How to maximize your earnings from your photos

We all spend a lot of money on our hobby, so how can you maximize the amount of money you earn from licensing your images via stock agencies? Well, the obvious immediate answer is to take great commercial images that are better than all the ones already out there, but, to be honest, that is easier said than done. There is another way though – maximize your income by making your photos available to as many potential buyers as possible.

We are all aware of the main agencies, Shutterstock, Adobe Stock and so on. Some people have decided that the rewards are greater by choosing one agency and making yourself exclusive to them. Often their commission rates are higher for an exclusive contributor and you save the effort involved in uploading and submitting images to other agencies. I can understand the logic, but you are really making yourself dependent on the success of one agency for your entire income stream. If that agency annoys its buyers, fails to market correctly, or is simply taken over by another company that doesn’t have the same objectives you could be in trouble!

So how do we reach the most potential buyers – by submitting to the maximum number of agencies! I am sure there are some buyers who have an idea for an image they need and they search the internet using Google Images and they find that image on a particular agency and sign up to license it. But then with the next image they find a different agency and sign up again to buy that one. Even as you are reading this, I’m sure the complexity of the task becomes apparent. Setting up multiple accounts and using your credit card to buy images on a one by one basis is a lot of work and you are unlikely to get any discounts from buying more than one image.

Much more likely is the buyer who either personally, or their company has, an account with that agency. Perhaps they have a subscription type agreement, or a plan where they can buy a certain number of images over time – but the majority of people who are willing to pay for licenses will sign up to no more than a couple of agencies in my view.

Some of those agencies charge more for licenses – Getty and Alamy have significantly higher license fees that Shutterstock for example, and yet their buyers continue to buy images at those prices. I’ve studied the images that have been looked at in detail on Alamy and have never found a case where someone has “zoomed” into one of my images there and then gone elsewhere to buy the same image for less on another site.

So if the buyers tend to have a favorite agency, then the only way that buyer will license your image is if you have uploaded it to their agency – it is as simple as that. If you don’t upload there, then they will buy an alternative image from someone else that meets their needs.

But what about the risks of supporting an unknown agency that may decide to go belly up and simply sell your images for next to nothing? Yes, there is a risk that the more you support smaller agencies, that one of them may close down – it has happened a couple of times to me, but I’ve never had the situation there they have done anything more than close down the agency and delete the files. It would be an unusual CEO who would be willing to risk fraud charges by illegally selling off images in their database.

Is there a limit on the number of agencies to support? Yes, they must meet both of these criteria – be easy to upload to and have at least a few sales a month! As I explained in this post, I have a structured approach to managing my files such that it takes very little time to upload to 16 agencies compared to the effort in supporting one. Yes, technology helps, and the earnings from these smaller sites more than covers the cost of using software to help in the process.

So what is the result? Taking earnings from 2017 to date, if I had only supported one agency (Shutterstock in my case), I would have earned $8.5K for the year. Adding in a second agency takes this to $13.5K. My top five agencies increase the take to $22.5K. Adding the remaining 20 agencies that have some (or all) of my images gives me the remaining $7.5K. I don’t submit currently to 25 agencies, as over time I drop agencies from my upload process if they don’t contribute more than $10 a month or more. But I don’t delete my existing files on those agencies as getting payout once a year for no effort is still OK in my eyes.

So start counting those pennies and maximize your chance of selling your images by supporting the agencies that the buyers are supporting!

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7 Responses

  1. Food for thought, Steve. Sometimes I do wonder if I’m being too stubborn and missing out on potential profits by restricting images to only a few agencies.

  2. Nick Fox says:

    But if everybody takes this approach, the agencies would loose any motivation to offer better payouts than others.
    They would simply get all photos from everybody for the lowest payout.

    • admin says:

      It is true that if all (or a majority) of contributors were organized together (in a union, for instance) and they were able to speak with one voice and move the bulk of the great content to just one agency, then you could improve prices at that agency and buyers would tend to go there. However, there are tens of thousands of regular contributors and each is in business for themselves. They each want to optimize their earnings in the best way they can. The buyers are with the agency that suits them (either for price, for selection, for customer service etc.) and if your image is not on their agency, that buyer will buy something else. Unless you have a fantastic unique image, they will not search elsewhere to find it, in my view.

      There is a historic analogy for this – the Tragedy of the Commons. Back in the middle ages in England, there was often common land that local farmers could graze their cattle on. If too many cows are allowed to graze, the common land becomes wasteland. But each farmer is an independent entity and wants the best for themselves and their family and so it is in their interests to graze as many cows as they can. Usually, without someone taking firm control, the common land is wasted.

  3. ADAO says:

    Thank you very much for this enlightening article! The stock market needs to be thought about constantly. It’s not just about sending tons of images to the agencies but mostly about strategizing to get the best profit.

  4. Ray F. says:

    Hiya Steve :
    I just read this very interesting article of yours and when you say you ” drop and agency if does not produce more that 10 $ per month ” is that having 1000 pictures and 200 videos with them ??? or 10.000 pictures and 500 videos with them ??? you know what I mean ??
    Could you tell us what are the quantities of stock ???
    Thank you very much for all your information…which I wish I would had found before…!!!
    Will support your channel , buy the book ect…since it is in my own interest that you continue providing this invaluable information .
    Ray F .

    • Steven Heap says:

      Glad you have found me! In general, I upload every image to every agency. Of course some don’t take editorial and so I take that into account. So I keep uploading to agencies even with relatively low earnings as long as the effort is low. With Stock Submitter, that is the case for most agencies now. I rarely remove my images from any agency – if they just reject a lot of my uploads or don’t earn much at all, then I stop uploading. It isn’t completely logical because if there is no effort, why don’t I keep uploading. I think I just get fed up of them!
      So most of the agencies have 5000+ images on them, a lot over 10,000. My latest earnings post has the numbers.

I'm always interested in what you think - please let me know!