14 Dec 2009 Assessing Shoot Profitability with LookStat’s New Collections Function
Dreamstime have an extremely useful function where contributors can see the total earnings from all the photos in a lightbox (only their own photos, of course). Now, the pioneer microstock analytics company, LookStat, has introduced ‘collections’ which does the same thing across multiple agencies.
The big disappointment at the moment is that there’s still only two agencies supported in LookStat’s free analytics service: Dreamstime, iStockphoto. They’ve been distracted recently with the launch of their backoffice services (sign up for a free trial here). Up until May this year they also supported Shutterstock, so people who had a LookStat account prior to that also have part of a third agency. Still, 2.5 data points is better than one, and gives enough perspective to get some useful insights.
My LookStat Collections
I’ve created collections at LookStat for almost all of my shoots. 31 in total. As you would expect some show high earnings and others are disappointing. Here’s some of the highlights, but keep in mind that the earnings are only from 2.5 agencies. The total return for each shoot is actually higher (not much higher – these are my three top earning agencies).
Datacenter 2 – I did three little shoots in computer datacenters in 2006 and they still dominate my best selling photos. The most lucrative was the second datacenter I shot which had the best equipment and I shot the most photos. The shoot lasted two hours and only involved a single camera, one lens and one tripod. The total earnings, so far, from that shoot are $2,734.03 from 15 photos, taken and submitted in November 2005. The owner of the datacenter is a friend who escorted me through for free, so there were no outlays. Time to process and upload the photos was around a day.
Couple at home – at the other extreme a shoot I did in October last year (2008) with my brother-in-law and his wife as models has performed poorly. I paid the models with breakfast and used my own apartment, so outlays were around $30. We shot for two hours in the morning and had the photos processed and uploaded within a day or two. So far that shoot has only earned $100.19 from these three agencies.
Rancho Relaxo – photos from a friends farm have performed well for me. I visit once a year on average and have spent a few hours shooting on three separate visits, the first in February 2006. There’s approximately 40 shots in total now which have been uploaded at three different times over the years. The total earnings is $1,602.99 so far.
Wind Farm – one day driving home from Rancho Relaxo, again in February 2006, I detoured via a nearby wind farm. It was sunset, so only had about 30 minutes to shoot. I managed to get 14 photos which have so far generated $282.58 from these agencies.
The table below contains all the data with some extra shoots at the bottom. The titles are linked to lightboxes at Dreamstime, though iStockphoto and Shutterstock have slightly different combinations of photos as it varies what each agency accepts and rejects.
|Datacenter 1||Aug 2005||16||$561.34||1-hour shoot in the datacenter of my employer|
|Datacenter 2||Nov 2005||23||$2,734.03||2-hour shoot in a friend’s datacenter|
|Datacenter 3||Dec 2005||25||$1,206.30||3-hour shoot in the datacenter of another employer|
|Couple at home||Oct 2008||24||$100.19||Afternoon shoot at home with family as models|
|Rancho Relaxo||Feb 2006||40||$1,602.99||Three separate casual shoots while visiting friends|
|Wind Farm||Feb 2006||14||$282.58||30 minute shoot as quick detour when driving home|
|Stock Exchange||Feb 2006||8||$2,104.04||2-hour shoot with just camera and tripod|
|Great Ocean Road||Feb 2008||50||$289.99||3-day road trip, vacation / shoot|
Below is the all-time chart from my Stock Exchange collection at LookStat. Notice how the chart lines reach higher over time indicating the photos are selling at higher prices and/or generating higher commissions. There are three factors here:
- Progressive commission rises at Shutterstock as my total earnings reaches each milestone
- Dreamstime raises the price of each image as it rises through five sales quantity milestones
- Rises in the price of credits at both iStockphoto and Dreamstime over the years
Not all my collections show this same trend and those that do aren’t as obvious as this one.
The LookStat collections will tell you how much revenue your shoots have produced from the agencies they support. However, revenue is only half the calculation of profitability. You also need to calculate your costs.
Most hobbyist microstockers like myself don’t calculate out their costs for each shoot. Most of us don’t need to and many wouldn’t care if it turned out they were making a loss. In my case almost all my shoots were conducted while I was doing something else – usually traveling or on a day trip. My datacenter shoots and some recent ones were deliberate and planned, but expenses never amounted to more than a meal and gratitude.
However, serious microstockers can benefit greatly by calculating their cost per shoot. Knowing which shoots are the most profitable is great input for planning future shoots. It’s also helpful to know how your profitability is increasing or decreasing over time so you know when it’s time to adapt to changes in the marketplace.
Be careful when comparing costs between photographers. Everyone has different methods of accounting for costs as it gets complicated when you start allocating overheads and equipment costs to a specific shoot. Despite those caveats, many photographers talk about ‘cost per select’, which is the total cost of the shoot divided by the number of photos submitted (‘selects’).
As much as it’s fun (and very addictive) to explore the earnings of your shoots, it’s more helpful to analyze the data and draw useful conclusions that can help you understand how to sell more photos. Here’s mine:
- My limited access shoots (Stock Exchange and Datacenters) have done best for me. I perform poorly with organized model shoots. Perhaps this is an example of playing the tail.
- My road trip shoots are barely profitable in a purely financial sense. The experience and recreational aspects make them worthwhile for me, but I need to improve if I ever want to make traveling profitable like Holgs does.
- Looking at the success of uncommon subjects and the lack of success in common subjects in my portfolio reminds me that quality trumps quantity every time in microstock.
What About You?
What conclusions can you draw from analysis of your individual shoots? Hopefully you have more recent shoots and solid cost data to make the analysis more interesting.