It’s official, after many months of speculation, EyeEm is heading for closure as they’ve confirmed that they’ve filed for bankruptcy and Getty will duly remove their images from their collection. That’s it, and goodbye, but was it predictable and what can we learn from yet another agency that has collapsed?
The writing was on the wall for a long time
The long and winding road was quite predictable, as far back as mid-2022, when I published a blog post “Is EyeEm Heading for Closure?” which was picked up by Petapixel – EyeEm Not Paying Photographers, Blames Accounting and ‘Global Events.
5 Red Flags that Contributors need to be aware
As hard-working contributors, it’s crucial to keep an eye on the market and be aware of potential risks. In recent years, the microstock industry has experienced significant changes and some agencies have faced financial challenges that have led to them behind wound up, such as Imagebrief.
I’ll discuss the top 5 red flags to look out for that an agency may be struggling and may inevitable shut down in the near-future (and/or purchased by the giant Gorilla that is Getty for peanuts). Let’s get started!
Ps. These are in no particular order of importance.
Red Flag 1: “Anyone else not yet been paid from Agency XYZ?”
This seems super obvious but as soon as many contributors start asking the same questions relating to delays in payments, something is up – where there is smoke there is fire, ladies and gents.
Sure, it can happen that one month or another the payment is delayed for a few days, but when payment is overdue for weeks/months as in the case of EyeEm (which was highlighted in a super-long thread at the MSG Forum as far back as July 2022), that’s a huge red flag.
After waiting a reasonable amount of time, don’t work for free by wasting of time uploading new content when you’re struggling to be paid on time, or at all.
Red Flag 2: “Exciting News” Notice
“Exciting News” notices are what I refer to as over-the-top and badly written emails from agencies, which often contain “exciting”, where they want to express some sort of apparent “positive news”, which of course for them it is, but for contributors it’s certainly not (except for the rare occassions).
On any given month we receive numerous “exciting news” from agencies, which can be difficult to make sense of these types of correspondences. So best to illustrate this point with some examples.
- Alamy Commission Changes – reducing gross earnings from 50% to 40% for direct sales (see link for their reasons why they’ve done this)
- Wirestock removal of free-uploads with no notice unless you’re approval rate is above 85%. Their whole damn unique selling point was being able to upload/images being keyworded to free, take that away, what is left?
Here are some more “exciting news” on this blog post.
Red Flag 3: Censuring social media and banning accounts
Senior management at some of the struggling agencies’ have taken a page out of the books of autocratic regimes…the likes of North Korea, Cuba and increasingly Russia, where officials do their utmost to control the narrative with lies/propaganda. One way some agencies may do this is by limiting what can be discussed in the public sphere, including social media.
To my disbelief until today, Shutterstock infamously shut down their popular contributor forum back in mid-2021 after threads upon threads of complaints about their new payment structure and FFS replaced it with cookie-cutter FAQs.
More recently, EyeEm/TalentHouse began limiting their social media feed – see below:
Alamy, on the other hand, dealt efficiently on the public relations front after their commission drop, opening up a healthy yet heated discussion on their forum.
Red Flag 4: Great difficulty in removing existing images / deleting portfolio
This is a significant red flag. You own the copyright to your images and most agencies will have no issue with removing your images from their collection.
Sure, some will go overboard with many months of notice needed *ahem Dreamstime, 6 months* and with iStock you’ll need to open up a ticket…but overall, it can be done and just may take some time and effort.
Where there may be problems is when an agency will make it practically impossible to remove your content – see below when I’ve tried to remove my Partner images from the EyeEm collection. I did contact them but guess if I received a reply two weeks later?
Same with trying to delete your account. No reply from EyeEm…
Red Flag 5: Drastic reduction in sales volumes and average prices
Although this seems like a strong indicator it needs further analysis since pretty much all agencies, on average, are producing less returns for contributors than just a few years ago.
