Arguably, Shutterstock has been one of online places that made stock imagery… many customers would call it “affordable”, many photographers “devalued”. Well, here is my take based on my experiences.
What is the royalty paid for a stock license at Shutterstock?
Shutterstock started out as a subscription service: Clients would pay for monthly or annual access to the whole library of images available and could download a certain amount of images each day while the subscription is running. The standard offer consists of 25 images per day, each of them in the largest size available. The price is in the range of $200-250 per month, depending on the duration. So the “perceived price” per image is at about 30 cents!
Well, based on the earnings schedule you can already make a qualified guess that hardly any client is actually using the whole amount of downloads available – otherwise Shutterstock would be bankrupt already paying out more money than it earns. Based on the publicly available numbers and some guess work, the assumption is that Shutterstock actually pays out in the range of 25-30% of their revenue.
Standard Subsricption Sales vs Image Pack, Enhanced Licenses etc.
Beyond the standard subscription sales, Shutterstock has added offers for Image Packs (“On Demand” or “Single Downloads”), consisting of a fixed number of images downloadable over the course of a year. Also, there are additional license models available, granting additional rights to the clients for an additional payment. These are called “Enhanced Downloads”, some special agreements are called “Other Downloads” in my statistics.
Currently, I am on the second level of the earnings schedule ($500 – $3000 lifetime earnings). I am receiving $0.33 for subscription downloads, the Image Pack downloads return either $1.07 or $2.48 each. “Single & Other Downloads” have a wide range of potential earnings, reaching from $0.64 as the smallest payment I received up to $80 (at higher rates it can reach $120).
So far I have had 2 Enhanced Downloads for $28 each, 5 Single & Other Downloads for $107 in total. I also had 123 On Demand downloads so far (by the way, I had to count those manually as I didn’t find a simple way to find this number), those paid a total of $209 so far.
To put this in perspective: I had a total number of 1,590 downloads since January, so subscription downloads are still making 90 per cent of all image downloads. However, I made a total of $372 from non-subscription downloads, compared to $401of subscription royalties. In other words, almost half of my income at Shutterstock is coming from non-subscription users these days.
Additional thoughts on usage of subscription downloads
Part of my considerations about the subscription model is also that most likely a number of images downloaded through subscriptions will never actually make it into use. There are probably very few clients who actually can make use of 25 images each day. Sure, they certainly won’t use up their limits most of the time.
But I also believe that subscription downloads are often used for comping purposes – people trying an image in a design but exchanging it at a later stage, or to present several designs to a client to choose from, so only one of them actually gets used in the final design. Other images might get used to build up a “personal stock library” on the hard disk – even though the license does not allow that, I assume especially small designers will make use of their daily allowance more regularly but only a few of them actually will get used at a later stage. Also, there are clients putting together “mood boards” of photos for projects that they will ask a contract photographer to shoot.
At other agencies – the higher the price, the less likely “unused” downloads are going to happen – I will only receive a royalty payment for images that actually get used in a design while at subscription offers I am more likely to get paid without the image ever getting used. That’s why I don’t feel as bad about the low payouts I am getting. Mixed in with the unexpected number of higher royalties I am receiving, I feel Shutterstock is making a fair payment compared to many other sites out there.