01 May 2009 Microstock Earnings Report April 2009

It has been seven months with effectively zero uploads to my microstock accounts. I expected my earnings would have dropped significantly after such neglect. But no, some agencies continue sending me more and more earnings each month.

My total earnings were down this month, primarily due to a big dip at Shutterstock – a dip I expected five months earlier. Other agencies were mixed – some up and some down.

Mid-month my total earnings at Shutterstock reached $10,000 which qualified me for the top commission bracket at 38 cents, up from 36. Shutterstock generously calculate total earnings using all sources, including referral earnings. My earnings from selling photos are still under $6,000.

Earnings Results

Agency Earnings US$ Portfolio Size Return per Image
iStockphoto 285.86 775 0.37 76
Shutterstock 142.74 875 0.16 94
Dreamstime 153.93 762 0.20 69
Fotolia 90.26 650 0.14 51
StockXpert 37.20 347 0.11 49
CanStockPhoto 46.15 466 0.10 27
BigStockPhoto 13.50 465 0.03 33
123rf 12.42 367 0.03 19
Crestock 7.00 370 0.02
Total: 789.06
Total: 1.16

Microstock Earnings Chart - April 2009

Total Microstock Earnings Chart


  • CanStockPhoto produced a new record high earnings. The chart shows solid and consistent growth for the recently salvaged microstock agency.
  • Total earnings were lower than last month, but not disappointing. Last month set a new record, and relative to the past year, April’s total earnings were relatively high. Particularly in the context of no new contributions for so long.
  • Cory
    Posted at 12:05h, 01 May Reply

    Congrats on hitting the $10,000 mark. I’m a month or two away and I was wondering if they counted all income sources. I guess they do.

    April was great for me. By far my best month ever. I just hope it wasn’t a fluke.

  • Marek
    Posted at 12:38h, 01 May Reply

    Nice earnings from CanStockPhoto! During last two months I uploaded most of my pictures there, but, so far, I’ve got only a bunch of $0.30 subscriptions sales.

    My April earnings report:
    17 months in microstock and still climbing up. However, I am uploading regularly.

    I observe some changes in Shutterstock. My earnings were higher (due to ELs and on demand), but the numbers of downloads was lower than in March. Also, I see less bias on freshly uploaded pictures in sales during recent months as illustrated by my analysis:

  • Luis Santos
    Posted at 15:47h, 02 May Reply

    congrats lee and marek!
    secondly i just want to add that because of you (Lee) who share “know how” and always with a convinced and impartial opinion about agencies and this wide open world now for me, i keep shooting and improving so i can reach your level, i have the ambition and i working hard to do this so i expect a lot.. obvious my sales are slow and getting bigger about very reduced compare to you “pros”.. 🙂 this month a made about 25$… no EL, never sold one..!

    kind regards and have a good week!

    p.s: if i were you i actually put all my portfolio on the rest of the agencies besides the top 4…! you could reach higher level of sales!.. many thanks to all information on this blog

  • Mandy
    Posted at 07:47h, 05 May Reply

    I’ve not visited for a while and was wondering why you haven’t uploaded for 7 months?

    It’s interesting to see how this has affected your sales, and how truly passive an income microstock has become for you.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:04h, 05 May Reply

      Hi Mandy, the reason for not uploading is simply that I’ve been doing other things. I don’t think the passive nature will continue though, so I’ll be resuming shooting very shortly.


      • Sourabh
        Posted at 01:41h, 24 June Reply

        Mmmm……..is it possible that this blog has prevented your revenues from decreasing due to increased views of your pictures/portfolio? Could the number of views of a picture potentially factor into search engine algorithms? It would be interesting if it did…..

        • Lee Torrens
          Posted at 10:21h, 24 June Reply

          Actually, it would be the opposite. By increasing the view count without simultaneously increasing the download count, it would work to reduce my earnings rather than increase them. This blog is for photographers rather than buyers, so any traffic that goes through to my portfolios is unlikely to result in increased sales.

          Additionally, the site isn’t designed to drive traffic to my portfolios. I occasionally link to my photos in the content of a post when discussing a point, and I have links on my About page, but that’s all.


        • Sourabh
          Posted at 10:29h, 24 June Reply

          Mmm……ok. Why would increasing the view count without simultaneously increasing the download count work to reduce your earnings though?

        • Lee Torrens
          Posted at 10:48h, 24 June Reply

          It’s an intentional function of search algorithms. It servers (at least) two functions:

          1. It stops contributors gaming the system with continuously refreshing the view page of their own images. If increased view counts meant better search placement, contributors could do this. But as the algorithms look at the view-to-download ratio, it actually works against them.

          2. It improves the quality of images at the front of the search results. Some images might look great at thumbnail size but have problems visible at preview which stop buyers downloading it. The algorithm’s view-to-download ratio helps move these images down in the search results.

        • Sourabh
          Posted at 10:52h, 24 June Reply

          Ahhh…..very interesting…..makes good sense. Thanks!

  • Fabrice
    Posted at 08:43h, 05 May Reply

    How could you let your work for nothing ?
    I prefer not to sell than let my images at these ridiculous prices.
    The microstocks are killing this job and the real pro photographers.
    The only winners are the owners of those companies or the magazines which don’t pay the correct price.
    The real price of a picture is the time you spent, the travel (sometimes very expensive), the cost of your cameras and lenses, and your experience, etc, … the result is not 36 cents for the best return or HORROR !!! 1 cent for the worst return.
    It’s a shame !!!!
    This job is completely devalued.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:29h, 05 May Reply

      Fabrice, take some time to better understand this well-covered debate. Of course microstock is eating into the opportunity for traditional stock photographers. Digital photography and Internet distribution broke the barriers to entry and microstock is the logical model to leverage these changes. This puts the opportunity to create and sell stock photos in reach of many more people, so naturally the price will come down. There’s a relatively small number of people upset about this, and that’s the few photographers who had all the revenue the past but now have to compete with every interested and capable photographer across the globe. Your monopoly is broken and you have to adapt. Complaining won’t help.


  • Ann Parry
    Posted at 12:37h, 09 June Reply

    Congrats on reaching $10,000 at Shutterstock, Lee – so well-deserved!

    Certainly seems most stock photo photographers – who continue to be actively involved in photography as a business – migrate to, or also do, other photog work, for individuals and families, commercial clients, selling prints and canvases on-line, at Art Fairs, galleries…

  • Maher
    Posted at 14:55h, 28 February Reply

    where do I need to go to learn about how to start a microstock online business… also can you recommend a good Web CMS used by istockphoto and others…

    Please let me know

    thank you..


    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 16:39h, 28 February Reply

      Hi Maher, there’s no off-the-shelf CMS for a microstock agency. There are some programs which can be adapted to perform a similar set of functions, but none are built specifically to be a comprehensive microstock agency.

      iStockphoto and the other successful microstock agencies do not use CMSs. They’re all entirely custom built.


      • Maher
        Posted at 15:46h, 01 March Reply

        Hi Lee and Many thanks for your comment. Can you recommend a good agency or web developers that may help in building such an internal custom built CMS.

        Please let me know your thoughts,


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