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.

Shoot Date Photos Earnings Notes
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:

  1. Progressive commission rises at Shutterstock as my total earnings reaches each milestone
  2. Dreamstime raises the price of each image as it rises through five sales quantity milestones
  3. 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.

Calculating Costs

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’).

Useful Conclusions

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

  • Rahul Pathak
    Posted at 17:01h, 14 December Reply

    Hi Lee,

    Awesome post. Thanks for sharing your insights from the collections feature. It’s exactly the sort of thing we wanted to enable contributors to do. There will be more on cost tracking & stats like collection RPI & sell through coming soon.



  • CandyBox Photo
    Posted at 17:28h, 14 December Reply

    Great info Lee (as usual)…I totally agree on the “limited access” location shoot.



  • Josh Hodge
    Posted at 08:35h, 15 December Reply

    Thanks Lee, handy information and its definitely addictive to track sales. Conclusion 3 is highly relevant to those of us looking around at what to shoot. Its often best to combine what assets you have in terms of locations and friends/contacts with research in what will sell.

    @Rahul, when are you going to drop the new features into Lookstat? Collections made the site 500x more useful btw.. thanks!

    • Rahul Pathak
      Posted at 14:36h, 15 December Reply

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for using the site and the collections feature. I don’t have a precise date for you but I can say that you’ll see improvements before the end of the month.


      • Josh Hodge
        Posted at 04:41h, 16 December Reply

        Thanks Rahul, sounds good!

  • miklav
    Posted at 14:14h, 15 December Reply

    Did I miss something? I mean how did you manage to get your Shutterstock numbers in Lookstat and why I can’t get it working?

  • miklav
    Posted at 14:22h, 15 December Reply

    sorry, missed that item in the introduction 🙂

    It’s great that collections tool is now added, but it’s extremely disappointing that only 2 sites are supported, without at least Shutterstock and Fotolia…

    • Rahul Pathak
      Posted at 14:34h, 15 December Reply

      Hi Miklav,

      We do intend to expand support but at the moment we are focused on depth of analytics before adding breadth.


  • Andresr
    Posted at 09:32h, 17 December Reply

    Awesome Rahul! this is the most useful thing in microstock analytics that one can have. As the others have said I would love to see more sites though as istock has hardly 10% of my portfolio and on DT I already have that info 🙁
    Fotolia and Shutterstock would be perfect.

    Regards from London


    • Rahul Pathak
      Posted at 21:18h, 17 December Reply

      Hear you loud and clear, Andres. Thanks for the kind words & feedback as well.

  • Paul
    Posted at 23:27h, 17 December Reply

    This is interesting and extremely useful…when Lookstat have all the sites figures available they’ll have many artists on board.

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