Selling on Shutterstock: everything you need to know
Shutterstock prices range from:
- $79 to $199 for videos (depending on video resolution and client’s subscription)
- $1 to $10 for photos (depending on photo resolution and client’s subscription)
Today, making money isn’t as easy for producers as it was in the early days of this business. But it's still possible if you work in the right way.
In 2009, I shot a video of the Champs-Elysées from Place de la Concord, Paris. I used an awful camera, but for a 10 second video I've earned $1,500 on Pond5 alone.
As a low-cost traveler, I paid my travel expenses (flight and hotel) with a few seconds of video, and I still had the money to pay for many other excursions. Today, things are different (at least, if you produce travel-related content) because of strong competition.
If you change your subjects, or at least put friends in front of your lens with famous landmarks in the background while they:
- check their smartphone
- look at a tablet
- hold a map
the figures I showed you are still reachable.
Domenico Fornas, one of the students on my course, earned almost €2,000 filming his arm (read his story).
These are his Shutterstock bestsellers:
Regarding which subjects will make more money and the tools to help you understand what they are, it’s harder to explain in a single page because it involves a complex strategy which you can only start to learn after multiple lessons.
Strategies to sell more
Indexing is one of the most important factors for making money with stock images and stock footage. It’s also one of the most underestimated elements by photographers and video makers.
Due to this weak point in your competitors’ arsenals, you must consider indexing as a crucial aspect if you want to earn more.
Let’s try to make it simple:
- A potential client writes a keyword in Shutterstock’s search box (let’s say: New York)
- Thousands of stock images appear.
For a contributor who wants to sell, their earnings depend on where their content appears; the more their content is on the top, the more money they make, because no buyer will ever have the time and energy to view all the pictures of New York that Shutterstock collects.
Search engines are fundamental to online business. (And on this site, microstock is a business, even if it’s just a hobby for many people).
If someone sells you a magic trick to cheat the algorithm, beware, because their honesty level is the same as the people who sell books with titles like “How to Become a Billionaire in a Couple of Days”.
Talking about Shutterstock, the best strategy to increase your earnings is to upload content that the market looks for, with good technical quality. If your images and footage will sell, Shutterstock will raise the ranking of your whole portfolio.
There are many theories of how to reach the top of the lists shown to potential buyers, based partly on speculation and partly on Shutterstock’s own declarations. In the first category (speculations) is the idea that the amount of unsold content in one’s portfolio will lower the indexing of the contributor’s whole collection.
Thus, some people ask:
If after some years my content remains unsold, should I delete it?
I admit that I’ve done so in the past for that reason. Those videos were from my earlier period as a contributor, and they were:
- obsolete (I started uploading stock footage in 2007, when standard definition was used, and it had 4/3 aspect ratio. Nowadays, there’s 4K resolution and 16/9 aspect ratio.)
In the past, I wasted a lot of time cleaning up my collection, and it didn’t actually achieve visible results in terms of indexing for the rest of my portfolio. So, I never did it again.
As in all businesses, with microstocks you must always consider costs and profits, not only in relation to money, but also the time you spend.
On Shutterstock, we, as producers, earn 30% of what the buyers pay. Shutterstock sells stock footage at:
- $79 for Full HD resolution
- $199 for 4K resolution
while photos are sold only with packages, at variable prices that range from $2 to $10 for each picture. There are, however, some exceptions.
Thanks to the extended licenses contracts that Shutterstock and all the other microstocks sell when a client uses stock images and stock footage in projects bigger than strictly personal ones, sometimes us photographers and video makers receive sales that earn us more than $100 each, which is definitely not that bad.
What you see below is a summary of my monthly sales.
Focusing on stock footage, the average royalties I get paid range from $10 to $20. You’ll notice, though, that in the last line that figure increases to about $30 (61.47/2=30.735). This was due to the sale of a couple of extended licenses.
Here’s another example:
The screenshot above should give new life to your hopes as a rookie producer (or a $20/month producer) because $90 for time-lapses of:
- the Coliseum in Rome,
- the leaning tower of Pisa
are a great income, and it's footage that anybody can produce.
What gives hope is not just the single sales of those specific videos, but that I had already sold them in the past on Shutterstock and other agencies, making the total earnings for them hundreds of dollars. Remember this the next time you visit Italy and its beautiful cities.
Useless but expensive strategies
My podcast is always an inspiration, helping me to understand who the photographers and video makers are that discover microstocks thanks to me. If they start to sell before they study the market – maybe because they believe they’ve found the magic formula to earn money with no effort required – they’ve got a big problem. And I try to solve their problems with my explanations.
One of the many strange questions I’ve been asked is:
I noticed that, on Shutterstock, a monthly subscription that allows you to download 750 photos costs €199. But, for every photo I sell, I earn €0.2821.
So, if my girlfriend subscribes and downloads 750 photos, would I earn more than what she pays? How can it be that Shutterstock loses money?
Shutterstock makes hundreds of millions of dollars per year and has paid a billion to its contributors.
It’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange. So, it's impossible for them to make these kind of mistakes, because if they did, they’d already be bankrupt.
The photographer who asked that question made one evaluation error in his premise: Shutterstock doesn’t always pay €0.2821 per photo.
Today, I only create stock footage. With the sale of the same video to two different buyers, I can earn $23.70 or $5 depending on whether the person who bought it has:
- paid for the video at full price
- chosen a subscription
The price depends also on the resolution of the stock footage I sold.
So, if a client who bought a €199 photo package chose to download a photo, the photographer that owns that stock image earns proportionately.
If I was a newbie, I wouldn’t waste time and energy studying an algorithm to cheat the agencies. They’ll always win anyway, since they pay trained people a lot to counter these tricks.
Given they still exist, these tricks clearly only work once before they’re spotted and blocked.
The best advice I can give to help you truly earn is to study the market. And to add stock footage to your collection, even if you're a photographer and you only want to produce stock images; videos increase your earnings 10 times over.
From being a photographer to a video maker, increasing earnings 10 times over
The crucial step a photographer has to take to earn more on Shutterstock is to start uploading videos.
Today, this is easier than it might seem, as:
- all reflex and mirrorless cameras also record video
- the dynamic of the subjects usually portrayed in stock footage is limited
- video editing isn’t all that complicated for stock footage
So, for someone who used to take photos, starting to create videos isn’t that difficult and can represent a turning point in terms of earnings. (If I hadn’t done so myself, I wouldn’t even have a tenth of that $40k I mentioned).
By starting to create stock footage, you can earn more, mainly for two reasons:
- There’s less competition.
- Selling prices are 10 to 20 times higher than photos.
Then, there are strategies you’ve got to follow to succeed. The first one is to always find the subjects that buyers want, with tools like keyword.io or agencies’ search engines.
It’s useless trying to explain it in a few paragraphs, since I do so much more thoroughly on my course.