01 Jun 2009 Microstock Earnings Report May 2009

This month we add Jack Hollingsworth’s microstock earnings to the report, providing an entirely different perspective.

Jack has roughly 4,000 very simple images from a recent studio session which were originally intended for another purpose. He has uploaded roughly 700 to each agency, a few more to 123rf, and obviously less to iStockphoto given the upload restrictions. His acceptance rates are healthy, averaging 90%, excluding iStockphoto which is down at 75%. As this content is very simple, his expectations are appropriately low, expecting a monthly RPI of $0.50 is achievable.

Jack’s Results

These early results demonstrate the uphill battle of getting started in microstock:

  • He is earning the lowest commissions with the lowest prices. At Shutterstock, Dreamstime and Fotolia the commissions or prices will rise over time as he sells more licenses, but new contributors start at the bottom.
  • His search algorithm metrics are low. Both individual images and contributor accounts with a sales history provide an advantage in search result position. Jack’s photos appear lower in the search results because both he and his photos are new to microstock.
Agency Earnings US$ Sales Portfolio Size Return per Image
iStockphoto 10.56 13 51 0.21 24
Shutterstock 144.73 395 628 0.23 43
Dreamstime 30.21 31 603 0.05 5
Fotolia 15.30 22 597 0.03 4
StockXpert 6.20 20 658 0.01 3
BigStockPhoto 8.00 8 626 0.01 1
123rf 2.47 8 831 0.00 1
Totals: 217.47 497 0.54

Jack's Microstock Earnings Chart - April 2009


  • Rapid portfolio growth lowers the RPI when calculated with the end of month portfolio sizes like this. Calculated with the average portfolio size (between the start and the end of the month) it would be substantially higher
  • Calculating monthly RPI from a portfolio available perspective is 842 / $217.24 = $0.26
  • Shutterstock’s fast-selling business model really stands out with instant results
  • iStockphoto earned the fourth greatest amount despite having less than 10% of the portfolio of all others

You can check out Jack’s portfolios via the links on Jack’s Microstock Celebrity profile.

My Results

May saw my portfolio hit a new record high total earning (over $1,000 with agencies not in the table below) despite, yet again, not having uploaded any new files. So much for “feeding the beast”. I’m obviously happy about this, but now that the summer slowdown is approaching, I’m waiting for the axe to drop!

Agency Earnings US$ Sales Portfolio Size Return per Image
iStockphoto 326.87 242 780 0.42 76
Shutterstock 212.89 316 875 0.24 94
Dreamstime 145.80 74 762 0.19 69
Fotolia 142.08 151 650 0.22 52
StockXpert 61.40 68 345 0.18 51
CanStockPhoto 65.89 8 466 0.14 27
BigStockPhoto 15.00 17 465 0.03 34
123rf 17.60 19 367 0.05 19
Crestock 4.75 14 370 0.01
Totals: 992.28 909 1.49

Microstock Earnings Chart - May 2009

Total Microstock Earnings Chart


  • My total earnings, including sales at Cutcaster, passed the US$1,000 mark for the first time
  • Still no new uploads for me this month. (I have no idea why my iStockphoto portfolio jumped by 5 this month) So I’m amazed that my earnings went up again. I’m still waiting for the axe to fall.
  • Extended license sales at iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime and FotoSearch sales at CanStockPhoto played a significant part in my record earnings
  • I set new records at iStockphoto, Fotolia and CanStockPhoto (fifth consecutive time for CanStock)
  • Cutcaster sold four photos this month bringing my total sales quantity there to six and $18.02 in commissions

First blue flame at iStockphotoI also hit another personal milestone this month with my first blue flame at iStockphoto. Total royalty on this image at iStockphoto so far is $753.15 after over three years online. That’s more than the combined royalty for this image from all other agencies combined.

Despite being my most sold image, it’s not my fastest selling image nor my most lucrative. While checking my stats at LookStat recently I realized a more recent (but still quite old) image had earned more when combined across all agencies. This particular image appears to have outperformed itself at iStockphoto.

  • packerguy
    Posted at 14:09h, 01 June Reply

    Do your earnings include referral income? If so, it might be interesting to see your earning trends excluding referral income also.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:17h, 01 June Reply

      These figures and charts are photo income only. It would defeat the purpose of providing a comparison if I included referral income.

  • travis manley
    Posted at 14:24h, 01 June Reply

    Those istock sales are really impressive. nice work!

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 15:22h, 01 June Reply

      Thanks Travis, iStockphoto have been very kind to me lately. Gotta love the algorithm!

      Nice work on the studio by the way. Looking forward to seeing some serious output from you now! 😉

  • mystockphoto
    Posted at 14:39h, 01 June Reply

    Hi Lee,
    considering that your biz reality is: 5% photography, 0% post, 30% blogging, 15% bus dev, 50% stuff for Jack… I can say, great results! 😉

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 15:26h, 01 June Reply

      Oh, you’re funny Roberto! Nice one.

      I see your affiliation revenue is starting to get traction. I find referral income much less volatile, but less. Keep up the good work and thanks for all the re-tweets.

    Posted at 14:42h, 01 June Reply

    amazing!!! specially if you havent been uploading for a long time! congratulations on your earnings!!!

