Shutterstock Agency - Evil to the Core

I have, in the past and even today, participated with selling my work through stock agencies.  I try not to use microstock agencies, but I do submit to them from time to time.  What I am about to tell you has shocked me to the core of my being.  

Before continuing, you need to understand that microstock is really a commodity type of image sales where the photographer typically makes less than 1.00 per image.  So, it is really a tough way to make money to start with, but stay with me, because I think I will add more data to further complicate the issue.

Shutterstock announced in late May of 2020 that they were implementing a new commission structure.  Instead of being paid flat commissions, as the contributors have for as long as I have been with them, they would now have a level based structure numbered level 1 through 6.

Graphic showing shutterstocks new level plan

So, you might say to yourself, OK, fine, they are trying to weed out bad photographers and keep the good ones who sell more licenses.  Before you get up on your free market high horse, let me fill you in a little bit more.

Shutterstock resets this level every January, so every contributor, no matter how good he is, must secure 100 licenses before moving to the 20% level.  So what you might ask does a level one contributor make per image?   A whopping 10 cents per image!  TEN CENTS!   Up until June 1, 2020, an established contributor would earn a minimum of  33 centers per image and potential to make more depending on the license.  It was a sad amount, but nothing like this kind of cut.

What is probably even more despicable is that they are doing this in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest of 2020.  Does that sound like a moral decision?  I sat at my desk, stunned by this immoral timing and horrific outcome of this thought process.  This will affect thousands and thousands of people who try to make their living selling imagery, and it is only the latest in another corporate greed story.  It is so sad to see this happening to a beautiful industry of hard working and creative individuals.

I did some further investigation and found they are actually hiring for many positions with salaries up to a quarter of a million dollars.  Does that sound like a company that needs to reduce their commissions?  To Shutterstock, I would say, shame on you!


  1. "So what you might ask does a level one contributor make per image? A whopping 10 cents per image! TEN CENTS! "

    This is misleading Matt. $.10 is just the minimum payment. You need to look at the full pay table. Here is an unofficial one I created based on my understandings:

    In level one, while one can make $.10 several ways, one can also make $.24, $.30, $.38, $10.19, $1.37, $.37, $.44, $.74, $13.47, $1.47, $14.93, and $2.18, depending on what package buyers buy.


    1. First of all, no one sells packs of images. What I mean by that is that, is it is very uncommon. It is also uncommon to sell enhanced licenses. I have done just that, but it is very uncommon for almost all contributors.

      The average contributor will make 10 cents and image. I have not only seen this, but so have thousands of contributors already.

    2. One more issue with your data. It looks like you are more of a video guy, which I only dabble in. My work is almost exclusively photographs. They are the ones getting stuck with the .10 cent deal.

  2. Thanks, it's a good article, you made a great job! It's important to make people know about such injustice!