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Am I Really Making Money from Microstock Photography ? Part 1

8 November 2009 14 Comments

I started my microstock adventure two years ago in the end of November 2007. I am regularly submitting pictures to 7 agencies (iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, StockXpert, Bigstockphoto, 123RF), and when I have time to a couple more.


Every month I am posting here a microstock earnings report with nice graphs like that one above. Usually, I can show a positive growing trend in my earnings. A few other microstock photographers and illustrators also share their sale numbers in a similar manner.

However, this is not a full story. We do not see here any information how much of expenses and labor is invested in producing images for microstock. Is it just a hobby providing a supplemental income or business? Am I really making any money here?

I will try to answer these questions. Let’s start with including expenses to a popular measure of portfolio productivity – RPI (return per image).


You can simply calculate your RPI for a given agency by dividing amount of sales in a given month by size of your portfolio. The above graph show my RPI for four selected agencies. These numbers may be useful to analyze trends or for comparison with other photographers.

However, I would like to have a single number to characterize my entire microstock production. It is a little bit tricky and arbitrary to derive a single RPI for multiple sites.


After 2 years I have quite different portfolios in various agencies. My iStock portfolio is the smallest one due to uploading restriction. Fotolia portfolio is not much larger (my acceptance rate in only 58% there). Shutterstock has the highest number of my pictures. It is interesting that my IS portfolio contains some unique pictures which were not accepted by SS, DT or FT.

I don’t think it is a good idea to add RPI numbers derived separately for my pictures at different sites. My first appraoch was to use a size of hypothetical averaged portfolio as reference (just an average from 7 agencies – khaki color thick line above).

Finally, I figured out that it is really not so important what and where was accepted. It really matters what I actually produced for microstock. So, now I am looking for all jpg files in a microstock folder on my hard drive (thick gray line). These include pictures which were not submitted for some reasons and pictures which were not accepted anywhere. I also have a few duplicate versions, e.g., pictures resubmitted after corrections.


I believe a total number of pictures prepared for microstock better represent my efforts than the “average” portfolio concept. Of course, it results in a lower RPI as shown above.

However, I do not worry too much how low or high is my RPI. My goal is to increase RPI together with the growth of my microstock portfolio. I cannot explain a peak in my RPI around April 2008. However, after a stagnation period during 2008, RPI is showing upward trend during the entire year of 2009.

During 2 years I produced nearly 1800 pictures for microstock. My recent RPI is $0.84 per image and growing.

In the second part of this post I will introduce my microstock expenses and adjust the above RPI accordingly. We will see if there is any profit left. I will also try to answer a question how much an hour of my work is worth here. Hourly rate of a microstock photographer? It doesn’t mean that I have found a definite answer …

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