Customers will always will want more for less – that’s why the affordable Netflix-style monthly subscription model is the preferred option for most contributors, as opposed to the more complicated Rights-Managed one-off licenses of the past. Now, that’s all good until you’re seeing sales which are far below the average of even a few months ago. Then you wonder what’s going on behind the scenes.
Take for example, these video sales from this year at Shutterstock.
The final start to push towards FREEMIUM?
Why are they so low when normally I would earn $8 from them minimum just a year ago. This is a red flag by itself and that the agency is necessarily in financial trouble but it may mean that our collection is heading towards FREEMIUM territory – Free + Premium. After all, I honestly don’t see much difference between licensing 4K footage for $1 or $0.
Let’s suppose that its 2025 and one day we receive an “Exciting News” notice from ShutterGetty (who merged in 2024) that they’re making all their content free to download (and also available at Unsplash)…and adding the sweetener that it MAY lead to greater sales in the paid collection. Not so far-fetched it seems.
There’s also a worrying trend for contributors which is that there will come a day when agencies won’t need anymore content from contributors and will just create artificial intelligence content from the existing collection.
There’s already lots happening behind the scenes and I’ve even received $31.69 in December 2022 for Shutterstock’s AI-generated Contributor Fund. No further payments since.
Further tips to ensure you’re not caught by surprise
Now, any one of the above by itself may not necessarily be a red flag, but look out for a combination of them.
Check their financial pulses
In addition, keep an eye on the financial health of the microstock agency by researching its financial statements and performance reports if available. Look for any signs of declining revenue, increasing expenses, or debts that may indicate financial instability. By being proactive and staying informed, you can take precautions and make informed decisions to protect your earnings as a contributor. Joe Ann Snover does a great job to break down Shutterstock’s quarterly financial reports and translate the corporate speak to English.
Smaller agencies / new entrants are more likely to go under
Be more cautious when signing up and uploading to smaller stock agencies. As with any start-up, they may struggle to raise much capital and compete with the more established players in the market. If you do upload, perhaps ensure that you’re not uploading your best work to them.
Quick poll – which agency do you think you will disappear next?
Until next time!
As an all-knowing psychic, I possess the ability to not only capture stunning stock images and footage as a travel photographer/videographer and freelance writer, but also predict the rise and fall of microstock agencies. Currently based in Lisbon, Portugal, I am on a quest to explore all corners of the world and share my unique insight into this fascinating business model.
Most recently, I have gone all-in on submitting book cover images to Arcangel Images, while also acquiring a DJI Mavic 2s drone to further enhance my creative capabilities. Additionally, I am proud to have written a book about my adventures titled “Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography”, which includes candid tips on how to succeed in this industry, including predicting the potential demise of microstock agencies.
With my psychic abilities and extensive experience, I am well-equipped to navigate the ever-changing landscape of microstock photography, anticipating the fate of agencies and sharing my predictions with others. Join me on this journey as I capture the world’s wonders and uncover the secrets of the microstock photography universe with my uncanny foresight.
I think there are a lot of signs, too many. In other types of businesses the suppliers (us) would have already stopped working with their clients (agencies). In our case, I don’t know if due to a lack of commercial vision or because we don’t have another job opportunity, we think that this will be solved, and that the days of great sales will return.
Great post, as usual!
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That’s a good point, why don’t we quit? I think it’s because we since most of us enjoy the capturing images part so much that we sort of put up with the low earnings. If it was a pure “job” then we would have more people quit.
Good days won’t return, unfortunately. Things are getting worse in fact 😦
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A ‘new exciting opportunity” message just came from P5. it`s called Dataset Earnings https://contributor.pond5.com/getting-started/payout-overview/?a=11 and for me excitement should come from the fact, that I earned 0,46 bucks for hell knows what indeed. You can opt out till the end of April. And now: should we all opt out and stop feeding AI algorithms with our very blood or grab “exciting opportunity” and as we say in Poland: sell them (for peanuts) a rope on which they`ll hang us high?
Thanks for your blog, it`s extremely helpful for everybody.
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