Shutterstock Earnings Cut – Hitting Them Where it Hurts!

Loads of contributors are rightly upset about the new earnings schedule. It’s a shitty deal now (June 2020) and will be an even shittier deal from January 2021, especially with 4K clips. Just how bad remains to be seen.

In this blog post I’ll explore some options of how we, as a group of contributors, can perhaps make a difference.

Let’s start with the most radical option of all…

Option 1: Fully Deactivating Ports

Some contributors have opted for pressing the nuclear button, which is fully deactivating their ports. In my opinion, this is a rich man/woman’s option…as many contributors simply cannot take this course of action if the majority of their income comes from earnings at SS (however much reduced). Especially when major economies have been shut down due to the outbreak and people have been laid off (including myself).

Some contributors have decided to press the “nuclear button”

Thinking about “Sunken Costs”

In addition, there are “sunken costs” associated with the literally hundreds of hours of work put into uploading to SS (especially during pre-StockSubmitter manual upload days).

In my case, I have just over 10,000 images and 1,000 clips and have been uploading since early 2013 (clips since 2018)…am I going to throw away 7 years’ worth of work in a moment of rage? Nope, no chance. I have deactivated my ports from the likes of Canva and Canstock turds but ports were considerable less and much less work put into them and they were earning very little anyway.

Nevertheless,  some contributors opted for this option and it’s their assets and they’re free to do what they wish without personal judgement, I just hope that some won’t regret it.

Effects of mass-deactivation are being felt by SS

From looking at the stats, it appears that those that chose to deactivate their ports have had a (small) effect on the total number of images on offer with some 2 million images being pulled in just ten days:


My more cynical side, from working in the corporate world for many years, believes that SS accounted for this drop when they were discussing implementing these changes.

Option 2: Stop uploading to SS

This may come across as the most obvious and reason why I didn’t include it at first. If you stop feeding the beast, buyers won’t have new and quality content.

Thank you Cobalt on the MicrostockGroup Forum thread for pointing this out:

“This is the easiest thing to do, even for those who really need the money right now. Instead, everyone can upload and focus and share links to the agencies that support us.

The upload volume has dropped to below one million, let us see what SS does when that number goes down to 500 000 or less…

It is also the thing many artists can keep up for a few weeks.

It is amazing they still totally refuse to talk to contributors, but withholding content is IMO the strongest to demonstrate to all agencies who controls the content.”

Since June 6, I have stopped uploading and haven’t yet decided what else I will do…as gathering more info to make a more informed decision.

Option 3: Temporarily Deactivating Ports

A more sensible option, imo, is to temporarily disable ports for a week or so. In fact, June 15 is supposed to be D-Day, organised by the newly-formed Stock Submitters Coalition Group on Facebook.

Over 3,000 members and growing!

According to Group Administrator, Dimitar Gorgev,

“We are supporting the D-day, deactivation day, which is on 15-th of June. So, please, if you haven’t done so, deactivate your files on this day for at least one week. This will show our unity and our strength and will provide clear message to SS that we mean what we say. Make no mistake, although is only one week, it will show that we are serious and we can act when needed. This is not a simple task, uniting the world contributors under one common goal. Let’s starve the beast!”

How to deactivate images temporarily

As for how to temporarily deactivate, go into your Account Settings and click on “no” for both Image and Footage:

How to deactivate

One week in the grand scheme of things won’t make a difference. In my case I’d sacrifice $100 or so assuming I have a good month of $400 on SS. However, I propose another more effective D-Day activation.

UPDATE: I’m taking part on temporarily deactivating my port for a week from June 14 until June 21.

SS deactivation

Option 3A: Happy New Year, SS – Fk off!

Since we’ll all be frustratingly resetting to level I on January 1st, a Happy New Year, fk off SS deactivation makes more sense and in that case it can be for the whole month. It would have less impact on our ports than if we were to deactivate now (I’m on Level 4 for stills and Level 2 for clips). Something to think about and happy to discuss – please comment below….we still have some months to coordinate.

Happy New Years, SS!

New Years’ Target – 10 million images deactivated!

Supposing that instead of 1.6 million images deactivated we really shock their management by having 10 million images deactivated! Let that sink in.

That would really send a message out to Shutterstock management and shareholders.

