My latest images for sale at Shutterstock:

Monday, 11 February 2013

A big day in a small way.

Today I deleted all my remaining iStock images.  I am now no longer a contributor there and it feels very good indeed.

This afternoon the news broke that leading iStock exclusive contributor Sean Locke had been sacked by the company and given a 30 day notice period.  This jaw-dropping new development really shows the apparent levels of desperation and malice in the Getty management - not a company I want to be associated with any more.

Sean's sacking will I am sure, be seen as a pivotal action in iStock's demise and maybe even that of Getty themselves.  It is staggering that they would axe such a lucrative contributor because he dared to question their actions, however properly that may have been done.  This is not Iran or North Korea folks, get a grip of yourselves.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Viva Stocksy!

Some very welcome news at last to brighten these dark days - iStockphoto founder Bruce Livingstone has launched a new stock photography outfit called Stocksy.

Details are scarce at the moment, but the site is to be run as a photographer's co-op, with generous commission rates and profits going back to the members.  It is everything we have all been dreaming of but didn't dare hope for.  The tagline of 'sustainable stock' is truly delicious.

I will post more details as I get them, but I imagine you will all be jumping on the news as quickly as I can anyway.

What a great day.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Getty/Google deal - selling off the family silver.

A little over two years ago I did something which just a few days earlier had seemed unthinkable - I gave up exclusivity with iStock.  The issue at the time was the introduction of RCs - a pay cut for contributors thinly disguised as a 'piece-rate' incentive program.  I could see no honest, decent reason for cutting the commission paid to contributors - it was well-known that iStock was extremely profitable.  Any company that considered making a whopping 60-80% commission in exchange for handling sales of content it does not have to produce itself as 'unsustainable' was no longer to be trusted.  I also felt that to accept such treatment would ultimately see the death of the entire industry - if returns to the creators of the content are so diminished as to make it no longer worthwhile to produce such imagery then it is only a matter of time before the whole house of cards falls.  Now it seems that as well as demanding an ever-increasing slice of the pie in order to feed corporate greed, iStock/Getty have gone one further and begun selling off the family silver.

By chance a deal struck between Getty and Google was discovered by leading iStock exclusive contributor Sean Locke.  Locke found out that 6000 iStock Vetta/Agency images (the highest price point and considered the jewels in any photographers portfolio) were available for use as a kind of 'clip art' on Google drive.  Users of that site (formally Google Docs) who wished to insert a photo into their work could search a library of freely available images which included the 6000 from Getty/iStock.  Subsequent statements released by iStock have claimed that these images are only available for use in work created by Google drive, but this is not made clear at any point on the Google site.  It is also an extremely broad remit and impossible to police.

So effectively what had happened was that 6000 of some of the best images iStock had to offer were now freely available at high resolution sizes on a very popular site.  The images had been stripped of all EXIF metadata which might have allowed the user to see that the copyright remained with the photographer, furthering the impression that these were public domain, copyright free, unprotected, free-for-all, help yourself images.  Google's own blog talked in terms of having 'crowdsourced' images for use in Google docs, promoting the idea  that these had somehow been freely given by willing amateurs. 

If these 6000 images are so freely available then they will quickly become familiar - nobody will pay money to download these from a stock site when they can get them for free from Google.  Contributors feel, with good reason, that the future earnings potential of these images has been destroyed.  It is not unknown for photographers to sell the future rights to an image for a fee - Dreamstime for example offer this as an option on their site and suggest that if willing, the photographer quotes a fee of between $350 and $5000 for this.  Getty's own Rights Managed calculator quotes a price of $3,390 for purchase of a comparable licence for one of the images on their site.  So what sort of fee did the photographers in the Getty/Google deal receive?  Just $6 or $12.  As you can imagine, this has caused an uproar.  A significant number of unhappy contributors have reached the end of their rope and applied to terminate their exclusivity agreement.  I know of some very large names at iStock who have chosen to quietly slip away rather than waste more of their energy fighting this.  Other contributors have begun to deleting some or all of their images from sale on iStock's site, others are joining together to launch a class-action lawsuit in an attempt to get the deal overturned or proper compensation paid.

I am not anti-iStock, I used to love that place and I have made a lot of long-lasting friendships there, but I now feel that it is essential for iStock to fail in order to protect the industry as a whole.  I know this is a controversial thing to say, but I feel that other agencies are watching this - we have already seen commission cutting shenanigans at Fotolia and 123RF and they won't be the last.  Unless we stand up to protect what we have it will be lost in the name of short-term profit for an endless succession of venture capital asset raiders.  Simply to get this deal overturned will not be enough - there will be a lot more secretive deals like this done in the future.

Some of the foremost iStock contributors have taken the lead in standing up to iStock in this issue, but it seems they are stuck between a rock and a hard place, as is anyone who produces high-quality content at considerable expense.  I don't know what the future holds for their like, but for the rest of us shoot-from-the-hip grab snappers the choice is easier.  I hope that more people will make a significant stand against these actions.  Money isn't everything after all and it may be necessary to go through some pain and suffer a loss of income in the short term in order to make things better in the long run.  Either that or this is the beginning of the end and we are all toast, but I hope not.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

A post for Nikon users leaving iStock

Just a quick post for any Nikon users who are considering leaving iStock.  If you are going to go back through your portfolio adding keywords to the metadata then don't use CNX to do this - use Photoshop instead.  The reason for this is that CNX adds the keywords in reverse order, which means that the most useful keywords are then at the bottom of the list.  If you become a contributor on Fototlia you will find that they rank keywords by importance starting at the top of the list.  If you have used CNX then these will be the ones that occurred to you last ie 'colour', 'photo', 'horizontal' etc, rather than 'Christmas', 'Santa', 'presents' or whatever.

There have also been a few occasions using CNX when it has failed to save my keywords and I have had to start all over again.  I think this is something to do with CNX saving them to a separate (invisible) file whereas Photoshop marries them to the original image.  Or something.  I don't really know, I just know it is not a good idea!  All the best and Merry Christmas to you all.

Friday, 23 November 2012

A long-overdue post

Hi, and apologies once again for the gap in posts.

So, what has happened since my last post in January?  Most of the answers can be found on the stats page - I have been steadily increasing my portfolio and my earnings have also been growing slowly. In June of this year I had the opportunity to take part in a lifestyle shoot organised by some of my old iStock friends.  It was the first time I had worked with models and I enjoyed it a lot.  The images have been selling well, but not spectacularly so far, but it is good to finally have some people images for sale.  Having some new stuff to upload has helped me get excited about stock again and get round to uploading some more of my old back-catalogue images, some of which have surprised me by selling reasonably well.

I have improved my acceptance rate at Shutterstock, which has been a great help.  Shutterstock are an agency that I know will sell my images if I can get them accepted there. They have just announced a new feature which allows contributors to make their previously private 'sets' (lightboxes in iStock speak) visible to the buyer.  I know this is something that a lot of contributors had been asking for and one of the few things I missed from iStock.  I would now say that Shutterstock's sets are better than iStock's lightboxes because they also allow you to track earnings for a particular group of images, which is a great way to help you focus your efforts on the most lucrative work.  I also like Shutterstock's keyword data tables, which allow you to see the search terms used by the buyers of your images.  Anything that helps us target our images more effectively is welcome - the unique world map feature at Shutterstock is also a fantastic insight into buyer trends.  From this I can see when a buyer has bought more than one of my images and also my main markets - in my case this is northern Europe - if I want to make more money I suspect I have to shoot more images that will appeal to the northern American market.

