Reviewing Microstock

Posted on 2/4/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

As microstock agencies race to grow their collections, there is an increasing demand for people to review submissions. Reviewers are expected to review 30,000 images a month, but according to one source the average tends to be around 40,000. Some of the more experienced are able to review close to twice the average.  

The standard pay seems to be around $0.06 per image reviewed, regardless of the number accepted. Most reviewers set their own hours. Output tends to vary widely day to day. Given the increasing volume of images submitted, particularly since mobile submissions have become popular, it is getting harder and harder for distributors to keep up with supply. More and more photographers are complaining about the time it takes to get their images reviewed.

Given the above numbers it is clear that many in the microstock industry could earn more reviewing images than taking new ones.

There tend to be no variations is pay scales for reviewers. The quality of a reviewer’s work is monitored to a degree. But if someone does a fantastic job, there is no additional monetary reward. Those with high error rates are encouraged to improve, but there is usually no economic penalty.

It is worth digging into these numbers a little. Shutterstock reports that they have added 761,646 new images to their collection in the past week. Shutterstock has also said that they reject about one-third of the images submitted. That would mean reviewers have had to look through over 1,142,000 images in the last week. At that rate they would be reviewing almost 5 million images a month. If the average reviewer looks at 40,000 images a month Shutterstock would need at least 125 full time reviewers. If many reviewers do a lot less than the average, then Shutterstock would need a lot more than 125.

Consider what reviewing full time means. Suppose a reviewer works 8 hours a day, 22 days out of a 30-day month. That works out to be 10,560 working minutes. No breaks. If that reviewer looks at 40,000 images in that period of time he/she is spending about 15 seconds on each image to check the metadata, image focus, releases and composition. This may explain, to some degree, why there seems to be increasing inconsistency in the process. Significant portions of a submission get rejected by one reviewer, but tend to all be accepted when they are re-submitted even if few, if any, changes were made.

Some micro stock agencies have a feature to “allocate” contributors, so that one person always reviews a particular contributor’s images. That can be really beneficial to the reviewer who gets the experienced contributor who has all his systems locked down and never submit an image that doesn’t meet all criteria. It can be a killer to those reviewing newbies with mobile submissions that have focus, metadata and composition problems.

This system has been abandoned by most agencies. There tended to be a problem when reviewers that were asked to review some of the best, most experienced shooters would often approve all incoming images without even looking at them. Now, large submissions may get split up between 2, 3 or even 4 reviewers.

From the agency’s point of view, continually adding more images seems to be a sustainable model. They give priority in search results to newer images, and newer content tend to sell better than older content.
    (It is not clear whether the agencies have taken into account the fact that as older material is pushed to the bottom of the pile fewer people see it, and if no one is looking at the image obviously it won’t sell. As increasing volumes of images are added it takes less and less time for a given image to get so low in the pile that no one ever sees it.)
Giving priority to new images tends to work particularly well for the subscription sales model since many of those customers review new images daily, download all they think they might be interested in using in the future regardless of their current projects. When they need images for a new project they go to their in-house database of selected images, not back to the distributor.

Despite the focus on building the size of a collection some companies are disabling files that have been online for 5 years and never downloaded. However, this is of little help because the number of images that are 5-years-old pales in comparison to what is being added today.

One reviewer says, “we are being pushed to add images… As a result, a vast majority of the images going online now are simply bad and will not sell. Good images, especially good lifestyle images, are extremely rare. The ones that do get sent in sell very well.”

With the massive push for more images, and the increasing disregard for content quality both agencies and contributors could be losing. Contributors tend to lose more because the odds that any one of their images will be seen and licensed decreases with each new image added by someone else. Contributors can try to produce and upload new images faster than the rate of growth of the collection, but that is very difficult for any individual contributor with a collection of reasonable size. Shutterstock’s collection grew by 53% in 2015.

Copyright © 2016 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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