Option 4: Contact SS Buyers

Imo, the best way to hit SS where it hurts and at least attempt to ensure some sort of sustainability within this profession is to contact buyers directly and ask them to shop elsewhere. Being on Twitter means it will have the exponential effect of other contributors re-tweeting the same message and reaching more and more people to create a movement.

Putting it into practice 

The following is an example of what I’ve recently done using Twitter:

An example of when I contacted a buyer directly via Twitter

And another one today (June 13):


How to contact buyers directly

Step 1: Google Reverse search your sold image OR search by your name on Google (past 24 hours)

Step 2: Go to the page where your image is being used. Sometimes buyers won’t use the “Shutterstock” caption, so be careful. Also, if your images are on multiple agencies they may have purchased from elsewhere, use common sense…if it sold on SS that day and it went up that day it’s probably a sale from SS.

Step 3: See if the buyer used the image on their social media feed (Facebook or Twitter for instace)

Step 4: Re-tweet or share (Facebook) the image on your feed and add the hashtag #boycottshutterstock

Step 5: Add a generic message such as I did “Thanks for your purchase but shop around at more sustainable agencies”. Generic text to be ironed out. proposal below.

I’ll keep contacting buyers as I spot my images being used and shared on their social media.

Coordinated effort needed ASAP!!

I would like to a propose a coordinated effort between all concerned contributors so we may “hit them where it hurts”.

My proposal, and please feel free to comment, is for one contributor per week to follow the steps above and re-tweet one of their images per week. Now, if you can do it per day that would be great but it’s not often that I’m able to locate my images and it’s been re-tweeted by buyers. Nevertheless, I check as often as I can. Obviously if your port is deactivated you won’t have any sales.

The generic text I propose is the following (also free to change according to your tastes):

“Thank you for your purchase, however, Shutterstock is engaging in exploitative behaviour towards its contributors by reducing our commissions to unsustainable levels. Please act responsibly and support the artists by purchasing images elsewhere, such as AdobeStock and/or Alamy”.

In hindsight this may be a bit long for Twitter, so may need to reduce it.

Don’t let them support Dreamstime either (they’re not fooling anybody)

Not Dreamstime because they’re turds. Just because they gave us a 10% raise doesn’t take away the fact that 3 years ago they screwed us over…I will never forget.Blog post on the subject.


Still looking at stats

I’m gathering stats to see just how far earnings will fall. Steve Heap, as always, published an excellent post with his early-days stats on a post entitled Shutterstock Payout Changes – Likely Impact.

As for me, it’s another day, another dollar….

Those 10 cent subs just keep on coming!

Next steps – Cool Heads Must Prevail

I believe that in times like these, cool heads need to prevail. We know things are bad but at the moment we just don’t have enough data to know just how bad things are compared with Pre-June. Very preliminary but I’ve noticed that ODDs are, on average, higher than Pre-June levels…so these may offset those pesky 10-15cent subs.

Therefore, I”m taking a cautious approach before making any radical decision and am busy gathering the necessarily stats to report back so we can all make a coordinated effort to make this a more sustainable industry for all.

Stay safe out there!

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy, currently based in Portugal (fled Madrid to escape the brunt of this nasty Coronavirus), on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage, when things go back to normal (July??). I’ve devoted eight years to making it as a travel photographer / videographer and freelance writer (however, had recently go back into full-time office work to make ends meet, although been recently let go!).  I hope to inspire others by showing an unique insight into a fascinating business model.

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


  1. Good ideas Alex. And that Twitter idea probably doesn’t fall afoul of rules around not contacting buyers. I wonder if waiting to January is too late, even though I see how it could work. I’m still thinking about 15th June.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great stuff as always, Alex. I frequently sprinkle my own stock photos around my blog posts and have thus far linked to the SS sales page — looks like I’ll be rethinking this strategy. Have you ever considered moving your best photos onto a portfolio service like Smugmug, and accepting the increased role in being a salesman?

    PS: Love your plan for the NY deactivation. Makes much more sense, I’m sure less people would flake


  3. Great stuff as always, Alex. I frequently sprinkle my own stock photos around my blog posts and have thus far linked to the SS sales page — looks like I’ll be rethinking this strategy. Have you ever considered moving your best photos onto a portfolio service like Smugmug, and accepting the increased role in being a salesman?