My iStock earnings have also increased, which is entirely down to their partner program.  Last month I made twice as much on the partner program as I did via the regular collection.  While it is great to be making some extra cash, I have always felt unhappy about the partner program (as I know many other contributors at iStock do) and see it as a threat to both earnings from the regular iStock collection and also a direct competitor to Shutterstock.  From what my old iS exclusive friends are telling me about falling income levels there, it seems possible that the dire predictions of many at the time the PP was announced may well be coming true - buyers may be moving to Thinkstock and other PP agencies rather than spending at iStock.  The other day I surpassed my previous low-point of a 9c royalty at iS by getting just 8c for a sale.  Can anyone beat that?

Depositphotos is a nice little agency that seems to be going places.  They have accepted all but eight of the images I have ever sent them and sales there have been growing steadily.  This has seemed to happen even when I haven't increased my portfolio for a while, suggesting that it is the agency itself that is attracting more buyers.  The site is easy to use and upload to and my sales are fairly regular and dependable.  They send me an email every time I sell something which saves me having to keep obsessively checking the site for sales.

On the whole, most sites in indie-land seem pretty well managed, with the exception of Veer, who could give iStock a run for their money in site bugginess terms.  Contributors there often find that they can't access their dashboard to view their stats, uploading is as good-as broken for me and payments are frequently delayed.  Some of these issues have been on-going for several months. Their review time is still running at over a month, often closer to two.  It is a shame, because I really liked Veer when I first started, but things don't seem to be going well there.  That said, their contributor relations people do still reply to emails, which is apparently more than can be said for iStock.

Ok, that's it - best of luck to any iS exclusives who decide to drop exclusivity in the New Year x

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Indie BME

January 2012 was an indie BME for me by a long way. I earned $311, which is somewhere near what I was earning as an iStock exclusive, but with far less images for sale. I had my best ever month at Shutterstock, where I broke through the $100 barrier for the first time.

I got four extended licence sales - two from iStock for a total of $47, one from Shutterstock ($28) and one from Veer ($35), making a total of $110.

I am hoping my good sales figures are a result of my hard work, rather than just a seasonal fluke (apart from at iStock of course, where I have done my best to trash my sales by removing my best-sellers). I have been uploading a lot more lately and have nearly doubled my Shutterstock portfolio since the end of last year. I still have less than 200 images for sale on my new agencies though. I find it interesting to look back at at my old iStock exclusive income for the sub-200 image mark. In February of 2009 I had 181 images in my portfolio and made $127 for the month, considerably less than I have made this month as an indie, even without taking extended licences into account. I admit that this isn't a valid direct comparison as it doesn't take price increases, new exclusive income streams (ie Vetta, Agency, Getty) or improvements in my portfolio into account, but it is still interesting.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Shutterstock download ratios

Just a quick post regarding Shutterstock download ratios. Although there are a whole bunch of different price plans and income streams on Shutterstock, I really only sell via three different plans: the 25-a-day subscription plan, on-demand downloads and enhanced downloads (extended licences in iStock-speak). My income can be roughly divided as follows:

25-a-day subscriptions: 50%
On demand: 25%
Enhanced: 25%

To start with, I received 25c for each subscription download, and either 81c or $1.88 for on-demand downloads. Once I had passed $500 in total commission revenue this increased to 33c for subscriptions and $1.07 or $2.48 for on-demand sales. Enhanced downloads stay the same at $28 each. The next goal is to pass $3000 in lifetime earnings, after which subscription sales will pay 36c and on-demand $1.17 and $2.70. The maximum possible is 38c / $1.24 / $2.85 once $10,000 in lifetime earnings is reached.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Lightburner not working properly

Hi, I just thought I would let you know that Lightburner is not working properly at the moment and hasn't been since around Christmas. So if you are banging your head against a wall trying to get it to work then it is not you - it is Lightburner. David that runs the program is aware of the issue and has been trying to fix it. At the moment I can only get it to distribute to Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Canstock and Bigstock, which is helpful, but not as great as it was before.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Applying to Shutterstock and Dreamstime while still exclusive at iStock

With the stock world all abuzz with news of staff layoffs at iStockphoto, I thought I would post a recap of information regarding applying to Shutterstock and Dreamstime while waiting for the iStock exclusivity 30 day notice period to pass.

Shutterstock: In order to contribute at Shutterstock you first have to submit a sample of your work for consideration. Of the ten images you submit, seven or more must be deemed acceptable in order to pass. If you do not pass the test then you must wait 30 days before you can apply again. As Shutterstock are likely to be very important for your indie income it obviously makes sense to apply as soon as you have made the decision to leave iStock. This gives you time to reapply if you don't pass at first without losing potential income. The only problem with this is that (unlike at iStock), any images that pass the test are automatically accepted for sale and go live on the site very quickly after. Clearly this would violate the terms of your iStock exclusivity agreement if it happened before your notice period had expired.

The good news is that it is possible to make your application and be accepted without images being released for sale. This is done by 'opting out' of sales on Shutterstock. The way to do this is to first open an account at Shutterstock (my referral code is 661795 btw *wink, wink*), then go to your homepage (the one with the world map on it). At the top of this page you will see a tab marked 'Resources'. From this menu select 'Your Account', then scroll down until you see a list of sites with 'opt in, opt out' radio buttons beside them. Select 'opt out' on them all and your images will now remain in the dark until such time as you go back and select 'opt in'.

So, assuming you pass the contributor test and have followed the above steps to hide your images from the buyers, there is no reason not to upload the bulk of your images to have them ready to go live on the site at the click of a button once your exclusivity falls. Or is there? Well, people who have done this have reported very poor initial sales on their images. It would seem logical that the Best Match position for an image be determined by its sales since acceptance, as it is unlikely the system will be aware of whether you have opted in or not and when that happened. With huge numbers of images being accepted on Shutterstock daily, it is very important to gather sales in the vital but short-lived window when new images are at the front of searches. This ensures they will remain there - images that do not sell during this window may struggle in future.

Dreamstime: Dreamstime don't have a contributor test so there is no urgent need to open an account early (referral code for when you do though! res2635685). While they will temporarily suspend your account if you email them and ask them to do so while you wait out your exclusivity notice period, there are no benefits at all from doing this. Any images you upload while your account is suspended will not be inspected and will only join the queue for inspection once you get the suspension reversed. *edit* I have since heard that this may have changed since I opened my account there in October 2010. It may be best to check with Dreamstime directly to see what the position is now if this is something you think is really important to you.

So in short it would seem a good idea to apply in advance to Shutterstock (unless you are very confident of passing the test first time) but not to upload any further images ahead of time. Of course this means that your Top Ten images used in your application would suffer from poor Best Match placing once they did finally go live for sale, something you would have to weigh up in your decision. It would seem best to bide your time and wait at Dreamstime too. Their queue tends to run at around 4-7 days, so starting to upload a couple of days before D-Day should be safe enough. Best of luck to any iStock exclusives that decide to try independence over the next few weeks. Whilst I would be pathetically grateful to anyone who decides to use my referral links there will be no hard feelings if you don't. It would be good to hear comments from those of you who are considering making the change - these can be made anonymously if you prefer.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Making Cuts - Images and Agencies

I have started removing some of my images from iStock. So far these have been my best-selling images that I feel have found a worthwhile new home elsewhere, be it Shutterstock, Dreamstime or wherever. I took nine down last month and have taken a further eight so far this month, so not a lot, but a start.

