A slow summer, with meagre earnings. I’m now contributing to a number of microstock/midstock/macrostock sites more or less actively. I write this to provide realistic numbers for prospective microstock contributors. I’m always amazed at the number of people who think they can upload their snapshots and make a living from it. Unless you make a real effort to take the kind of pictures that sell really well, and this means taking glossy studio portraits or lifestyle photos, you’re lucky if you make enough to help buy some new equipment now and then. I never take pictures like that; I’m mostly interested in nature photography, a category that always ends up first in we-do-not-need-these lists. I like to think that this is the reason for my low earnings. Anyway, here’s my breakdown of each site:
iStockphoto: This is where I started uploading first, and it is still my preferred site. The review process is lengthy (more than a week), but “clean”. You get told exactly what’s wrong and may or may not be offered the chance to resubmit. I now have 142 files online at iStock and my long-term earnings amount to $152 (from 121 downloads) since January, 2008. My approval ratio is 61 %. In August, 18 new files were accepted and I made $12 (from 13 downloads). If you’re a beginner, this is where to start. You upload three photos, and all of them have to be approved before you’re allowed to upload more.
Dreamstime: Another good site with a long queue for new submissions (also more than a week). They are not very picky here, so it might be a good place to get started in the microstock “business”. My approval ratio is 88 %, but this is mostly with material that had already been approved at iStock. Since April, my total earnings are $38 (from , and I have 133 images online. In August, I uploaded 18 new files, all of which were accepted. The earnings for that month were $9 (from 10 downloads). The average return per image is has been increasing lately with their new price structure.
SnapVillage: This site is owned by Corbis, and this make it their lack of efforts all the less understandable. They don’t even have FTP bulk upload, and their front page practically never changes. As a designer/client, I would be suspicious of this laziness. As a photographer, I’m worried on their behalf. I have 27 images there just to give it a try. No sales, but a reasonable amount of views for some pictures. The positive thing about this site is that, despite the lack of FTP upload, uploading and keywording is quick. You’re also allowed to set your own price for each image.
Fotolia: Out of 27 uploads, Fotolia have only approved 5. I’ve read about this phenomenon elsewhere on the web as well. It is obvious that they have too many images online, but they have chosen the worst way to deal with that. They leave old, outdated, bad, probably non-selling material from their startup days online and reject new contributions. This is sure to provoke anger amongst contributors (it does, read other forums and blogs), and that is surely not a good thing if you’re hoping to stay competitive. I have no sales here yet, but will probably keep uploading for a little while.
123rf: Here I’ve just uploaded the required 10 images to get started. They were all approved, but I was never notified. No “Congratulations and thanks for choosing to upload at 123rf.com” e-mail to further inflate the contributors’ already bloated egos. That’s fine, but I’m a bit alarmed at the lack of stats on their pages. I haven’t found a way to check how many times each image has been viewed, for instance. [Updated: The stats pages are there, see comment below.] We’ll see how this one fares.
PantherMedia: This is a German, fairly professional-looking site with slightly higher prices than typical microstock companies. The approval process is rather confusing, but I have now uploaded 29 images, of which 20 were approved. The number of views is very low, and I’m not very optimistic about the future.
PhotoShelter Collection: This is a new site that has generated a fair amount of buzz. All this ado aside, though, the only thing that sets this site apart from microstock sites is the shockingly high prices. A sale trickles in now and then, but this is not the place to get started as a contributor. Reading the forums, I see people shouting hallelujah every time they get a view, although that view probably originated from a fellow photographer clicking on your name in the forum. I have 36 images online, 41 views, 89 portfolio views and 2 Comp downloads (probably the only of these that matters). The uploading process is lengthy and the review queue takes forever. I’ve stopped uploading here, but will keep my stuff online in the very unlikely event that an image should be sold.
Shutterstock: This is where many new microstockers get started. However, after a while I found their payout of $0.25 per download almost insulting and removed all my images. SS was my best earner; I made around $100 on just 100 images in a few months. If you can live with their royalty scheme, this is a very professional site.