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 15:30h, 01 June Reply

      Hey Augusto, thanks. I saw your earning report and your numbers have some correlation with Jack’s figures above. He’s a month or two ahead of you, but your earnings are relatively higher. I imagine part of that is because you’re contributing illustrations (which have higher earning potential) and Jack is contributing such simple photos. It’ll be interesting to see if the correlations continue or not. Thanks for sharing.

      • AUGUSTO
        Posted at 18:08h, 01 June Reply

        yeah you’re right
        i thought that illustrations sold less than photos, good to know they sell better!!! lol

        i havent been able to enter istock yet…that’s really upsetting…i’ll try again this week!!!


  • MarkFGD
    Posted at 15:13h, 01 June Reply

    Congratulations on your first blue flame and on hitting that elusive $1,000 monthly target. Get shooting, you’ve got to hit $12,000 a year now!

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 15:31h, 01 June Reply

      Thanks Mark, $12,000 a year sounds like a lot of hard work, but maybe the shooting is more fun than the blogging. I can’t remember. 😉

  • Matt Antonino
    Posted at 15:41h, 01 June Reply

    You broke 1k!! Congrats!

  • Orson
    Posted at 16:52h, 01 June Reply

    Congratulations to nice new record!
    I have to admit, that I had also the best month ever – you can look at my earning report for may.

  • Marek
    Posted at 16:54h, 01 June Reply

    Congratulations on your $1K!

    re: Jack’s results. Are his numbers for May? The graph says April as the last month…

    I started to plot my earnings after 4 months in microstock when I got accepted by SS (~$160 in March’08):
    However, I was building my portfolio basically from zero, so at that time I had only 100-150 pictures.

    The recent report after 18 months:
    SS down, IS up!

    I feel that I will have to wait till fall to reach my $1K.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 17:24h, 01 June Reply

      Woops! My bad on the chart. I’ve corrected it to show the appropriate months.

      You will reach $1K in much less time than it took me Marek – great work!

  • xavigm
    Posted at 17:20h, 01 June Reply

    not uploading = record earnings!!??…cool!!!

    congrats for your first blue flame!

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 17:25h, 01 June Reply

      So it seems, though it’s not a strategy I would recommend. As Stephen said at MSG, constant uploading is not a requirement for stable or increasing earnings.

      • Sean Locke
        Posted at 21:42h, 01 June Reply

        Only with a smaller portfolio. With a larger portfolio, you tend to get “attacked” on more fronts causing losses. Without upliading of new subjects and models sales can start to dwindle.

        Btw, what is Jack’s incentive for providing this information? I mean, what’s the end goal? Is he in it to sell, or just to learn about it for his workshops?

        • Lee Torrens
          Posted at 21:51h, 01 June Reply

          Hey Sean, there’s no direct incentive for Jack to share his information. It’s part of a bigger picture of openness and sharing, of which his workshops, tours and other business ventures are also a part. And as a stock photographer, he’s keen to understand and have access to all available channels.

  • Luis Santos
    Posted at 21:39h, 01 June Reply

    hi Lee, congrats!! it is funny because you haven’t upload pictures for 8 months… i have been uploading everyday and.. LOL

    cheers and have a good month

  • Carlos Caetano
    Posted at 12:07h, 02 June Reply

    Hello Lee! This is my first post in the “Diaries” although i’m a regular reader.

    I’m looking forward to see the evolution of Jack Hollingsworth’s stats. It would be interesting to know his first impressions about his microstock adventure, in a few months from now, when his images and popularity gets settled across all sites.

    I’m impressed with your steady level of income, month after month, without having uploaded any more images (for how long?). I’ll have to make that experience. Who knows if I’ll be able to spend more time in the beach, sunbathing! 😉

  • Duncan Noakes
    Posted at 15:39h, 02 June Reply

    Congratulations Lee! At last the $1000 milestone. I hope to get there soon. May brought me $780 across the agencies.


  • Luis Santos
    Posted at 17:27h, 05 June Reply

    Hi again! I love stats and i have checked today(now) and jackmicro, my god… first week of the month and have already 50% of the last month downloads…

    congrats, what a portfolio, great pictures…!

  • Chris Rawlins
    Posted at 05:56h, 11 June Reply

    I was thinking the same as packerguy that your increased earnings was due to referrals. No new uploads, I’m well jealous!

    Thanks for sharing this information. What’s happening at CanStockPhoto looks very interesting.

    I started last Nov, so I’m relatively new to microstocks and I found my earnings have grown very slowly. They pretty similar to Jack (I’m only in dreamstime, shutterstock, fotolia and 123rf – haven’t qualified for istockphoto yet).

    Thanks again


  • Saniphoto
    Posted at 12:03h, 11 June Reply

    Good way to go Lee!

    Congratulations. Really amazing how you managed to reach this milestone being now more a full time blogger than a photographer! :-))

    Always interesting reading your blog.

    Have a nice day!

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 22:08h, 11 June Reply

      Thanks Valentino, I’m a long way from being a full time blogger, but I’ve clearly spent more time on it than shooting this year!


  • Sourabh
    Posted at 20:51h, 22 June Reply

    Hey Lee,

    Just wondering – with regard to your extended license sales……do these tend to be photos with models, photos without models, or a mix of the two? I don’t have any photos with models and was thinking whether this is one reason i have so few of such sales…..

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 20:58h, 22 June Reply

      Hi Sourabh, no, my ELs are almost never for photos with models. They’re mostly from my top selling photos, which are so far not photos with models.


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