I found it painful to see these images being sold for just a 16% return which sometimes equated to as little as 13c in commission (other indies have reported receiving just 9c in commission for some sales *edit - I have since had a sale for just 10c commission!*). I can just about stomach it with some of my old junk images, but not my best stuff, such as it is. I also did not want to support ThinkStock (against my will) and removing these images now was the only way to prevent them being mirrored onto ThinkStock's site. I see this site as a direct competitor to Shutterstock, which I have a good relationship with and do want to succeed, so supporting the competition would seem a foolish thing to do.

I have also stopped uploading to some of my agencies. 123RF recently announced a cut in contributor's pay for anyone below a certain threshold of portfolio size. This ensures that all new contributors will be on the lower commission rate and will stay on it, regardless of their portfolio size in the future. I say 'announced', but by this I mean they emailed a couple of contributors and left them to pass the good news on to the rest of us. No announcement was made on the site at all. I was not at all happy with the way that they acted, but as they have also rejected a vast number of my images for nonsensical reasons, I am happy to drop them from here. I will leave my images there for now, but may well delete them in future. The same goes for Crestock, who reject a lot of my images but hardly ever sell any either. I can understand Shutterstock being picky - they can afford to be, but when 'lower tier' agencies turn their nose up at images that have been accepted at 'top tier' agencies I feel it isn't really worth the effort. For this reason I have also stopped uploading at Photodune for now. A lot of indies have reported high rejection rates there, with the feeling being that the 'out-of-house' inspection team are not as sophisticated as they might be. I have certainly had a lot of rejections there, which is a demoralising process. My sales (which started reasonably brightly) have now completely dried up and I am left wondering if Photodune were a bit of a flash in the pan.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

100 up

I have finally managed to get 100 images accepted at Shutterstock. I did not ever dream it would be quite this difficult, but I have made it at last, having learnt a lot in the process. My acceptance rate has improved a lot there lately (careful, don't jinx it now), so I am hoping to build my portfolio up a lot more rapidly from now on.

Although it was very frustrating at first to have so many of my old iStock images rejected, I have come to view Shutterstock as having the highest quality standards in the industry and I know I have benefited from having to look really critically at my work again. There have been times in the past year when Shutterstock has beaten my iStock earnings with just a tenth of the number of images, so it is obvious how important it is to build up a sizeable portfolio there.


There is an interesting new agency that has appeared lately - Warmpicture. It is run by an ex-iStock exclusive, who left at about the same time as I did. He has established the agency on the admirable principle of providing stockers a place to sell their work without making a profit. As such the agency takes just 20% of revenue. It is still in it's infancy and portfolios are vetted before you can be accepted. Once accepted though, you are expected to self-police and be responsible enough to only submit work that is technically and legally sound. It is a worthy endeavour and I really hope Dan succeeds with it. Please check it out and pass the link on to any of your buyer friends:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


I have come across a useful little prog called Lightburner. It is free and beta, so a little bit clunky at the moment, but I think it might be a lifesaver for me.

In short it is an image distribution service for independent stock photographers. You send them your images then tell them which agencies to submit them to. You need to supply your login details for this part obviously. They will then send your images to the agencies, from where you can add categories, releases etc before submitting. What this cuts out is the need to upload the same images from your computer to the servers of the respective agencies. I only need to upload the images from my computer to the servers of Lightburner and they then do the rest. As someone on a very limited wifi allowance (15GB a month - nowhere near enough for serious uploading to ten or so sites), this saves both time and my precious upload/download allowance.

As someone unfamiliar with FTP, I found it a bit of a challenge to set up, but once I had achieved it the prog was remarkably simple. I would recommend ticking the box to tell it to put the images into the upload area rather than the queue, particularly on Bigstock as otherwise you will be stuck with the sometimes bizzare categories they autogenerate for you. You do this via the 'preferences' tab on each channel.

The main drawback with Lightburner is that it only stores your images for three days. You get an email before they delete them so you won't get too caught out. Online storage is expensive and as I mentioned before, this prog is free, so it seems fair enough. Mostly this shouldn't be a problem, but if a new agency opens up sometime in the future you would need to upload directly to them as your images won't be available on Lightburner any more. For this reason I won't be using their metadata editor, which is a shame as it would be quite useful to ex-iStockers like me and is also quite nicely laid out and easy to use.

The site is hosted via Amazon's servers so should be fairly secure from hacking (if you are worried about giving them your login details).

Friday, 25 November 2011

My apologies.....

My apologies, it has been an awfully long time since my last post. I had some 'real life' issues I needed to deal with and photography had to take a back seat for a while. I am now submitting again, trying to get my back-catalogue uploaded to all my agencies, as well as adding a couple of new agencies to the mix.

I have been asked recently whether I am going to continue as an independent or go back to exclusivity with iStock. Right now going back to iStock is as unthinkable as it was in Oct 2010. I do not regret my decision to leave and am enjoying being independent a great deal. My income has roughly halved, but I think that is because I have not been able to complete uploading my back catalogue. I feel I did the right thing at the right time by leaving and I have no doubts or regrets about it at all.

I have updated my income stats page, so you can now view more than a years worth of indie income figures there. As you can see, I faltered at around the 115 uploads mark and stayed stuck there for a while.

iStock: My iStock figures were fairly steady for a while, then took a dive about six months after I had cancelled excusivity. Since then they have been poor, but fairly steady - as much as I would like to jump on the 'iStock is failing' bandwagon, I'm not sure it is borne out by my stats. I know that others (both exclusive and indie) have reported that their sales on iStock did not recover from the traditional summer slump this year but have continued to fall, but I can't really see that in my sales - mine fell at around April. (I have however seen the corresponding increase in sales at other agencies though - more about this below). I imagine my BM position has been fairly well trashed as a result of non-exclusivity and failing to upload there anymore, but I don't bother tracking it so I can't offer any figures for that. I have to say that earning 16% and sometimes as little as 13c per sale leaves a sour taste in the mouth and I would love to build my other agencies up to the point where I could drop iStock altogether, but just can't afford to yet.

Shutterstock: My sales on Shutterstock have been better than I had expected considering the size of my portfolio there, with regular daily sales. In August and September they beat my iStock earnings in spite of having only 10% of the number of images for sale as I do at iStock. I have now passed their $500 earnings threshold to begin earning higher commissions, which has been very welcome. It is nice to be earning more without it costing the customer more and so leading to lower sales volume. While the jump from 25c to 33c for subs is not huge, the difference between $1.88 and $2.48 for on-demand sales is more significant. A large number of indie contributors have reported stellar sales figures across all other agencies as iStock's figures have fallen this year. Although my sample is admittedly very small, I think that is definitely borne out in my Shutterstock sales stats. I have also earned a total of $14 from two photographers who joined Shutterstock using my referral link, for which I am very grateful.

Dreamstime are my number 3 agency - they pay fairly well but it is not unusual for a week or two to pass between sales. I know this is due to the small size of my online portfolio, but that is all I have to go on at the moment. Some of my images there have begun to move up the levels and so become more expensive to the buyer while earning me higher commissions. This is very welcome as long as my images keep selling. Again, with such a small sample it is too difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about this yet. My acceptance rate has been good and I feel positive about my experiences as a contributor there so far.

