Shutterstock has for a long time been the king of the microstock industry, continuing to be the biggest earner for the majority of image and footage contributors. Yet the time when Shutterstock may still be considered as the only reliable income provider for contributors is long gone.
In this article we will look at three alternative agencies that can provide complimentary income to your existing Shutterstock portfolio. By all means continue to upload to Shutterstock as normal, but keep in mind that depending on your field of expertise, these agencies may even exceed the earnings generated at Shutterstock - so read on!
We’ll also include six examples of actual best-selling content for each of the agencies disclosed by two veteran travel-contributors with substantial portfolios in each agency. These examples should assist you in focusing on which specific types of content may be best-suited at the discussed agencies to help get you on your way to maximize the earnings from your portfolio.
Before we get started on the analysis, it’s important to note that every single major agency in the industry is feeling the pressure to go lower on prices.
The causes for the falling fees during the last few years are complex but mainly come down to an oversupply of content by contributors, combined with reduced demand from buyers. The situation has been recently exacerbated, particularly for travel content, as a result of the economic downturn caused by Covid-19 restrictions, although there are plenty of Covid-19 related opportunities if you follow the trends.
Another factor to consider is the growing impact of free-download photography agencies, such as Unsplash, combined with the willingness of mid-level and enterprise customers to use those free resources instead of the usual stock agencies to cut down on their budget expenses.
Let’s begin our analysis by looking in detail at an agency that is, in the eyes of many contributors, on the up and up, Adobe Stock.
Adobe acquired Fotolia Stock Agency in 2014 and created a unique offering by tightly integrating its Creative Cloud Software Suite with an extensive collection of 90+ million digital items consisting of high-quality, curated and royalty-free photos, footage, vectors, illustrations, templates, and 3D assets.
Besides having a good contributor pricing structure, Adobe Stock offers its contributors some unique features that cannot be found elsewhere, such as free Creative Cloud membership plans. Contributors don’t even need to apply as access will be given automatically when a specific download threshold is met - see specifics here.
As for Adobe products, depending on the amount of contributor downloads, you can obtain either the “Photography Plan”, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom, or the “All Apps Plan” that includes Premiere, After Effects, Illustrator and 100GB of cloud stock photo storage. Depending on the plan you qualify for, you can save between $120 to $600 per year, which may even be higher than you would earn with stock sales at many of the smaller agencies.
Besides free access to Creative Cloud Apps, all Adobe Stock Contributors are granted a free Adobe Portfolio website and are now able to share their Stock collections on Adobe Portfolio for purchase. This can become a contributing factor for your earnings since Google is making it easier to license images through web image search.
Adobe stock best sellers:
Second on the list is another viable agency that can produce consistent sales is iStock, which was acquired by Getty Images in 2006. iStock is a non-exclusive agency that accepts both commercial and editorial images.
The good news is that for most contributors, sales volumes are high with repeat downloads, as iStock has a strong international network of buyers, especially via their Getty distribution channels.
Best-selling images from iStock by the two veteran travel photographers mentioned earlier:
Our third selected agency is Alamy, technically not a microstock agency since they shun the current subscription packages offered by the traditional microstock agencies. In addition, unlike microstock agencies, Alamy provides the option to license images as Rights Managed, both exclusively and non-exclusively.
In February 2020, Alamy was acquired by Press Association, the Group behind some giants in the UK editorial sector with the likes of Daily Mail and Press UK, which should lead to a greater reach in sales for in-demand editorial content.
The process of uploading to Alamy is straightforward and compatible with most microstock submitters. The only difference is that Alamy requires contributors to provide “supertags”, which are keywords that are considered to be most relevant to your image and give a higher ranking in the search engines. See below how supertags show up on the Alamy Image Manager (under a blue star-shape):
Perhaps due to the relatively small size of the Alamy operations, they approach image reviewing differently than other agencies by only batch-reviewing. The way it works is, let’s say that you submit your batch and only one image does not pass Quality Control guidelines (for being out of focus and/or noisy, for instance), therefore the whole batch is rejected, which may seem unfair.
In addition, multiple rejections may even lead to temporary freeze on uploading content depending on the number of rejections. However, supposing you figure out what you’re doing wrong by studying the technical requirements, uploading should become easier with time, as Alamy assigns rankings to contributors. The higher the ranking the easier for you to pass QC control and the quicker batches are reviewed.
Alamy top sellers (as expected a heavy focus on editorial content “people, things and places”):
We’ve covered the “Top-Tier Big 4” of microstock agencies, but there are more smaller agencies competing in the same field which may offer some supplementary income for the same images, which combined may amount to something substantial.
These agencies include DepositPhotos, Dreamstime, Yay Images, Canva, EyeEm, 123RF, Envato, Canstock, PicFair, Sign Elements, Zoonar.
In particular, contributors may consider submitting to the following two agencies from the list above:
· DepositPhotos. One of the more successful of the smaller agencies, DepositPhotos have started providing a user-friendly way of uploading existing portfolios to their agency via a private FTP server. The rest of the work is done by DepositPhotos team, including image keywording and categorizing;
· Canva. If your area of expertise is design-oriented content, such as backgrounds, flat lay photos, Canva can produce a healthy income supplement.
Book cover photography has emerged as a highly profitable alternative to microstock photography with sales up to $1000 net per image licensed. For more information how to sell your stock photos as book covers please read this recent post.
The days when a single non-exclusive agency can provide stable, predictable income which is enough to cover expenses for most stock contributors are gone. The name of the game in 2021 is uploading to multiple sites, to increase your chances of being successful in this business. These include Adobe Stock, Alamy and iStock, which should provide you with additional income for the same non-exclusive images.