. For keywording we use a tool like mykeyworder.com and for tracking sales stockperformer.com.

Launching your own microstock agency

Why did you decide to launch Krakenimages?

We must be very aware that we have lived through:

  • difficult
  • extremely challenging

times in the world of stock photography.

For us it is risky to depend on agencies. The market changes quickly, and we must be able to change at any time.

Having our own website gives us:

  • independence
  • flexibility.

It is difficult to foresee the future of the industry. You don't know if:

  • the current system is going to collapse
  • the agencies are going to cut back on contributors
  • microstocks are going to make changes in the search algorithms that affect
  • companies are going to close down.

By having our own website we gain security.

Having your own website is highly recommended, but at the same time it is very complicated to get your own clients. You must have a catalog that is:

  • attractive
  • varied
  • large

to be truly useful, but if your clients are looking for a type of content that you don't have, they will go to your competitors to find it.

The microstock business started 20 years ago.

Since then many agencies have closed and companies created in the bedroom of their creators have become a billion dollar business, but there are still some geeks who write me emails saying that they have had the greatest idea ever so I'm crazy if I'm not going to upload my stock footage on its own new agency.

Do you think is still possible for new microstocks to arrive on the market and sell?

Yes, I'm sure that new companies will emerge to replace the current ones. This has always been the way it has been.

The question is whether these new companies are really revolutionising the system or simply copying the big ones. Sooner or later some disruptive technology or a new business model will emerge. They will make the current one obsolete. The question is not whether that will happen, but when it will happen.

We've had a lot of offers from new agencies. But we are very selective about who to collaborate with. Selling content on an agency is very expensive for us, considering our production volume. We have abandoned:

The upload processes were very slow and sales were not that good. We chose the agencies that work best for us.

Regarding the boycotts, I think we boycott every day by choosing which agencies to upload more content to and which to upload less. If we see that an agency doesn't provide us with enough income we remove it from our list or reduce the number of images we upload to it.

Why shooting stock footage is not (yet) worth it

You produce stunning content with people. It costs a lot to create it: hiring models, preparing the lights, finding good ideas.

Why, after shooting images, don't you just take a minute and turn the camera into video mode and shoot also stock footage?

This is something we will certainly do in the future. But we must concentrate on the production of images.

Our production strategy has been greatly conditioned by the release of krakenimages.com. For us now it is very important that customers are able to find:

  • concepts
  • situations
  • type of models

or whatever on our website. If we decentralise producing:

  • videos
  • vectors
  • 3D stuff

it will be very easy to end up having little content of each type and therefore we stop being sot interesting for customers.

We will produce video when we are able to guarantee a good production of that type of content.

Producing in Europe in a business where the best companies are in Northern America

You're based in Alicante, which is a beautiful place to spend a holiday, and also, in my opinion, to live in.

Can it be a problem for a business like yours to be in Spain, and not in countries with a better online business tradition like USA or UK?

I believe that the Internet has completely revolutionized all industries. Before, it was very important to be located in some important city in order to do business. Today you can work from anywhere in the world without problems.

Of course being in New York can open some doors for you: I imagine that it will be easier to make contacts and that kind of thing. It is also true that in an area like ours it seems not to be the best option to find a good number of models, but at the moment we have all the models we need as our area is very touristic and visited by people from all over the world.

Without a doubt, globalisation has helped to decentralise businesses. The United States has a strong entrepreneurial culture; it is no coincidence that many of the world's greatest companies (not only microstocks) come from there. Yet Fotolia and Depositphotos were created in Europe. Not bad at all.

At the moment we don't think about changing our location: we are still too small to think about it.

It is very difficult to predict how the industry will evolve. Websites that offer free images have a lot of problems getting content. It won't be easy for them to get many photographers to upload their content if they don't get anything in return. So I don't think these sites can be a serious threat in the short term, unless they change their business model to a freemium or something similar.

There are emerging technologies out there that can revolutionise the industry. Artificial intelligence is going to represent a huge change. At the moment technology can only create from scratch images of people looking at the camera on sites like thispersondoesnotexist.com.

But... what will become of us when it is able to recreate more complex scenes?

No one knows...

Questions by Daniele Carrer, answers by Aaron Amat. This interview was conducted on November 2020.