All the rest: My sales at Fotolia are fairly regular and things have picked up a lot at Deposit and BigStock lately too. Veer have been a bit of a disappointment, but have saved the day with a couple of generous ELs. Although sales there are very intermittent, when they do come they are usually for a reasonable amount. With CanStock the gimmick of getting images accepted ten minutes after submission is wearing thin in the face of low sales, though a nice wee Distribution sale (Partner agency) doubled my earnings and allowed me to collect a payout over the summer. Sales at StockFresh are very slow as was expected, but I have heard a lot of grumbling online from other independents who believe that they are not spending enough on marketing themselves to properly take advantage of the opportunity presented by any dissent amongst contributors/customers at iStock. I guess it can be difficult for a new agency to find the funds to do this. One new agency that apparently does have a significant marketing budget is Photodune, by virtue of their place within the Envato design stable. They seem to be making a concerted pitch for new business and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the future. In general there is a feeling in 'Indie Land' that things in the microstock industry are changing with iStock possibly on the wane, although it is still early days yet.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A plan for smaller agencies

I am now getting up to the 100 images accepted mark on most agencies (apart from Shutterstock - of course). I think these are 100 fairly saleable images so I would be expecting to see reasonably regular sales. It is clear that some agencies can achieve this and others can't. I have come up with a new benchmark with which to measure agencies to decide if I should carry on uploading there:

I will stop uploading to any agency that I haven't been able to take a payout from after one year. I will stop uploading sooner to any agency that is overly picky about which of my images it accepts and/or makes the uploading task so arduous that it stops being worthwhile.

So far the following don't look like they will make the grade:


Bigstock and Deposit are definately on notice.
StockFresh I will cut a lot of slack to give them time to get up and running properly.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Panthermedia - a warning

I applied today to Panthermedia, a German mid/micro stock site. I really can't recommend them, in fact I would suggest you avoid them.

At first I was given a strange set of account options to chose from which made little sense to me. Having picked one that sounded most likely I was then told that I had to pay 35 euro cents to register my paypal account with them. This made no sense either but I went ahead and paid it as it isn't a huge amount. It didn't seem to be possible to bypass this stage and continue with the application. I then had to complete a childish and frustrating contributor quiz before I was allowed to upload.

With over a hundred images sitting waiting I was looking forward to firing these up with the sort of speed I have achieved elsewhere, ie Crestock recently. But oh dear, the upload interface is dreadful. All fields have to be filled in prior to upload, which means no reading keywords etc from the metadata. They also require you to go through and select all kinds of options ie age of model, emotion displayed by model etc. I didn't bother.

I did some googling and found some forum posts from July 2009 by Panthermedia staff promising a new upload interface imminently. As far as I can tell this hasn't happened. A lot of other photogs were moaning about the paypal payment and upload time. Those that had persevered complained of long inspection wait times and a poorly managed site.

I feel ripped off (even if only for 35c) and annoyed by them. Don't bother unless you fancy wasting either your money or your time.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

First quarter results

It is now three months since I dropped my crown at iStock and started uploading to multiple sites. In spite of some fairly challenging life events which have prevented me from spending a great deal of time on stock I have still managed to upload over a hundred images to each of the sites I am contributing to. It has only been the addition of keywords to the metadata that has slowed me down - actual uploading is pretty quick and painless as I have said here before.

I have now uploaded most of my iStock bestsellers to all sites and so I am hoping for some more positive results soon. One of my favourite images (my Viking fire shot) was immediately downloaded as an EL on Shutterstock, which netted me a very welcome $28.

Acceptance rates have broadly followed those of my 'first fifty' images ie 80-odd percent on most sites, 50-odd percent on Shutterstock (although I have not yet begun to downsize the rejections to resubmit there).

In total since independence I have earned $571, of which $358 came from iStock and $213 came from other agencies. The end of December and beginning of January were pretty poor, as was to be expected, but my sales have begun to heat up again. The new earning structure at iStock has now kicked in, resulting in my royalty percentage there being cut from 20% to a miserly 16%. Obviously this will see a sizeable fall in my future iStock income. This does not inspire me to want to upload more images there, in fact with my recent revenues being as low as 13c for an XS, it makes me contemplate removing images from the site. If I do this I may well remove the images that have been accepted at other sites and leave those that have either been rejected elsewhere or which I haven't bothered to upload as I don't think they will sell.

Earnings for the first three months:

iStock - 358.25
Shutterstock - 105.32
Veer - 51.45
Dreamstime - 29.84
Fotolia - 18.26
Canstock - 5.50
Deposit - 1.78
Bigstock - 0.50
Crestock - 0 (started uploading Jan 2011)
StockFresh - 0 (started uploading Jan 2011)
123RF - 0 (started uploading Jan 2011)

For three months worth of exclusivity with iStock (including Christmas and New Year) I would have expected to bring in about $900-1000, so I am currently about $300-400 down.

For the next three months I want to get at least another hundred of my back catalogue uploaded plus another hundred new images. I am also hoping that this period will see my earnings back up above $300 a month to be comparable with my old iStock exclusive earnings. I won't be uploading all of the 661 images I have currently on iStock to other agencies as I don't think all of these are worth the effort.

The EL at Shutterstock put me over their minimum payout threshold of $75 for the first time. My understanding is that payouts there take place automatically at the end of the month in which you earned more than your set payout threshold (this can be altered by the contributor). It will be good to reach the point of getting regular payouts across the sites - so far it has just been iStock that I have been able to take payments from, which has meant some pretty lean times.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Oh dear iStock, what have you done?

The latest stats from a forum poll on iStockphoto make uncomfortable reading. This may not be a representative sample, but it is all we have to go on at the moment. The figures show the winners and losers under the new royalty structure (excepting of course iStock and Getty, who will be the biggest winners here - they will make far more money in 2011 than they did in 2010).

272 Exclusives reporting (4.6% of Exclusives)
Down: 205 (75%)
Same: 50 (19%)
Up: 17 (6%)

5 Black Diamond Contributors reporting
Down: 2 (40%)
Same: 3 (60%)
Up: 0 (0%)

90 Diamond Contributors reporting
Down: 78 (87%)
Same: 11 (12%)
Up: 1 (1%)

75 Gold Contributors reporting
Down: 64 (85%)
Same: 10 (13%)
Up: 1 (2%)

78 Silver Contributors reporting
Down: 53 (68%)
Same: 18 (23%)
Up: 7 (9%)

24 Bronze Contributors reporting
Down: 8 (33%)
Same: 8 (33%)
Up: 8 (33%)


I have begun submitting images at StockFresh - as I said earlier, I am not expecting any sales for quite a while though.

My contributor application went through in five days and my images have been inspected in under three hours, so StockFresh seem to have got their earlier backlogs under control. So far my acceptance rate has been running at about 70% with the majority of rejections being for soft focus once again. I would suggest that anyone using a D300 or similar camera downsize their images before submitting there. If you do have images rejected then you need to click on the wee red dot next to them to find out the reason - I initially thought they didn't give a reason, but actually it is just well hidden. StockFresh have an upload limit of 50 images per day.

My images have been in Crestock's queue for well over a week now.
ETA - Crestock images inspected after a week and a half, so not too bad after all.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

New agencies

I have begun uploading to Crestock and have been accepted as a contributor at StockFresh. Uploading is very fast once you have the keywords in the metadata and so I was able to load my Crestock queue with 100 images in an afternoon. I have been waiting a week so far for them to be inspected - I will let you know how they get on once they have been reviewed.

Stockfresh are a very new site and have not yet begun to market themselves fully. It makes sense that they would want to wait until they have a sizeable catalogue of images available before they spend a lot of money on marketing. I understand that they are waiting until they have at least a million images on their site, but so far have only half that number. As they offer download stats for each image it is possible to see that Yuri's best-selling image on StockFresh has only seven downloads. I will upload there as it may well be good to get in at the start of a new site, but I am not expecting much income from there for at least a year or so. Just FYI - my application took five days to be passed.

