My latest images for sale at Shutterstock:

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.