Shutterstock, arguably one of the largest earners for most contributors right now, will be releasing details on their earnings for the entire 2015 year in February. What does this mean for contributors? Not a great deal. But, following the earnings releases of large microstock agencies provides insight into future trends. For us independent contributors, it gives us a lot of information about how much space there is between how much customers are spending versus how much we are earning, which is found directly in the profit per image that is generally guided in these conferences.
For example, in 2014, Shutterstock confirmed that they had earned approximately $2.68 per download, on average. In addition, their collection grew almost 45% from 32 million images to 47 million images, while their paid downloads only grew by 20%. This means that there were a significantly large number of images added to Shutterstock, while a majority of these images did not increase the number of sales.
Based on previous releases, we expect that Shutterstock will release revenue per downloads at a similar level for 2015, with the collection increases still dramatically. Paid downloads will likely not increase significantly.
What this means to contributors is that there are a lot more images being stuffed into a system that is not proportionately getting an equal amount of increased sales. This translates to the average contributor earning less and less as more media is added to the engine. However, it’s not as cut and dry. What kind of images are being added? Are a large proportion of them similar looking vector backgrounds? Are they poor quality?
With Shutterstock’s recent change to their approval system, we can expect that there are going to be a lot more contributors joining the agency over the next year, with a lot more images being accepted that are not of the same quality as before. This tells us that Shutterstock sees more money in a larger database even if those images don’t necessarily sell as well.
There is no definitive conclusion to be made until the earnings release in February, but suffice to say if Shutterstock is making less profit due to the aggressive advances of Adobe and Fotolia, as well as Canva, contributors have reason to be worried and look to future stability with concern.