I have had my contributor application accepted at 123RF, but have not begun to upload there yet. I was a bit perturbed by their requirement that I agree to cover all their legal costs in the event of them being sued over one of my images. I was a bit confused by this as I understood legal liability to rest with the artist, but I am not keen to write their lawyers a blank cheque in any event. If anyone with more experience of this sort of thing wants to take a look and report back here then that would be great.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Spread the word

With the new royalty structure about to begin at iStock, this would be a good time to spread the word about this blog and the forum. Please feel free to pass the links on to anyone in your CN etc who you think might be interested.

Upload limits and inspection times.

I have been meaning to post something here about upload times and limits and with other ex-iStockers beginning to join me this is probably a good time.

Upload limits - as you can see from the spreadsheet I haven't really taxed my upload limits yet. Shutterstock don't have any limits, nor do Fotolia, Bigstock, Canstock or Depositphotos (or at least I can't find any on the site anywhere). Dreamstime start you off with an allowance of 210 per week, which will stay the same as long as your acceptance ratio stays north of 80%. (ETA - not sure why, but mine now shows 350 per week - perhaps they love me...) Veer are the most restrictive, with a 50-a-week limit, recently reduced from 100 in order to tame their wild queue. Now that the queue does seem to be under control this may increase again, but it may not. If you can demonstrate that you have a lot of high quality images to submit then I would suggest contacting them to see if anything can be done. Either way, the limits certainly aren't as restrictive as those imposed upon non-exclusives at iStock (15 per week if I remember correctly). (ETA2 - StockFresh have an upload limit of 50 per day).

Inspection times are also very good in indie-land. I will put some approximate times in a list below as it is easier to read that way:

Canstock: 10 mins to 1 hour. Seriously.
Fotolia: Usually around 1-3 hours, has been as quick as 2 minutes, occasionally 1 day.
Shutterstock: 1-4 days (1 day lately)
Bigstock, Depositphotos: 3-5 days
Dreamstime: 4-7 days (4 days lately)
Veer: 2 months initially, 4-7 days now.

Inspections have been getting much quicker across all sites lately, but this probably due to less material being submitted at this time of year. I usually process a batch of five or ten or whatever before I submit, but often I can't resist pinging a couple up to Canstock as I work - I like to think of the poor lonely inspector sitting there waiting to pounce on them as they arrive and its fun to find them approved and live by the time I finish my editing session.

Other random stuff that might be helpful:
  • Keep your keywords to a maximum of 50 (Shutterstock and Bigstock's rules).
  • Always use American-English spellings otherwise you will spend a lot of time correcting them in Shutterstock.
  • Dreamstime's Java upload app always crashes for me when I use it on Firefox and WinXP. On IE or Chrome it works fine.
  • Dreamstime offer you the chance to sell the copyright to your image and set the price for doing so (SR-EL). You might want to think about that before you upload so that it doesn't throw you when you first start. The suggested price is $250 but I heard of someone who puts $850 down. I don't tick that box as I would rather not sell the right to ever earn any more from my image in this way, but it might suit some.
  • Dreamstime can be a bit slow at transferring your new uploads from the upload area to the editing area. Make a cup of tea or upload somewhere else and when you come back they will be there. But don't worry if you don't see them right away.
  • One site (I think it is Bigstock, but it doesn't really matter) doesn't like trade names in descriptions - this includes camera names so don't put in the description that it was taken with a Nikon D3x or whatever.
  • Fotolia require you to put keywords in order of relevance. This is a pain as CNX writes the first keywords which I add (ie the most relevant as they are first to occur to me) to the bottom of the list so it needs reversed once it gets to Fotolia. I tend to just grab a bunch from the bottom of the list and drag them to the top and leave it at that. It would just take too long otherwise.
  • Veer's keyword suggestionator is a hoot. For some reason it always suggests that I add the following keywords to my image: anthropomorphic, cornucopias and hubcaps. Apart from that it is quite helpful.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A good start to the New Year

Anyone who managed to make it to the end of my last post will remember that I had my best-selling image (on iStock) rejected at Shutterstock for 'limited commercial value'. I sent it back to them last night with a message to the reviewer telling them that it was a successful image on iS and giving them the link to it's page there so that they could see download numbers, date of submission etc. The image was approved overnight and had already had a sale when I woke up this morning, bought by someone in the south of Mexico.

I was pleasantly surprised by this and makes me feel hopeful that I can get some of my other Shutterstock rejections overturned, either by downsizing or by way of a specific plea.

Another bit of good news - Veer seem to have their queue under control now - my last submissions were reviewed in less than a week.

Happy New Year everyone...

Thursday, 30 December 2010


I have been getting some questions from friends on Facebook about uploading so thought I would expand on my answers a bit here to try and keep all the info in one place.

It seems that for exclusive iStockers contemplating independence the foremost worry is the amount of time and effort involved in uploading to multiple sites. Before I became independent I was told by an indie contact that they were able to upload their images to nine other sites in the time it took to upload to iStock alone. My experience so far bears that out. I think the upload interface at iStock is archaic and probably would have been changed for the better years ago were it not for Deepmeta. As most of you should know, Deepmeta is Franky De Meyer's excellent prog which allows automation and batch processing of the iStock upload procedure. You point it at your images, keyword and categorise, attach releases and go to bed. In the morning the new images are all there, sitting in your upload queue.

The question I was asked was 'do other sites have an equivalent to Deepmeta'. Well no, (I don't think so) because they don't need one - the upload interface acts in much the same way. I have written on here a few times about the benefits of putting keywords into metadata- it is a bit of a lifesaver and so far all my sites read this data without problems. Also all the sites allow multiple uploads, though I haven't tried to upload in batches of more than ten. These images then go into a 'holding area' from where you chose categories, attach releases (stored on the agency's site) and submit. You can do this days or weeks later, but some sites delete unfinished uploads after a month. I tend to set a batch to upload while I am cooking dinner or whatever, then categorise and submit at a later time when I am able to concentrate on it properly. The time consuming part (ie data transfer) does not require you to be present while it is going on.

Several sites then allow autofilling of categories from a previous image, which makes the uploading of a series very quick indeed. Others leave the last categories chosen in the selection box for the next image or have an easily accessible shortlist of recently chosen categories you can pick from.

Shutterstock seems to read the description info from CNX metadata as the title, which maybe deliberate as they don't also have a description field. I just leave it as the site chooses it and try and keep my descriptions fairly terse. Unfortunately Bigstock require the description to be a minimum of seven words. This is a bit of a pain as I always forget and write a minimal description with Shutterstock's titles in mind. It is easy to correct during upload to Bigstock, but it adds time and is worth remembering when you are adding keyword/description info to the metadata. Somewhere between seven and twenty words is probably ideal.

There are other ways of uploading such as FTP, which is supposed to make things even easier yet, but I haven't had chance to get my head round the technology to make that work so far. Hopefully a techy, newly-independent person will come by shortly and tell us all how to do it.

'Well,' I hear you say, 'if it is all so quick and simple then why haven't you uploaded more images so far?!' My answer to that would be that for uploading in quantity to multiple sites the following is required:

1 - The time and head space to keep track of what image needs to go where.
2 - Good quality internet access without restrictive bandwidth limits.
3 - All your images on the same computer, in the same place at the same time.

Number three I still don't have, number two I got three days ago and number one might happen sometime towards the end of 2011, but I'm not counting on it.

