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Earnings from Microstock Photography – 3 Year Trends

11 November 2010 4 Comments

My adventure with microstock photography started in November 2007. For the first two years I used to report my monthly earnings from microstock in this blog. Nowadays, I am less obsessed with my statistics focusing more on producing new pictures. However, my 3 years in microstock is an occasion for a statistical summary.

Total Earnings and Portfolio Additions

microstock photography earnings trends

I am submitting my pictures to 12 microstock agencies. 88% of my income is coming from the top 4: Istockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime and Fotolia (see Big 4 in My Microstock Portfolio).

Above, I am showing my total monthly earnings from all agencies (thick yellow line – left axis) and monthly addition to my portfolio (gray bars – right axis) over the span of last 3 years. I divided growth of my earnings into three periods and added trends into my graph (linear approximation).

1st year (green line). Building my portfolio. Slow, but consistent, growth of earnings $19/month.
2nd year (blue line). More rapid growth of my earnings at $96/month. The only time period where I can see the response of my earnings to the increased number of pictures submitted.
3rd year (red line).. Slowing down … $50/month. More month to month fluctuations.

Let’s look at trends in the individual microstock agencies (the same scale is used in the graphs below).


istock earnings trend

Portfolio: 1628 files. iStock was my first microstock agency. Submissions used to be restricted by a weekly upload limit. However, recently they increased that limit. At the same time I reached a gold canister level. So, right now, 30 images/week is usually more than I can prepare for submission. Acceptance rate ~75%.

I experienced a rapid growth of sales at iStock during 2009. Recent earnings are fluctuating, but are still growing. iStock provides 40-50% of my microstock income.

My sale commission at iStock will drop from 20% to 18% in January 2011 and, generally, perspectives for an independent contributor don’t look great there.


shutterstock earnings trends

Portfolio: 2269 files. I entered Shutterstock relatively late. It took me 4 attempts to get accepted. The first year was great and SS was my top earner for a longer while. During the last 1.5 year my earnings are fluctuating from month to month, but still shows a slow growth and are somewhat responding to the number of uploaded pictures. My portfolio at SS is the largest among the top 4 agencies. Almost all my pictures are getting accepted.


dreamstime earnings trends

Portfolio: 1,761 files. My earnings are growing with some fluctuations and Dreamstime provides around 10% of my total microstock earnings. However, I don’t really expect to increase that percentage. My overall acceptance rate is about 73%, but my effective acceptance rate during last year is only 50-60%. Too many photos/illustrations on the same subject or from the same series. or Image subject is too specific or niche-oriented are popular rejection reasons. I don’t submit all my pictures to DT any more. I feel that I am losing a lot of potential sales at DT.


fotolia earnings trends

Portfolio: 1614 files. FT provides about 7-8% of my microstock earnings. A slow growth. Overall acceptance rate ~63%. It seems to be improving recently. I don’t think it is due to any change in FT review policy. I simply submit more product and concept images and less landscape and nature ones. FT accepts all DT rejects.

Of course, this just one side of my microstock photography business – earnings from sales. Expenses and my labor time is another side. In previous posts I discussed a business model I am trying to implement. It may be time to review it.

What’s next?

Further growth? Reaching plateau? Switching to another activity? Looking for some more meaningful photography projects?

Can I use my numbers to make any predictions of my future microstock earnings? So far, I have seen a rather smooth growth of my income.

Related posts:
Big 4 in My Microstock Portfolio
Am I Really Making Money from Microstock Photography ? Part 1 and Part 2
My microstock referral links for photographers:
Dreamstime, ShutterStock, BigStockPhoto, 123RF, FeaturePics, Panthermedia, CanStockPhoto, DepositPhotos, Graphic Leftovers

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