    PS: Love your plan for the NY deactivation. Makes much more sense, I’m sure less people would flake


    • Thanks Ben! I have never used Smugmug, will check them out. If they’re non-exclusive RF, then should be quite straightforward to start testing them.

      Let’s see how people respond to the NY deactivation. We have plenty of time to prepare. Let’s suppose that we have a target of 10million images being deactivated in one day, that will send quite a message!


      • For sure. I’m far from an expert with Smugmug, but I’ve been using it for my main photography portfolio for over a year now. I definitely dig how easy it is to set up for sales.

        Although…I’ve been so focused on the blog part of my site that I’ve sent almost zero traffic to my photography. Pretty sure I don’t have a single sale yet because of that lol


  4. I went nuclear. My over 11k photos are gone from SS. Yay me.

    But just an FYI to those considering directly contacting buyers while you still have an account there. I support that, but know that SS specifically forbids this in the TOS. You run the risk of the immediate closing of your account by SS.

    Again, I support the option, but do it with all the information in front of you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Farbled,

      I have looked through the Contributor Agreement and see no mention of this restriction:

      Most relevant would be: “Confidentiality
      By submitting any Content to Shutterstock, you acknowledge that you will acquire certain confidential and proprietary information, including but not limited to royalty rates, royalty payments and earnings data (collectively, “Confidential Information”). You agree to keep Confidential Information confidential and to not disclose Confidential Information to any third party other than representatives, agents, attorneys, accountants, auditors and advisors with a bona fide need to know, who shall first agree to keep the terms confidential.” However, doesn’t say anything about not contacting buyers.


  5. It’s interesting that Alamy have shut off any communication to contributors – they’re just not reachable anymore. The e-mail replies onlt automatic messages. I have some ~60 USD there which they doesn’t pay out because for more than 3 months they’re still “uncleared balance”… It looks like Alamy is also not an option to promote as an alternative when migrating away from Shutterstock.


  6. Yes, some year ago I contacted them as well, and it was great – private answers from real person with a name and surname. But now all I get from them is this:

    Thanks for your email, please read the following important information.

    Temporarily, we’re unlikely to be able to answer your email due to a reduction in team size whilst we respond to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

    For any legal or copyright issues you need to email



  7. Imho none of this will work – SS allowed for our probable actions in their planning of the move. It would be best if SS toppled over, but to topple it over it would take action from the agencies that are the major contributor. However, these agencies were consulted before the move…

    I think it is better for those affected to do something else. Do different photography and sell it thru different channels. Sell body organs, etc. If SS does not work for you now, it never will again. The good old days are gone. We need to do something else, do it better, do it elsewhere. SS is dead (for this specific kind of contributor).

    SS has been sinking for a time now. The whole segment has been sinking even though some players were sinking slower than others. SS is past. We must find where the future is and work to find our place, our share, in it.

    I hope SS owners and shareholders will rot in hell for their greed, their foul play, their utter disrespect for the creative crowd. I will spit on their graves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree. We need to diversify into more profitable avenues.

      I’ve been hard at work at creating book covers and shooting 4K clips. On my shopping list is a go-pro to use on my standup paddle and bike and a then a drone!

      As for micro pics, probably not even worth the time anymore to upload. In fact, I’ve just sent a microstocky-looking batch to Alamy as Rights-Managed exclusive for the first time in ages.


  8. Agree completely. I’ve seen my industry (design which is related to photography) which I trained for back in the 80s. slowly devalued & even destroyed by these geeky tech bosses and their microstock sites and design templates. I had to give the industry up years ago. Photography & now even video is being pillaged by these evil morons. These Tech geeks remind me of Lex Luther in the superman series.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment, Tony.

      Someone recently said that we are “slaves” in this industry. I couldn’t agree more. We have a choice where our copyright goes if we feel we are being treated unfairly.

      I can only see contributors being treated worse in the coming years…they pretty much don’t need us as they have more than enough content especially with falling demand due to the global recession.


  9. So now that some time has passed, what will happen going forward? Will a huge deactivation campaign happen this January (2021)? Did the SS people decide to listen to contributors and make any adjustments to these horrible terms?


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