Other things to mention re Shutterstock:
As I have said before, they don't like images which have been cropped at all.
They also don't seem to find images taken on a D300 with an F2.8 lens with no sharpening (then sharpened in RAW) to be crisp enough for them at full res. There doesn't seem to be any penalty for having a low acceptance rate and all images are effectively 'can resubmit' so I am just sending them at full res for now, but will downsize and resubmit the rejections later. I am still only getting about half accepted there. They will also reject your images for a host of other reasons - they rejected one of my best-selling iStock images today for 'limited commercial value'. I don't think there is really much that can be done about this - it's just how it is. There is a box which allows for comments to the reviewer to be made, so I might try resubmitting with a plea and link to iS, but I am not going to hold my breath.
Ken (picturelake) told me that I was the first person he had heard of that was accepted to Shutterstock at the first attempt. In order to get through you need to have seven of your ten submissions accepted. If you fail at this then you will have to wait a full month before you can reapply. My advice is to chose your ten images very very carefully and downsize if necessary. They need to be your most punchy 'stocky' images as well as technically top-drawer.

Sorry this has been such a long post - anyone still awake?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

New forum site

I have opened a forum for us to discuss independence matters - you can find the link on this page in the right-hand pane (beneath the blog archive index). If that doesn't work then you can try this link:

Have at it ;-)

Monday, 27 December 2010

Passing the hat

With Christmas over and the New Year nearly upon us it seems that some disgruntled iStockers may be about to take action and become independent. It was good to hear yesterday that Josh (Doxadigital) had taken the plunge and given notice. If you don't know him already he is the originatior of the 'Push for' race thread on iS and an all-round good guy. He is also a bit of a stat-head, so in future expect some in-depth analysis (complete with pretty pictures) at this blog here.

I hate to do this, but now I'm afraid it is time to pass the hat. If you have found this blog useful then can I ask that you use my referral links when opening new accounts with other agencies. It won't cost you anything as the wee kickback I will receive will come directly from the agency. I can promise that there will be no hard feelings if you chose not to, but times are hard and so I thought I would ask... I did this when opening my accounts as a way of thanking a couple of my indie friends who had been generous with their time and information before I made the big leap. I think mostly this works by using the links at the top of this page to access the site, then move on to the 'become a contributor' link or whatever. I think some of them also require you to type in my referral code number so I will print those below. The two major ones are Shutterstock and Dreamstime so even if you only gave me the referral hit for those then I would be very grateful (click below to go to the registration page). ETA - Actually the only three I would get anything from are the ones below:

Shutterstock: ref=661795
Dreamstime: res2635685
Bigstock: pAatX27Xn4

Whatever happens it would be good to hear from any of you that do go indie over the coming months. I was thinking of using one of these free forum hosting sites to set up a wee indie forum for us all - do you think that would be useful? I know that some of these already exist, but I feel that we are a fairly unique group and the forums at iS can be a bit of a wrench to leave behind. I know that I don't feel that great about posting there anymore (in spite of having left on good terms), but that might not be the case for many of you.

Merry Christmas and thanks in advance to any of you who do use my referrals.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Big push for the New Year

My sales now seem to be winding down for Christmas so this is a good time to work on uploading with the aim of getting more sales in the New Year. I lost my uploading mojo for a wee bit there, but the EL at Veer has fired me up again.

I popped into the iStock forums today and was disturbed (but not surprised) to read that many contributors will not be making the RC goal and did not see the promised 50% of annual revenue in the last four months of the year. All I can say to you is - come and join me - this indie malarkey is fun and stress-free. The different sites give you different information regarding your sales, which taken as a whole can offer a very valuable insight into who is buying your images and where they hail from (via Shutterstock's excellent new world map feature) and also what keywords they used to find your image (via Dreamstime's sales log). I think in the long run this decision will make me a far better stock photographer.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

EL on Veer

Nice.... just got an EL on Veer, which with attendant L sale put about 47 bucks in the pot. Very, very nice.

Click here to sign up with Veer, you know you want to.....

Thursday, 2 December 2010

November stats

Once again apologies for the lack of posts here - things were just starting to improve when we had a massive snowfall here in Edinburgh which has made life tough in all sorts of new ways. So I am still not able to devote much time to stock and in particular uploading.

As you will see from the spreadsheet, my income for November was just a couple of bucks higher than October. I was exclusive at iStock for the first two weeks of October so I have managed to make a little headway with my independent earnings to compensate for that in November. Although my indie income figures aren't great, I think they are ok considering the relatively few images I have uploaded to each site. In image terms what I have online so far is about 10% of what I have available so I am still quite optimistic about earning considerably more as an indie than I did as an iStock exclusive.

The figure of $23 for Dreamstime has been inflated by the $14 I received from their 'dash for cash' type promotion, otherwise it would have been remarkably similar to my Fotolia earnings. I had one small EL in November on Fotolia, for which I received five credits or about five dollars (so not much really).

Veer have at last started reviewing my images and have so far accepted a high percentage of them. This is consistent with what I have heard about them from others. They didn't start reviewing these til the very end of the month, so the two sales I had there came from my tiny portfolio of nine initial application images. As such it does make me feel quite hopeful for my future earnings there. I like Veer. Give them a try, but remember to be very, very patient.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010


Sorry I haven't posted much lately - I have been very busy with other things and too tired in the evenings to think much about stock. I will try for a proper update later this week.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Messy spreadsheet

Now that I have had sales with seven different agencies the spreadsheet is begining to look a bit messy. If anyone fancies having a go at redesigning it for me I would be very grateful...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Selling them cheap, piling them high.

I had a great day today, with 21 sales across all agencies. Quite a few of these came from images I uploaded over the weekend, so it has been great to be getting some returns from that effort already.

I should maybe say that the figure shown on my spreadsheet for Fotolia earnings is an estimate. Fotolia show earnings as credits which then equate to a conversion rate in your home currency. So I have to convert from credits to pounds to dollars for the sake of the spreadsheet and I can't always be bothered (not every day anyway!) Bear with me, I will try and get it accurate for the end of month total.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Income Stats for October

As you can see from the spreadsheet, my final earnings for October were $213.86. As expected, this was quite a way down from previous months where I averaged about $350. I dropped exclusivity roughly mid-month at iStock with $115.96 of income at that point, so made $77.20 there as an independent in the remaining half of the month. Income from other agencies combined for a lowly $20.70 - to be expected given that I had only a few images for sale for a short period of time.

So too early to be able to draw any meaningful conclusions from this, apart from the obvious - there will be a lean period as you transistion from exclusive to indie. I am still confident that I will be able to match my exclusive income at some point, but that will obviously be dictated by the speed at which I upload to other sites.

My portfolio is finally visible on Dreamstime so I start the month with a presence of sorts on all the big four sites. I'm off now to do some more keywording into Exif - a wee tip for any non-Americans looking to get a head start with this - Shutterstock don't recognise non-US spellings so you will have to use color, aluminum etc instead of the proper spellings.....

Friday, 29 October 2010

Acceptance rates for the first fifty images

I have now had my first fifty images reviewed at all the sites I have uploaded to with the exception of Veer. Two weeks on, my images are still in their queue and from what I have heard I may have to wait a month or two more yet. It is pretty ridiculous, but the situation was aparently caused by their 'dash for cash' promotion where they offered cash for each image uploaded before a certain date. Once that backlog has cleared then Veer hope to have review times down to a week, but that hasn't happened yet. They aparently have a big marketing push booked for this autumn so hopefully the files that do make it onto the site will see some sales.

