Review: Introducing Shutterstock Custom

Following Shutterstock’s high-profile June 2017 acquisition of Toronto-based Flashstock for $50m, it was clear that something was brewing at SS HQ. What clearly attracted SS to Flashstock was its proprietary platform, which allows brands to request custom content from the company’s global network of freelancers.

Shutterstock isn’t re-inventing the wheel, as this type of photo request business model has been around for ages. Look at ImageBrief and Snapwire. But, SS is taking it to a whole new level since they have a global reach consisting of 1.7 million clients and 250,000 contributors (source: SS). Time will tell if they will be successful. If memory serves me well, iStockphoto tried Buy Request a few years ago which didn’t take off.

How does Custom Content work?

Custom content is in a way the opposite of Microstock photography since the content is bespoke and exclusive. Clients publish a detailed photography assignment, also known as a brief, calling on artists to create visual content that reflects the branding, tone and style of their business. Contributors would then be notified of the brief and would be free to opt-in assignments they are both qualified and interested in.

SS have provided some case-studies to highlight which types of content brands wish to create and why.

Becoming a photography contributor

Applying to become a contributor is easy. How do I know? Well, because I’ve just applied!

Simply, click on this link and follow the easy steps.  Fill out the usual form with contact details, link to portfolio and Instagram handle. If you’re new to this and signing up I would appreciate if you put my name, under referral.


Then, the form gets into more specifics and requests which categories you shoot. This is crucial since, if you’re accepted, these are the types of briefs you’d receive which you  may or may not wish to opt-in.

Here’s a screenshot with what I’ve selected:


Then it gets reallyyyy specific with the types of content you may produce, and that’s not all as there’s 3x more boxes to fill in:


How much would you get paid

Earnings will be 20-30%, on a tiered system, and the same as Extended Licenses.


In addition, to get a sense of how much contributors may be paid which would be a huge factor on whether it’s interesting to apply to become a contributor, we can take a quick look at Flashstock’s earnings from the point of view of an ex-contributor.

I managed to find on the MicrostockGroupForum, a thread dated April 2017, where a Flashstock contributor mentioned the following (alias: mcmiller):

“I’ve actually been on the site for 2-3 months and here’s my experience. You start out with low paying (usually 4 images for $50 but one assignment wanted 10 images for $50) assignments and as you establish a successful track record the assignments pay better as you progress. That’s the pitch, but in my experience they’re very picky about accepting images, to the point of my not being able to making sense of what they do and do not pass on to the client. They offer no feedback, so there’s no real way to learn as you go along. The pay is extremely low at face value, but even lower when you account for the fact that many of their assignments require multiple models and locations when the payout is only $50 IF they buy four images. Deadlines range from 3 days to two weeks. So far I’ve responded to two assignments and sold 1 image. It’s a great idea, but it’s being implemented rather stupidly.”

On the same thread, a contributor by the alias of zapeir added:

I actually signed up with them a couple months ago and became a “preferred photographer” right off the bat. I accepted my first assignment a month ago, and it was 20 photos for $300. I’ve yet to be paid but out of the 40 images I submitted, 22 were accepted but I’m not sure how the payments going to work since they accepted more than were required? Overall it’s been a good experience so far. I can update you on how the payment works out when it happens.

My advice would be to stay updated by vising SS Custom’s blog and also joining in our discussion on the MicrostockGroupForum thread . We’re a friendly bunch, for the most part!

Meanwhile, I’ll keep you updated on whether I’m accepted. I’m also pending an application to join Stocksy, blog post about this is here, so it’s interesting times ahead and I hope I get diversify my income away from Microstock.

Until next time!


UPDATE! September 28th

A word of warning if you’re considering becoming a Shutterstock Custom contributor. READ THE CONTRACT CAREFULLY. If you do sign up, you’ll be effectively giving away your copyright to Shutterstock to do what they wish (pretty much) with your image forever.

Here’s a short extract from the key clause:

By providing a Submission to us that we accept and compensate you for (“Paid Submission”), you will thereby assign to us and we will own, all right, title and interest in and to that Paid Submission, irrevocably, perpetually and without any limitation or restriction whatsoever. Without limiting the generality of the preceding sentence, upon receipt of each Paid Submission, we will have the exclusive, irrevocable, perpetual, worldwide right to use, reproduce, display, electronically transmit, distribute, publish, broadcast, modify, edit, combine with the work of others, make derivative works from and otherwise exploit each of your Paid Submissions, and to grant any of those rights to others, for any purpose whatsoever, and on any terms determined by us in our sole discretion.

This is quite extreme so I thought you should be aware!


  1. OMG, this is so discouraging! 20-30% and the 80-120$ these days? For a commissioned work? Exclusive?
    Really?! And you give all the rigths, forever? 😮 😀


    There are so many and so much better sites and options to earn some proper money for your work, not making you working for almost free, and feeling like a ###.
    Respect yourself people or noone else will.

    Microstock used to be promising 10 years ago, when there was not that much competition and you could make a living easily. It changed very fast bringing us to the situation where almost everyone is complaining about the earnings falling down and down, and down…
    Not seeing the reason nor consequences yet? The circle is closed – the more you produce to sell it the cheapest, it will be harder and harder to sell anything and to earn anything, so you’ll be forced to produce more and more, sell cheaper and cheaper, and so on. It’s so easy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Arletta,

      I agree that it’s a bad deal for the reasons you have outlined.

      Nevertheless, I would like to take on at least one brief to test the waters and give a complete review. Stay tuned!

      The unsustainability of Microstock is something I hammer over and over again, that’s why I’m always looking for other opportunities…be they Print on Demand, Competitions, Fine Art Photography, Midstock. There’s still money to be made with Micros with the right combination of images, but there’s lower hanging fruit elsewhere, especially with premium images.

      Thanks for your comments 🙂



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