Why I choose to embrace ‘subscription’ downloads at Microstock sites!

Hey fellow photography grinders,

The number one complaint I hear from fellow contributors to Microstock sites is that their stock images should be yielding much more than 25 cents per download. I hear them, but I feel that many fail to really understand the Microstock subscription plan business model, how to take full advantage of its strengths.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, what the hell is this ‘subscription plan’?

One parallel is the popular Netflix business model, where users pay a flat monthly subscription costing $9.99 (or similar) for unlimited viewing pleasure. In stock photography, it’s not much different.

The client pays a monthly fee, varying from $50 to $250 (depending on the plan & agency), for a maximum number of RF downloads per month. Simple and easy to use and that’s why clients love them.

At the higher-end subscription plans costing upwards of $200, customers would be able to download over 700 RF images a month! These volumes are probably reserved to marketing / publishing businesses as an average blogger has no need for that many images.

Here’s a general breakdown of subscription plans between Microstock Agencies:


Let’s face the facts, subscription commissions are low!

I’m not going to sugar coat it, the commissions per download are small,  generally around 25 – 40 cents / per downloaded RF image. Probably took you a lot more investment in terms of time and expenses to produce those images to earn a pitiful 25 cents.  I mean, that’s not even enough to buy a cup of coffee.

Red light.jpg
Such low commissions is often a deal-breaker for contributors

Leave your ego at the door

Take a deep breath and think things through.

The good news is that once your images are accepted, assuming they have some commercial value, they should be regularly downloaded under the subscription plan. When I see regularly, I mean multiple times a day for months/years to come. Do the math and those 25-40 cents do add up and quite quickly!

In fact, in my previous blog where I outline my top 5 best selling images at Shutterstock, they combine for a total of around 1200 which equates to a nice $436 and growing everyday. Now, I strategically didn’t include any mention of on-demand downloads or extended licenses so that figure is MUCH HIGHER, more than triple. But in this article we’re only focusing on subs.

I’ve done some calculations and subscription downloads make up nearly half of my total income at Shutterstock and the same holds true to other Agencies that offer such plans.

A regular subscription-downloaded image

Some images should not be licensed under ‘subscriptions’

Now for the juicy bit where I give you some advice. In my book, I go into great lengths to outline which types of images should not be licensed at Microstock sites where customers may license them under subscription plans. Once the quality of your images improves, I would highly recommend that these ‘premium’ images should be licensed as Rights-Managed at Midstock agencies to earn higher commissions.

vineyard at sunset (barbaresco)
An example of an image that I license as RM exclusively at Robert Harding, a specialist travel agency. On a side note, this image came 3rd on a major photography prize on the theme of wine

These ‘premium’ images generally have a combination of the following three elements (just a sneak peak, sorry I can’t give everything away):

  • Unique lighting conditions
  • Rare, extraordinary and even dangerous shots
  • Considerable investment required to acquire the image(s), such as travel expenses, professional models, props and set

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