The list below shows how many of my fifty images have been accepted at each site: (I haven't made these up btw - they have just worked out weirdly sequential).

Canstock - 41/50 = 82%
Dreamstime - 42/50 = 84%
Fotolia - 43/50 = 86%
Bigstock - 44/50 = 88%
DepositPhotos - 45/50 = 90%
Shutterstock - 29/50 = 58%

I know it is a small sample, but the results are fairly uniform until you get to the Shutterstock figure. The fact that it is so wildly out does give me some comfort - it is not me, it really is Shutterstock being very picky. Probably the most head-shaking example was when they rejected a shot of Edinburgh Castle for 'limited commercial value' (well, who wants to look at that old thing anyway?!).

The results from the other sites I am totally fine about. 47 of these images were previously accepted on iStock - two were new images and one was an iS reject. As I said in answer to an earlier comment, inspection is a subjective process and I did not ever expect 100% of these images to be accepted at all sites. This is some of my best stuff though, so acceptance rates of 80-odd percent seem about right. It's probably petty of me, but I was very pleased that the iS reject was accepted everywhere ....

Even though quite a lot of my images were rejected at Shutterstock there is still hope for them on that site. It seems to only be iStock that does the 'can resubmit/cannot resubmit' thing, the other sites all seem to be fine about resubmissions (as an unrelated new upload) once the problem is fixed. Two things I have learnt though from my SS rejects - they don't like shallow DOF nor do they want images which are cropped in any way, even if this provides more impact for the image. I wanted to show you an example, but I can't get the 'add image' thingy to work on here, so you will have to click on this link if you want to see an example of an image that didn't make it on many sites, aparently as the crop made it unlikely to be used. This cheesy little number has sold 19 times on iStock since I uploaded it at the begining of the year (so relatively successful for me). There were some images I uploaded knowing that there was a chance they would be challenged, but this one really surprised me.

Things have moved very quickly at Fotolia - my images were all inspected within 24 hours and I have had a couple of sales there already. I wish I could say the same about Dreamstime, but after my account was locked down (something to do with me telling them I was still exclusive at iS when I registered - registration and uploading being entirely different things after all) my images took two weeks to be inspected and they do not yet appear to be visible for sale. I have heard good things about Dreamstime so I will try and stay patient and put it down to teething troubles.

That is probably it for now, I will post something on Monday once I have the final figures for October.

New portfolio links added

I have added a few more portfolio links on the bar above, having had images go live now on Dreamstime, Fotolia and Bigstock. I have a few more images to be inspected at Fotolia but would expect those to go through later today. I was hesitant about uploading there as I had heard about them cutting commision levels in the past (are they iStock in disguise?), but an indie friend convinced me that as one of the 'big four' (Shutterstock, iStock, Dreamstime and Fotolia), I should really be selling there. Their review times are very quick and inspections seem fair so far. Once the rest of my images there go through I will post a bit more about inspections as I will have an (admittedly small) comparative study to offer now that my 'first fifty' have done the rounds. An interesting pattern has emerged.....

My sales have been good at iStock, aparently bearing out my opinion that at exclusive prices my files were too expensive there. I have been pleasantly surprised by sales there as I had expected to be wiped out by the best-match non-exclusive penalty. It may be that these sales have come from images which were previously lightboxed by buyers and that I will not feel the full effect of poorer BM placement until a bit later on. But I am guessing, cos who knows? It is too early to tell so is all just guesswork at this stage.

There have been some interesting discussions going on in the 'comments' sections of these posts so be sure to check those out if you haven't done so already.

Monday, 25 October 2010

The first fifty

I have now finished uploading my first fifty images to my initial three sites and have begun sending them to some of the other sites on my list.

Shutterstock continue to be frustratingly picky, with only 29 of 50 accepted (58%). All of these were images which were previously accepted on iStock (where I had an acceptance rate in the high seventies). Probably the most annoying rejections are for 'limited commercial value' when applied to images which have sold well previously and therefore have a proven commercial value.

Something seems to have gone wrong at Dreamstime and all my 50 uploads are stuck in their queue, uninspected. I have sent an email to support and am waiting to hear back.

The only other site worthy of note at the moment is CanStock, who have reviewed all my images very quickly and accepted a very high percentage of them. No sales there yet, or anywhere else either with the continued exception of Shutterstock, where sales have been reasonably brisk. I have also had a couple of non-subscription sales there, which helps a bit. I think I could do well there if I could just get more images accepted.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

I know you are out there, I can hear you breathing...

I have had a bit of feedback that some of you haven't been able to post comments on here due to not having a blogger account. I have now changed the settings to allow anyone to comment and also to allow anonymous comments. Please do post if you have any comments or questions, it is good to get feedback and a bit like talking to myself otherwise.

I am also aware that the link to my Dreamstime portfolio isn't working - that is because they still haven't reviewed any of my images yet. I will let you know when that happens.

Many thanks for all the positive comments I have received so far.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Shutterstock update and application processes

I had my first (rather bruising) encounter with the Shutterstock inspectors last night. Of a batch of 20 images they rejected nine - all but one of these for focus issues. I was surprised as all of these images had previously been accepted on iStock, which I certainly found very tough on quality standards. Although the new images are still not visible in my account, I have had one sale from them so far, bringing my Shutterstock total to nine. Of the three agencies I am submitting to so far, Shutterstock wins hands down on speed of application approval, inspection time and lead-time to first sales. Several of you have commented on the royalty amount and it is true that .25c is not a lot. This payment is for their subscription plan, which I have been told makes up the vast majority of sales on Shutterstock. The 25c does however increase over time, based on lifetime earnings. Once I have earned over $500 on the site I would qualify for the 33c rate, over $3000 for the 36c rate and over $10,000 for the 38c rate. Admittedly 38c is still not a lot, but I have been promised that download volume makes up for it, we shall see.

The initial application process for the three agencies (Shutterstock, Dreamstime and Veer) are all pretty much the same. If you are about to embark upon a similar journey you will need to have a scan of your passport ready and (if you are not from the US) to be prepared to fill out a US tax form to avoid having 30% tax deducted from your royalties at source. In all cases this is a fairly simple and painless process. As I have said before, Shutterstock and Veer then require you to submit ten images for review before you can start selling - if accepted then these images become 'live' for sale right away.

Of the three agencies, I chose Shutterstock and Dreamstime as I had been told by other independents that they were their biggest earners. To be honest I have heard very little good about Veer - their inspection times are said to be very slow and sales poor to non-existent, but they have such a nice site that I thought I would give it a go. Their royalty rates are good and the site is by far the easiest, simplest and most helpful to use. It is clean and uncluttered and functions well, which seems to be everything a site should be. Ok, their attempts at dude-speak are a little cringey, but I could forgive them that if they would just make me some money.

In second place for ease of use is Shutterstock, with Dreamstime quite a long way behind. I find the Dreamstime site very hard to get used to and it seems uneccesarily complicated to me, for instance with a phenomenal list of image categories, many of which seem to overlap or duplicate each other. They do seem to have good royalty and referral rates however and I am currently trying to make the most of their '20c for every image online by 15th November' deal being offered to former iStock exclusives.

I have a bunch of other sites I am also going to try once I get the hang of things. Keeping it to three sites at the moment feels managable while I am learning new ways of doing things and getting systems in place to try to keep on top of what image needs to go where.

