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.