How Many Images Does It Take To Make Money?

Posted on 7/3/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Stock Performer recently published an article entitled “Are you uploading enough files to make money from microstock?” The article offers some interesting statistics. However, there are some other issues that need to be considered like, “Is More Automatically Better.”

For example, if you use Shutterstock’s own statistics in 2016 they had 167.9 million downloads that grossed $494.3 million. We don’t know if all the high priced footage downloads, or the downloads they received from Offset are included in this number. We suspect not. We don’t know if the Bigstock downloads are included although certainly the revenue is included. Shutterstock also gets some revenue that is not directly tied to downloads from other services they deliver.

Nevertheless, for the purpose of this calculation I’ll assume that 167.9 million downloads generated $494.3 million or an average of $2.94 per download for the year. Shutterstock pays out about 28% of revenue received to the image creator which would work out to about $0.82 per download.

It is also important to consider that Shutterstock said the had 116.2 million images in the collection at the end of 2016. Thus, on average each image was downloaded 1.44 times in the year and would have generated on average per-image-in-the-collection of $1.18. For every image that is never downloaded a few are downloaded multiple times. Shutterstock contributors can use these numbers to determine how they might compare with the average contributor.

It is also important to note that Shutterstock now has 145,029,604 images in its collection and is adding new images at a rate of over 1 million a week. This should mean that by the end of 2017 they will have more than 171 million images in their collection. Bigstock has 53 million stock photos, many of them the same images that are on the Shutterstock site.

I have talked to some Shutterstock photographers with more than 5,000, but less than 10,000 images on the site that earn about $2.00 per image annually. I have also talked to a photographer with over 200,000 images in the collection who earns about $0.045 (four-and-a-half cents) annually per image in the collection.

The number of images aren’t as important as the subject matter of the images (is the subject of the image in high demand) and the quality (how does your image compare with all others in the collection of the same general subject).

How Many Images Should You Submit

Check out this story about one Shutterstock contributor – Dotstock.

Dotstock operates out of Bosnia. With 98,417 images in their Shutterstock collection this is probably the work of a production company that has multiple photographers. They may have several photographers shooting on the same shoot.

In the shoot I examined, they produced 1,371 shots from one basic location. (Keep in mind that many photographers aim to get 50 to 100 good images out of a single days shoot.) All the 1,371 images ended up with the same keywords. There were 518 shots of the same woman, by herself, in the same clothes, in this same office situation. To my way of thinking this is over kill. I doubt that many of this particular set of images have sold multiple times. To my way of thinking some serious editing could have been done on this collection of images and a much smaller group selected that might have sold just as well, if not better.

Maybe the logic is that “we have no idea what customers might want so we’ll just throw everything we can produce at them and see what they like.” I would think there would be some extra costs to the image creator in post production work, keywording and uploading, but maybe that’s not enough to offset the time it would take to edit and discourage sending in everything. This particular set of images doesn’t look like there was much time spent post production work.

Dotstock was so anxious to send in every frame they shot that day that they submitted about 250 images of 5 to 7 people in various grouping with inaccurate captions. I found these images by searching for “successful African American woman.” However, there is no African American, male or female, in any of these groups.

The question I have is whether seeing so many similars, many of them obviously not as good as the best of the take, is turning customers off rather than encouraging them to buy more images.

There are certainly indications that a significant number of customers would like to see better edited collections so they don’t have to spend as much of their time comparing similar images.. They would like a little help. But photographers don’t want to take the time to do it, and neither does Shutterstock, or, increasingly, other distributors that upload everything that comes their way.

And, of course, photographers who are willing to edit have another dilemma. If they don’t upload a huge number of similars will their images be so overwhelmed by those of the photographer’s who do that their images will never get seen.

To test this theory go to Shutterstock and search for Successful African American Woman. Look through the first two or three pages and see how often you find 3, 5 or 10 very similar pictures of the same woman in the same situation.

Despite the fact that there are 25,888 pictures that are found using this set of keywords, no customer is going to look at more than 3 to 5 pages. If your images aren’t found on the early pages they won’t be seen.

Also, keep in mind that were also getting pictures of men with either no woman in the picture or blurred in the background which are not relevant at all to what the customer's search.

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I don’t think it is just more images. And I don’t think anyone has found it yet.

Copyright © 2017 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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