Shutterstock Update: Creator Earnings?

Posted on 8/20/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

At the end of 2017 Shutterstock had about 300,000 “active contributors.” In the press release put out on August 1, 2018 they said, “Since the launch of Shutterstock, more than 450,000 photographers, artists and designers have become contributors to our platform.”

Since it is hard to believe that they added 150,000 new contributors in just six months, I suspect they make a distinction between “active contributors” and “all people who have ever contributed” in their 15-year history. We asked their PR department, but got no clarification.

However, it seems reasonable to assume than one-third of the people who have ever contributed images to Shutterstock have stopped adding new images, or pulled their images from the collection and are no longer participating and not add anything in 2017.

Shutterstock has gross revenue of $557.1 million in 2017 so the average photographer’s pictures sold for about $1,857. I’ll get to the portion of that figure the average photographer took home in a minute.

In the middle of 2017 Shutterstock put out an Infographic that showed that Shutterstock paid out total royalties to image and video contributors in 2016 of $115 million. According to Shutterstock the $115 million did not include royalties paid out to Offset and Rex contributors. It is unclear if it included Bigstock contributors.

The $115 million would be 23.3% of the total 2016 gross revenue of $494.3 million, but we don’t know how much of that revenue was for sales by Offset, Rex and Bigstock.

In the conference call explaining the company’s 2016 Financial Results to investors CFO Steven Berns said they paid out about 28% of gross revenue in royalties. If that is true then only about $410.7 million of the revenue would have been for “still images and video” and most of the other $83.6 million would have been for Offset, Rex and Bigstock.

Shutterstock did not choose to update their Contributor Earning Payouts Report in 2017.


Now I’ll get more into speculation. I have been told by some photographers who have the same collections in both Shutterstock and Bigstock that the royalties paid to them by Bigstock are less than 4% of what they earn from Shutterstock.

Based on that number, and various individual photographer reports of sales from the Offset and Rex collections, I would be surprised if the combined total revenue of these three collections equaled even $40 million of total 2016 revenue, and certainly not $83.6 million.

Thus, it would seem that the average royalty paid out to contributors in 2016 was more likely somewhere between 23.5% and 25% of total revenue, not 28% of revenue.

There is no reason to think that the proportion of sales paid out in royalties in 2017 was any different than it was in 2017. Giving Shutterstock some benefit of the doubt, I estimate that they paid out 25% of royalties in 2017.

Thus, in 2017, if the average photographer’s pictures sold for about $1,857 the royalties paid to the average photographer would have been about $464.25. The average photographer would have had 567 images in the collection at the end of 2017. Thus, this average photographer would earn about $0.82 annually, per-image in the collection.

A very few earn more than these numbers meaning that the vast majority of contributors earn far less. It is also important to note that many of the high earning contributors are production companies with large staffs of employees. Thus, the profits from their efforts must support many more than a single individual.

Some photographers seem to think that a way to beat the system is to submit 50 to 100 slight variations of each situation they shoot rather than selecting a few of the best images from the shoot. In that way at $0.82 per image submitted they can earn a lot more from each situation photographed. There is no evidence that strategy works.

Copyright © 2018 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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