One of the common traits of many stock photographers is a certain carefulness with money – not for equipment in many cases, but in terms of applications that may simplify their lives by saving a bit of time. I must admit to the same feeling – $1000 on a new lens, certainly! $7.99 a month for a service that tracks earnings – no way!
But I got to thinking about this – my biggest expense in creating and uploading stock photos is my time that it takes to keyword, prepare, upload and submit images to the various agencies. My next user of time is probably my interest in tracking my sales, not particularly to see how much I made in the month (although that is interesting), it is more to see what is selling and whether that prompts me to take different versions of similar images, or update older ones that are looking dated.
So I must admit to deciding to pay for three monthly services. The first, and most obvious, is the Photographers package of Lightroom and Photoshop from Adobe in their Creative Cloud for $9.99 a month. I can’t do without that, and I think some of the new features that Adobe introduces at regular intervals makes it worthwhile. I was one of the dissenters in the early days of this moving to a subscription, but I think it is good value for money for stock photographers – and almost essential to my workflow.
Then the upload process. For a long time, I used various free services to upload files using FTP and then I went to each site in turn to do the submission part. This usually means adding categories, clicking here and there to make sure it is seen as editorial, adding model releases to appropriate files and then submitting. For some sites, this is far more complex – Adobe wants keywords to be in priority order, Alamy wants the most important keywords to be identified separately, iStock has its complex controlled vocabulary that needs to be worked through. There are free programs to help with that – DeepMeta is one – but it all takes time and is one more step in the process of uploading files. After trying Stock Submitter for a time, I have become fully dependent on it to save me what I think would be hours each month. I’ve written about it before, but I would highly recommend this to anyone taking stock photography seriously. The program is free for any users submitting up to 33 images to any number of agencies in a month. Beyond that number it still uploads, but you would have to visit the site to complete the process. 100 submissions per month is 3.30 Euros (about $4 I think). In my own case, I had stopped submitting to Alamy and iStock because I found their process mind-numbingly complex. With Alamy, I started to use Zoonar instead and let them do the submission, but I lost 50% of the commission that way. Now I submit directly to all 16 sites with just a click of a button – Great! Just one sale on Alamy will cover the cost of this program for a couple of years.
Now onto Sales. This is a little more difficult because you don’t need to track sales. You can do it at the end of the month and watch for the Paypal deposits and that costs nothing. But after using Microstockr Pro for many months while it was a free Beta product, I got to really like seeing the money add up during the day. When you are tired of keywording, it is nice to see the rewards for your effort with new sales coming along. But now it is $5.99 a month for the base version and $7.99 a month for the full package that includes matching of images across different agencies to allow you to identify your best sellers across all your sites. I used that feature extensively to try to work out which of my images had been rejected by Fotolia when they tended to reject a lot of my travel shots – this allowed me to upload them afresh to Adobe Stock and now I get some nice sales from those images on that site. But would I pay each month for this? I decided yes, I would. $7.99 is not a lot of money – not compared to my earnings, and I can see at a glance what images are actually selling. Today, for instance, I saw that some of my “income tax” shots were starting to sell, but they were generally referring to last year’s tax forms (in the USA). So I set about updating my images to show the current year’s forms and just uploaded 5 new stock photos (via Stock Submitter!) as a result. A few sales of those a month will pay for the subscription. Other times I see the thumbnail of an image that sold and it gives me an idea for a new theme and so I work on that. Could I do the same by going to the various sites to look at what sold on that site – yes, but it is all time and effort.
I appreciate that both these applications need a lot of upkeep to keep them working as they need to keep track of each small change that an agency makes to its website or process. So I understand why they need to charge. At the end of the day, it is a personal decision whether to pay for convenience!