Race to the bottom

Coins on newspaper in payment

Shutterstock, an Image licensing platform has drastically reduced the commission rates paid to photographers from 1st June to as little as 15 percent. Contributors can increase commission rates depending on sales but the sting comes every January when everyone resets to the 15 percent base rate and has to start climbing the commission ladder all over again.

It would be fair to say that this decision was never going to be received well. Contributors were told by email on 26th May that the changes would take place just five days later on 1 June. That they had to tell contributors again as the first email contained errors, hinted that more care could have been taken over a decision that may well impact some people’s livelihoods.

The emails were not a happy read for contributors who vented their fury on the forum. One of the staff, giving an undertaking that commissions would not be less than 10 cents, didn’t do much to calm things down. 

A petition was organised asking Shutterstock to reconsider and a Facebook group formed to resist the changes. There was little or no further explanation or engagement from the company.

I jumped on the microstock treadmill in the days of Istock many years ago. Istock was the dominant force in those days but I joined others including Shutterstock.

I stopped contributing after a few years and shortly afterwards removed my images because of the poor commission rates for photographers. For whatever reason I didn’t remove my images from Shutterstock.

A couple of years ago I started to dabble in video. Alamy, where I was now submitting images, didn’t do video so I returned to Shutterstock where my account was still open. I happily licensed a few video clips through them and as Alamy had reduced commission rates I uploaded some images as well to see what would happen. Commissions even then were derisory but sales volume made it worthwhile.

I think it was shortly after I started to submit video clips complaints started to appear on the Shutterstock forum about clips being licensed for very low amounts with the contributor often receiving as little as 60 cents. As usual there was little response from Shutterstock in the way of explanation.

The complaints didn’t really register with me until I was on the receiving end of a 60 cent sale then another for $1.80.

The future does not look bright. There are reports on the Shutterstock forum of many sales at 10 cents and most of my sales are  at 10, 11 and 12 cents. This is not economically viable. I would have to licence up to 20 images to buy the newspaper in the photograph above.

There is also much talk on the forum and elsewhere of portfolios being removed and content withdrawn from sale. Some chose to sell their content solely or mostly through Shutterstock. The new rates will hit them disproportionately hard. Having said this Shutterstock did licence a lot of work and was the main earner for a lot of contributors. Indeed even with these commission cuts they may well still generate more cash, through volume of sales, than some competitors.

I have no issue with Shutterstock’s rates. They provide a service and It is for contributors to assess whether that service is worth the cost. It is simply a platform to licence images and there are other places that will offer better terms. I think they should take less, as the middle man pocketing up to 85% seems excessive, but new content is still being submitted so others either don’t think so or don’t care. Management must run the business as they see fit and they are answerable to shareholders not contributors. Shutterstock doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Adobe Stock, taking market share and well thought of by contributors, looms large. Its integration with Photoshop is a convenience that should not be overlooked.

Where I think some people would take issue is the lack of consideration shown or sliver of support offered by Shutterstock in giving a mere five days notice to contributors of commission cuts, that may well cause financial difficulty, during a worldwide Corona virus pandemic.

While I was drafting this post Shutterstock licensed some of my video clips for 26 cents and some for 34 cents. I have stopped submitting both images and video and have removed my video clips from sale.

On a more positive note lock down is being relaxed week by week. There is talk of bars, hotels and even hairdressers being allowed to open early in July and social distancing is being reduced to one metre.

Bangor is still very quiet but getting busier every day.

Cyclists, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
Cyclists, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland

Unity, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
Unity, Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland

Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland

Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland
Bangor, County Down, Northern Ireland. A lady examines stones, some marked NHS on Eisenhower Pier. I believe these were placed as a tribute to front line NHS staff and other essential workers during the Corona virus crisis. I’m told there is a larger example at Donaghadee.
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