Shutterstock Royalty Rates: Is There A Disconnect?

Posted on 2/28/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

It is worth looking at recent Shutterstock statistics. In the conference call yesterday Shutterstock said they had over 190,000 contributors at the end of 2016. In 2016 Shutterstock paid out about $138.400,000 to contributors. If we divide the total number of images in the collection (116,200,000) into contributor royalties on average contributors received $1.19 per-image in the collection for the full year.

In January identified 164,000 Shutterstock contributors, but only 14,373 had more than 999 images. These contributors supplied 77% (about 89,000,000) of all the images in the collection. Thus, on average these 14,373 had about 6,225 images each in the collection. However, one contributor,, had added over 550,000 images in 2016 and 28 others added more than 100,000 each. It should be noted that none of these contributors are individuals producing that many images. They are production companies with a significant number of image creators and support staff working together to produce this volume of imagery.

The remaining 91% (149,427) contributors who had fewer than 999 images in the collection had an approximate combined total of 27,200,000 images, or an average of about 182 images each. At $1.19 royalty per image this would mean that on average these contributors earned about $217.00 each during the year.

We must also remember that there is a cost to produce these images. Assuming that most of them were taken by someone snapping a picture with a cell photo during the process of their daily activities, there may not have been much cost. But even them the photographer had to go to the trouble of captioning and keywording the images and dealing with the hassle of uploading. If there were people in the picture the image creator had to also obtain a model release. If they owned a professional camera and spent any time planning their shoots, obviously there were additional costs.

Are Contributors Happy?

During the Shutterstock conference call yesterday one questioner asked, “Any quick thoughts on your royalty rate vs your competitors. Any changes there?

Steven Bern, the CFO and newly appointed Chief Operating Officer responded, “I think that what we’re trying to do is keep the best contributors on our platform and sustain their contribution of great, quality imagery, to drive our customers to continue to use Shutterstock. That has been a successful model. We see the royalty rate as fair, and our contributors deem it the same, so we look at it from the outcome of the interests of both our customers and contributors. We see what our competitors are doing but we don’t think cutting a single side of the marketplace is an effective mechanism for long term profitable, sustainable growth.”

And as of December 31, 2016 Shutterstock had $224,190,000 in cash and cash equivalents. They obviously feel it is necessary to hold onto all that cash for future possible needs. Sharing some of it with the image producers doesn't seem to be in the cards.

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:  


  • Peter Dazeley Posted Mar 1, 2017
    CFO Steven Bern is away with the fairies if he thinks that contributors deem the royalty rates as fair. How on earth can anybody make any money taking a picture, keywording it, uploading it, if it might possibly make a sale of $1.19? How does this rate represent value received by the client and how will the next generation of creators be able to afford to shot pictures that are needed with high production costs?

  • Andrew Brookes Posted Mar 1, 2017
    I totally agree with Peter, at the end of the day creative choice and quality will be lost with fewer professional stock photographers remaining in the industry, perhaps clients might start commissioning more!
    Andrew Brookes

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