I have found that all three of my 'phase 1' sites read keywords from the metadata of an image. This means that by opening up an image in CNX and adding keywords, description and title, I can save a lot of time when it comes to submitting to each site. The extra CNX step is slowing me down at the moment as I work through my back-catalogue, but in future I will just add the keywords to the metadata as I process each new image. One of my independent contacts told me that they could upload to nine sites in the time it took to submit the same image to iStock alone and I am beginning to understand why that is. My next step is to learn how to configure FTP uploading as I believe this will streamline the process further still. All of my three new sites offer some way of batch-processing new images too, another way in which the upload process can be a lot quicker than at iStock.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

More sales

I have now had three sales on Shutterstock, which from only seven images online seems pretty good to me. I will post more later tonight about the different agencies I am submitting to and plan to submit to and the different interfaces/requirements for each one.

Exclusivity at iStockphoto comes to an end

My exclusive notice period at iStockphoto expired yesterday, but my crown and image pricing didn't change until this afternoon. It feels good. I will always be grateful to iStock for the start and training they have given me, but I am ready to move on now. I don't believe that the company I joined in 2008 is the same company that exists today, which has made this decision a lot easier.

With that in mind I submitted my application to three agencies last night: Shutterstock, Veer and Dreamstime. The first two have an application process which requires ten images to be submitted for review before you can begin to contribute. Shutterstock require seven out of the ten images to be accepted in order for the application to go through. I am not sure what the Veer qualifications are, but I can say that I have passed both company's assessments already! Shutterstock took just four hours to respond that I had been accepted, while Veer reached the same conclusion some time during the night. I thought it would take several days to be processed, so I was very surprised at how quickly it all went through. On Shutterstock, seven of my initial ten images were accepted and on Veer the number accepted was nine. I was very pleased that in both cases the rejections were for deemed copyright issues, rather than technical reasons. Dreamstime take four to five days to review images but don't require a contributor assessment beforehand.

When I woke up and found my Shutterstock acceptance email I went straight to the site and was very pleased to see that I had a sale already. Only 25c in the pot, but it feels great to have made a sale from only seven images available.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Background - iStockphoto

I came across iStockphoto in April of 2008 while looking to buy images for a website I was planning to set up. The possibility of submitting images to the site renewed a long-held interest in photography and led me to buy my first DSLR, a Sony A350 and a couple of kit lenses. I had thought myself a fairly competent film photographer so it came as a bit of a shock to find how different digital photography was and just how much I had to learn.

I was accepted as a contributor on iStock at the second attempt in May 2008, began submitting images and was very pleased when they started selling. I also had plenty of submissions rejected and it was through this process that I began to slowly learn how to take technically competent digital images. I didn't qualify for exclusivity at the time, so I also applied to sell on Shutterstock, but became frustrated with them after my photographer application was rejected twice, the second time using images which had been accepted and were selling well on iStock. That was probably where my loyalty to iStock began - I also made a lot of friends on the forums and got a lot of help and advice there. On the basis of some of that advice I traded in the Sony for a Nikon D300 and began ploughing my iStock earnings into accumulating F2.8 Nikkor lenses.

I hit bronze (250 downloads) in December of 2008 and became exclusive with iStock. I was very glad to have reached that point, particularly for the 'best match' boost that exclusivity brings. Contributing elsewhere was pretty much unthinkable by then. I was very grateful for having been given the opportunity to learn 'on-the-job' and would bore any of my friends who would listen about the wonders of iStock.

For the next year I put a lot of effort into my portfolio and began to see some tangible results. One of my iStock friends called me 'the queen of useful' and it is fairly accurate to say that while I do not have access to models, a studio, etc I try to make the most of what I find around me. I think it is a great testament to the industry model created by iStock that I am able to make money from photography in this way. I was starting to see the potential for making iStock part of my regular reliable income so it was with great sadness that I had to sell my D300 and all my lenses for financial reasons in December of 2009.

Unfortunately this co-incided with iStock's announcement that canister threshold levels were to change. For those of you not familiar with iStock, commision level is dictated by amount of downloads each exclusive contributor has. The system that had been in place since the creation of the exclusivity programme in 2004 was bronze (250 downloads) 25% commision, silver (2500 downloads) 30%, gold (10,000 downloads)35% and diamond (25,000 downloads) 40% commision. With regular downloads, my arrival at silver level was reliably predictable at May 2010 but the proposal to move the silver goalpost from 2,500 to 5,000 in February 2010 meant that I would not get there in time.

While this seemed inherently unfair, the announcement was softened by the introduction of the E+ program, which brought with it a higher price point for exclusive content. So while I might have to wait for my extra 5% commision (an increase of 20% in real terms) I should be better off as a result of my files being more expensive. As it was, the canister changes were postponed (allowing me to reach silver in May 2010 after all) while the E+ changes went ahead in March 2010. If you look at my income figures you will see a fairly sharp decline at that point. I guess not everyone's images are worth the higher price point and mine don't seem to be.

It is fairly obvious that in order to make more money you need more images for sale. I uploaded some back-catalogue images for a while, but once those ran out I was stuck. A friend came to the rescue with a loan of money to buy a D5000 and with the addition of a couple of old manual focus Nikkor lenses sourced from eBay I was back in business. While this combo should produce perfectly good images I found it very difficult to get any accepted on iStock and quickly became despondent. I also had some fairly substantial personal life issues to deal with so photography went on the back burner for the summer of 2010. By September I felt ready to get back to submitting images again. While I find manual focus and exposure difficult in a travel-photography context (no split screen focus on a DSLR), I felt that I could control it far better in a studio setting. I found a small studio space to rent just round the corner and agreed to lease it on Monday 6th September. As many of you will know, on Tuesday 7th September Kelly Thompson, CEO of iStock dropped a bombshell on contributors: the planned canister threshold changes would not go ahead after all, instead they would be replaced by a whole new system of 'referred credits'. Under this system it will be the number of credits used to purchase an image that counts, not the number of downloads. The announcement was greeted with surprise and a great deal of understandable anger from contributors. While there is a lot of fairness in a system that rewards those who sell images in larger sizes, the thresholds which had been decided upon penalised most contributors of silver level or above and would see the majority of them take a cut of 5% in commision levels. It should be remembered that equates to a far greater cut in real terms and also that these are the very contributors on whose work the success of the site has been built. I checked my newly-published level of referred credits, did some calculations and worked out that the new system would see me take a 16.6% pay cut in 2011. This is not unsual and is not the worst I have heard of.

At the same time, plans for new content known as 'The Agency Collection' were announced. This would allow other agencies to place large quanties of images on iStock which would be sold at far higher prices than the existing content. I felt that the site was no longer a place where a hard-working amateur could make their way, but rather an extension of it's parent company Getty. Under the new system, taking time off from submitting images for whatever reason could result in the referred credit goal being missed. The old mantra of 'shoot, upload, repeat' would become a treadmill, penalising part-time contributors. Even worse - the required numbers of referred credits would be adjusted by the company every year in order to make sure their profits were as desired. Even if you did reach the goal, the goalposts may well be moved again, depriving you of what you had worked all year to attain.

It was at this point that I parted company with iStock.

I know that there will be a great number of other contributors who like me, have 'grown up' on iStock who will be curious to find out how I get on as an independent (particularly in dollar terms), which is the reason behind this blog. I will be transparent about my historic income from iStock and my future income from other agencies. My exclusivity at iStock falls on the 12th of October 2010. I will write about the different agencies I am applying to and the application/submission process. I hope also to deal with all the issues that concern contributors regarding dropping exclusivity ie upload times, keywording, agency selection, possible loss of income etc.

If I fall flat on my face, I will do it very publicly ;-)

You can find an up-to-date spreadsheet of my iStockphoto earnings here.