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.