I’ve recently received an interesting email from a reader that has kindly shared with me 13 years’ worth of his earnings data from uploading stills to “all agencies”. These represent a significant sample that I’ll try to draw some conclusions in order to better-understand the big picture of how his images have performed over the long-run within an industry-wide scope.
He wishes to remain anonymous and has consented to me publishing this chart and a short summary, perhaps as a warning to others about the decline in this industry. Or perhaps just to vent his frustrations. Well here it is:
13 Years’ worth of earnings data (“All Agencies”)
- 13,000 images (70% commercial / 30% editorial)
His analysis (I’ve removed confidential info accordingly):
The chart shows my total DL’s at all agencies since I first began in 2006. I currently have 13,000 images in my SS portfolio (70% commercial / 30% editorial).
The chart represents a grand total of 462,950 DL’s.
You can see the decline in total downloads over the last three years. 2016 total was 69,688 – and netted over $51k (73cents per download). You can see that 2019 probably won’t be half of that, unless I have a great last quarter. But I find nothing to be optimistic about, and it’s not like I quit trying.
He has asked me not to link his port on this piece but will say that having had a look myself, his stock images are very-well executed with strong themes. Sorry, cannot go any further and show examples.
The writing is on the wall
I’m afraid that if you’re looking to get started, and looking to monetise your content, you will have your work cut out. Not to say it’s impossible to earn a regular side-income but you have to face the fact that the “good old days” are long gone by at least 3-5 years, maybe even longer.
From speaking with other veterans, apparently the peak in earnings was around 2010-2013 (although in his case it was 2016). In any case, the striking declines of the past two years are without a doubt a reality for most.
Agencies opened the floodgates volume-wise around 2017
Although simplistic and a topic to be explored on another occasion, I believe that a major contributing factor to declining earnings has been that agencies (in particular Shutterstock) have relaxed their Quality Control standards, as you have probably noticed leading to a flood of sub-par turdy images and unworthy contributors.
They have also relaxed their entry requirements to 1/10 images being accepted on the first batch from a previous 7/10.
Although this is a complex issue which requires much more analysis, simply put: it’s clear that supply has far outstripped demand, thus leading to downward price pressures.
Shutterstock is also feeling the pinch
One can’t take contributor-earnings in isolation. According to Seekingalpha’s article entitled, “Shutterstock Continues to Deteriorate“, the road ahead looks bleak growth-wise:
What’s the solution?
It’s pointless to whine and complain without adopting an effective strategy to combat declining earnings. I wish I could offer concrete solutions but everybody’s circumstances are different.
In my case, I’ve looked into pursuing stock footage as a viable alternative business model and slowing down uploading stills (except for the book covers). Although early days, my results are encouraging on both the footage side and book cover sales.
Can you think of any other solutions that you’re adopting in your own business?
How has your stock income dropped over the years?
Please comment below. Don’t need to be too specific but roughly tell us the size of your port and how much your monthly income has dropped year-on-year and from the past 3-5 years for example (if you have been submitting for that long).
I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted six years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.
I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography