I have always been a fan of digital downloads because they are easy to access and can be a great source of income. Today, I’ve come up with yet another platform review to show how you can make money on Shutterstock. If you are a creative professional, this opportunity is worth considering, so let’s see what’s in store for you.
Shutterstock at a Glance
Established by Jon Oringer in 2003, Shutterstock is a leading online microstock service that provides premium licensed images, videos, and music contributed by creatives for personal and business-related projects. These are royalty-free content you’ve probably seen while Googling for something but that doesn’t mean they don’t cost a thing.
You see, most online images/photos (owned by others) are copyrighted and are subjected to certain fees (aka Royalties) if you wish to use them. Rights-managed (RM) is a more rigid fee structure that dictates where, when and how an image can be used. On the other hand, Royalty-free (RF) is less restrictive – can be used anytime and anywhere – and it only requires a one-time fee. The latter is often the more popular choice here among users.
As a subscription-based membership site, Shutterstock offers a few pricing plans for users ranging from individuals to enterprise. The lowest fee starts from $29 and goes all the way up to $479 per month. On-demand downloads are limited to a small number of orders while the higher end annual plans could cater up to 750 downloads per account.
Browsing through the stock library is free though if you just want to see what’s inside.
Becoming a Contributor
If you haven’t noticed, Shutterstock content tends to come with a distinctive quality – they are sharp and beautiful – and that’s because they are produced by professional photographers, web designers, videographers, illustrators and musicians. If you belong to any of these professions, you could share your work by becoming a contributor to the platform.
Signing up is free and it will require some personal information like a legal name or a business. After verifying the email, you can submit your work for review. For photos, illustrations, vectors and video clips, it would take about 72 hours while for music work, can take up to two months.
Once approved, your contributor account would be made active and you can start listing as many digital works as you like. When uploading the photos, it’s important to follow the file specification and especially to include the metadata information (title description, keywords, category) so that it’s easier for people to discover your images/videos.
How to Earn as a Contributor
As a contributor, you earn royalties whenever a photo or video (of yours) is downloaded by a Shutterstock customer. The rate, however, is tier dependant and there are 4 levels throughout your Lifetime Earning. When you advance through the levels, the amount you earn per download naturally increases too.
For subscription packages, you can make anywhere between $0.25 to $0.38 cents per download while for on-demand orders, the range is anywhere between $0.81 cents to $2.85 per download. For custom and enhanced license, you can make anywhere between 20% to 30% of sales and for footage clips, the standard royalty is capped at 30%.
On top of that, you can also earn by referring new members to use the platform through your unique link.
For the first 2 years, if someone signs up as a contributor, you will earn 4 cents for image and 10% of video sale price every time the content is being downloaded. If someone signs up as a new customer, you’ll make 20% in commission from their first payment, up to $200.
I know, trying to digest these numbers can be confusing. Watch this video instead to get an idea of the earning potential from someone who actually has experience using it.
- The Shutterstock platform is a nice side hustle for creatives to explore online income opportunities through their talents or simply to build a portfolio. It’s free to start so there’s really nothing to lose.
- Shutterstock customers are always looking for different things so this can serve as a good push to think out of your comfort zone and challenge skills you’ve never undertaken before in your regular job scope.
- Once your digital content is up on the marketplace, it’s always watermark protected to prevent others from stealing your work without permission or paying for access.
- Since the platform has a wide client base, you don’t really need to search for or interact with the customers. Anyone who is interested in your digital content simply needs to pay the company and download it at their own convenience.
- Shutterstock pays securely every month through Payoneer, PayPal and Skrill. You do need to have a minimum of $35 to initiate payment and for certain countries, you might need to wait up to 90 days.
- As stated earlier, there are multiple ways of earning with photography being the largest category here. And for some reason, if you aren’t qualified to become a contributor, you can join as an affiliate and earn a 20% revenue share when a new customer (you refer) purchase a download. The cookie duration is 30 days and you can find the program through the Impact Radius network.
It’s worth noting that to become an affiliate with any brand, you must first set up a website and in this case, the niche has to be relevant to Shutterstock’s offers. Your targeted audience here should be individuals or companies who want to use premium media to create content for business use. Therefore, the more you understand what these people want, the easier it is to recommend the subscription plans to them.
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- Due to large competitions, it has become increasingly challenging to be accepted as a contributor if your content doesn’t meet the criteria of the professional eyes. Until they approve of your account, you just need to keep trying and improve on the quality of your work.
- Even after approval, you need to keep uploading content frequently to build a strong portfolio that can attract the audience’s attention when they are searching for something specific on the platform. In fact, you might need to do some research on what customers really want so that you can plan projects in-line with those trends.
- The obvious downside here is that earning will start from a very low price. Creating premium digital content can be time-consuming and costly AND to be paid in cents for all these efforts can seem pretty depressing at the beginning. We all know that but that’s how microstock sites work. It’s just a paying scheme that you need to embrace and forge forward with a lot of positive attitudes.
Sites Similar to Shutterstock
If Shutterstock doesn’t sound convincing, you can also scout for other microstock sites and see what type of contributor payment scheme and affiliate programs they have to offer. I have shortlisted a few here for you.
- Adobe Stock
- Getty Images
- iStock Photos
- Can Stock Photo
- Deposit Photos
- Stocksy United
- Twenty20 Stock
Is Shutterstock Worth Your Time?
Microstock is a thriving industry because it offers an affordable (and legal) option for small projects and big companies to access premium content. And get this. According to Shutterstock, the platform sells a photo every 5 seconds and more than $500 million has been paid to contributors worldwide for the past 15 years.
Certainly, there’s a lot of monetizing opportunities here but I wouldn’t rely upon it as a primary source of income yet. At least not until the rate of downloads becomes more frequent and you have advanced into the higher-earning tiers. It will take a lot of creative hard work, but it’s not impossible to earn a couple of hundreds per month if your work has a high demand.
What you can do to speed things up is to promote outside of the platform. You see, as a contributor, you will have a portfolio link that can be shared either on blogs, social media or YouTube videos. This is a great way to ‘broadcast’ about your work online and drive visitors to your gallery on Shutterstock. Whether they sign up as a new customer, a new contributor or purchase a download, you’d still get credit for it.
I hope this article has provided a simple overview of how you can make money on Shutterstock. Meanwhile, take a look at my recommended training platform for more ideas in starting or growing an online business using your creative skills. It’s free to get started so give it a try!