Contracts and Commissions

Sales on Alamy have nearly zeroed for me recently, although some others seem to be doing fairly well. I can’t be sure if it’s just normal ebb and flow or something I’m doing, or more probably something I’m not doing.

I haven’t submitted any images this year and a quick read at the Alamy forum reveals some people say you need to keep up a constant flow of photographs while others say it makes little difference. No wiser then. The problem with the Alamy forum is that the people there make up a very small percentage of contributors to the platform and their experiences may well bear little relevance to the overall situation. My image views are about normal so I decided to wait and see what happens.

While I was waiting Alamy had another contract review. They’ve increased their commission to 60% from 50% for images exclusively licenced through them. Strangely that’s the same rate as they take for non exclusive images so it may point to further commission increases in the future. They’ve also created commission tiers starting at a cool 80% to them when they licence your photographs although if you manage to licence $25000 they will take only 50% commission.

I’m in the fortunate position of not having to care. In the past I’ve made enough sales to keep me above having to pay them 80% and I’m so badly organised I couldn’t say positively whether many of the images I have on Alamy were not also licensed elsewhere so I kept them all marked as non exclusive. Commission rates will stay the same for me – for now anyway.

What does concern me however is the appearance that the new contract moves much of the liability for problems with licencing and the use of images by Alamy and their clients very much towards the contributor and away from them, although they get more money from licencing an image than the photographer who created it does.

Predictably the Alamy forum erupted in alarm and indignation. At time of writing it consisted of 60 pages. If you have a spare day or two, have a read.

My last three sales with Alamy have been for $3.75, $13.41 and $31.54. From these princely sums Alamy deducted their 60% commission. You can see that I’m unlikely to reach the $25000 threshold.

In between these sales was another for ‘Personal use’ at $13.02 but it was refunded. This ‘Personal Use’ which usually means someone buying the file to have it printed to hang on their wall, was a photograph of a box of 28 Aspirin tablets. These ‘personal use sales are an ongoing problem but that’s for another day.

The future of stock photography is looking bleak, for photographers anyway.

Swimmer, Ballyholme, Bangor
Swimmer, Ballyholme, Bangor

In case you’re wondering – the photographs are not connected with the contents of this post. They’re just of activities that grabbed my attention at Ballyholme today.

Anyway, for now

I’m still experimenting with my iPhone and Hipatamatic and having a great time. With no pressure to actually produce something it feels like a hobby, which I suppose it is. I always have my phone with me and when something presents itself that I think will make an image I snap it. Later I’ll spend a few minutes processing it in Hipstamatic, usually to make it look dramatic.

There’s an agency that specialises in licencing mobile phone images so if I produce something that I feel might work as stock off it goes. All done from my phone. I just need someone to buy some of them.

I’ve read the true, or expert, Hipstamatic user sets the app to produce the effect required before they take the picture. I’m not that skilled just yet. Maybe it’ll come.

With the pandemic and the free time it has brought I’ve been thinking about stock shooting. It hasn’t been financially viable to travel or put much effort into making images for stock for some time but I enjoyed it so I continued to produce images and submit them. There’s no avoiding the issue any longer however. If I continue to shoot for stock I’m subsidising multi million pound companies who in the past have reduced payments to photographers and will continue to do so in the future.

One company charges photographers up to 85% commission to licence their images. Often the photographer gets a mere 10 cents.

Anyway, for now I’m clicking away on my iPhone and I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.

The Long Hole, Bangor, Northern Ireland
The Long Hole, Bangor

Pills in bubble pack

McKee Clock, Bangor, Northern Ireland
McKee Clock, Bangor

Eisenhower Pier, Bangor, Northern Ireland
Eisenhower Pier, Bangor

Empty bike dock
Park your bike

Entrance to Ward Park, Bangor, Northern Ireland
Ward Park, Bangor
Shirts hanging on a door handle

Placing a shirt into a washing machine

Old Boots
Old Boots

Race to the bottom

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.

The way forward?

I haven’t posted for a while.

I had originally intended that this would be the final post on but as the changes I had to make were more far reaching than I had hoped I decided to do an edit and make it the first post here.

I’ve made some changes that will impact on the operation of my previous site, the main issue being cancellation of my Photoshelter subscription. This means that links from the site to images or galleries on Photoshelter no longer work. Photoshelter is an excellent service but more than I needed.

There was no way, that I could think of, to fix this without spending considerably more time and effort than I can justify just now and the thought of a new start with a new site also appealed. So here we are!

I’m in the process of moving images from Photoshelter to somewhere else. I’m looking at options and although Smugmug looks good I haven’t decided yet.

I still submit most images to Alamy and some to Age. Recently I’ve started to submit photographs to Picfair, mainly prompted by their royalty commissions and ease of uploading. They allow you to set your own prices and add 20% commission. I haven’t made any sales yet but it’s very much early days and a company that gives the photographer most of any image royalty received deserves support. I also sell prints from Fine Art America.

I’m looking at adding other outlets as people more knowledgeable than me advise selling through as many sites as possible.

I hope be able, to some degree, to index or connect my images Fine Art America and wherever else I decide to this site. For me it’s a daunting task. I’m in the process of researching and planning it but I’m not sure as yet what way it will develop, if ever. Its something to be worked on during the winter evenings.

I’ve been shooting some video clips and having modest success. As more and more news and information move from print to online delivery and internet speeds increase it seems the sensible thing to do. Its a big change from shooting stills and I’ve had to learn new skills but Its early days and I’m learning as I go. I’ve been encouraged with a few sales.

I was told when I started with video that if I went somewhere intending to shoot video then I would find it difficult to shoot stills. I doubted this and had visions of happily alternating between the two both but I was wrong. I’ve found I usually shoot either one or the other.


My Pixels -Fine Art America site is here.


As usual any advice or opinions will be very gratefully received so please leave a comment below.