Michael Jay Fotograf Berlin

Selling photos across agencies

Making more money from Shutterstock than iStock

Growing income on Shutterstock

Growing income on Shutterstock

September marks a new personal milestone in my overall earnings levels since I went non-exclusive from iStockphoto at the end of 2012: Especially Shutterstock and Stocksy United have returned new record numbers this month.

Not saying too much about Stocksy this time… only two things: It’s beyond some random downloads a month now. And there is continuous growth. And I have less than 10% in portfolio size compared to what I distribute through microstock channels. And for the whole of 2014 so far, Stocksy is already my number 3 earner, ahead of all the Dreamstimes and Depositphotos. Okay, that was four things. But that will do for now.

Shutterstock sales continues to rise

My most important sales platform these days is Shutterstock. Check out my portfolio on Shutterstock if you want to have a look. It’s nothing unique or special, it’s a lot of useful images for different purposes but definitely not something anyone else couldn’t do.

Still, even in this market of 2014, my images are doing pretty well. Factually (and a bit to my surprise, had you asked me two years ago), right now I am making more money from my images on Shutterstock alone than I did two years ago from my iStock portfolio as an exclusive. That is somewhat surprising, given the fact that my images were sold at higher prices, less subscription sales and higher royalty percentages when I was exclusive at iStock.

And if I compare my portfolio sizes: Yes, I produced a lot of new images since I went non-exclusive from iStock. However, the amount of images on Shutterstock is not much higher than it was at iStock before I left exclusivity. I “replaced” a few old images that are still on iStock but didn’t warrant re-processing and -keywording to be uploaded to new agencies. Also, a few hundred iStock images will always be locked in because I shot them at iStockalypses. So effectly, I have about 10% more images online with Shutterstock today than I had on iStock two years ago.

Another rumor going around is that sales on Shutterstock fall quickly when someone stops uploading. As you can see from the grey bars on the bottom of the chart above, you will find out that I did not upload that many new images to Shutterstock in about six months now since I focused my efforts outside of the microstock world. Still my sales are on the highest level since I joined them. Okay, I did not try “stopping” completely but having added less than 100 new images (and a few videos) in six months is not much in the microstock world, is it?

Reliability of earnings is lower on Shutterstock

However, there is one thing to say: The royalties on iStock were quite depending on search results. Whenever they decided to tweak the Best Match, your sales could go up or down. Beyond that, the sales were rather consistent, at least for me. I had a whole year with maybe 15-20% deviation from month to month, even during the summer slowdowns. On Shutterstock, the monthly sum is pretty dependent on the big sales – actually, July was already (far) better in sales than the same month two years ago was on iStock. But June and August were about a third lower. Now September is more than 40% higher than August. These deviations are mainly coming through the large special image sales they are making. A single one can come in for $60-80 and change the whole month at once. Luckily I get a few medium paying sales every month now and the big ones are happening every second month at least.

But in the end, the average is what counts. And I am quite optimistic, with some new images to come online in the near future, my earnings will reach new record levels again and again on Shutterstock. Plus add all the other agencies that I can offer the same images to. Plus the exclusive images I have on the higher priced sites. Enough reasons to stay positive.


  1. Congratulations! With all the hard work you deserve it! 🙂

  2. The more sales volume you get, the less you will depend on those single “big” sales at Shutterstock. It will all level out…

  3. Thanks for sharing, it’s quite an inspiration for current iStock exclusives.

  4. SS might be the micro leader but somewhere they lost it, the IPO killed it off for many. Suits moved in, old good staff left or got the boot and left are a bunch of nobodys.
    I am still earning great with them but sadly its turned into just another subs site. IS and FT beat them by files, at least for RPD and a steady flow.

    • I disagree with the IS comparison. Once you figure in the PP downloads their RPD is lower than SS, at least for me.

      I don’t know how SS once was but for me it was THE subs site that started it all. In a way, they are to blame most for pricing decline. IS at least tried to raise and differentiate prices with Vetta etc.

      But in the end it is what it is. And we just have to deal with it.

  5. Quite right Mike! they are THE subs-site. They have managed to attract some important players with the On-demand and single-sales but nowadays they are far and few in between. In fact some important members are leaving, friend of mine , smaller factory with some 45K files is bailing out and putting them all into macro-RF. Their search is also geared and favoring the lower royalty community, saving them millions in monthly payouts. Not very ethical!

    I hope, IS take off with this new model and pricing, really do. At least its as close to a trad-agency a micro can be.
    FT, at least for me is producing a great RPD and the strangest thing ever is, after the intro of their DPC, people were moaning and growning, this, that and its turned out brilliant for many of us.

    There is also a huge RM and macro-RF upswing, many are going back to the trad-way of shooting and selling.
    As you say, either they don’t want or can’t deal with it.