Four Years With Stocksy United: A Photographer’s Review
Back when I was accepted to Stocksy in 2013 (there is a robust application process) my goal for stock photography was to earn a little extra cash to go towards gear and travel by selling photos that I would take anyway – mostly leftover images from commercial gigs and family photos.
My approach to stock photography has evolved since then to the point where as a family we travel specifically for stock photography and I arrange full stock photography sessions that are not client based.
Today I am generating more money from stock photography than I ever thought possible – and with just over 1000 images in my portfolio, Stocksy has become my top photography income source.
On one hand, this is fantastic – for me personally (obviously) but also for the photography industry in general, because it proves that there are buyers out there who are willing to pay a substantial amount of money for high-quality, unique photography – even in a world where photographs are a dime a dozen (or probably more accurately a dime a million).
In other words, Stocky is selling quality images at a fair price in an industry where almost everyone else is only interested in quantity for pennies.
On the other hand, I am still a little apprehensive about just how sustainable earning a decent income from stock photography really is – it’s never good to have too many eggs in one basket.
What I Love About Stocksy
The things I love about Stocksy now are the same things that I have loved from the beginning:
Stocksy publishes a highly curated collection – every image is individually reviewed by a team of editors and either accepted or rejected.
The curation process can be harsh at times – having your work curated is a humbling experience…and occasionally infuriating. Sometimes images that I think are great get rejected, other times images that I think are mediocre are accepted (although I usually don’t bother submitting these).
Once in a while, an entire set of images is rejected – which is frustrating, to say the least.
However, as a photographer I understand that Stocksy has a premium aesthetic that they have maintained since day one – and after I calm down following a rejection, I can usually see why the editors chose not to accept images that didn’t make the cut.
In the end, contributing to Stocksy pushes me to be a better and much more deliberate photographer than I would be otherwise – so I can accept a little stress in that evolution.
2. Consistent Sales & High Payouts
It takes a lot of time and work to prepare and submit images to a stock agency, with no guarantee that any of that effort will ever translate to sales.
With Stocksy I have consistently sold images month after month, which gives me a level of comfort because I know that if I put in the work it’s likely that there will be some reward.
Sales volumes fluctuate month to month (more on that in a moment) and so does income depending on what price point each image sells for – but in general, images sell on a regular basis.
On top of that, Stocksy pays contributors a 50% commission on standard license sales and 75% on extended license sales – I don’t know of any other agency that offers commissions as generous as Stocksy.
3. The Stocksy Community
Many people don’t know that Stocksy United is a co-op and all contributing artists are actually part owners. As a co-op, individual artists have some influence over the business decisions of the co-op and are paid dividends proportional to their ownership share.
Everyone at Stocksy is very open and approachable, from the executive to the editors to individual members. With a global distribution of people, we don’t agree on everything (there is a lively and sometimes animated forum) but for the most part it is a surprisingly tight community.
As a contributor, I know that the executive members are looking out for both the business interests of the co-op and artist’s interests, and in return contributing artists genuinely care about the long term viability of the co-op. We are all on the same team.
(If you have ever contributed to any other stock agency you’ll know how unique that is!)
Most individual contributors are also very supportive of each other’s work and when someone has a question or a problem there is always someone willing to help out.
When images are rejected, editor’s routinely provide feedback so that you know why, and if there are questions, you’ll get an answer…from a real person…with a face (revolutionary, I know!).
4. The Stocksy Collection is AMAZING!
One of my morning routines is to take a quick scroll through the Stocksy curated collection to see what’s new. I am consistently amazed by the gorgeous images submitted by Stocksy contributors on a daily basis.
There is always a wide range of subjects and styles – from landscape to lifestyle to fashion to food to astrophotography, and I regularly find myself browsing through contributor’s individual collections for inspiration.
I often wonder how I ended up part of such a talented group of artists, but I am grateful to be there.
What Could Improve
As much as I love contributing to Stocksy, from a contributor’s perspective, there are some areas that could use improvement.
1. Sales Volumes
My biggest complaint with Stocksy right now (based on my personal experience) is that sales have not progressed relative to the number of images in my portfolio.
Up until the end of 2015 image sales were steadily progressing in step with the number of photos in my portfolio with a nice linear trendline. Contribute more images, proportionally make more money. However, since the beginning of 2016 until now, my sales volumes have steadily declined (although not necessarily my royalties).
This is mostly my fault – as Stocksy added contributors and contributors added more and more photos, I did not maintain my own contribution rates, resulting in my portfolio making up a smaller and smaller proportion of the total Stocksy catalog.
(My slice of pie stayed the same size while the rest of the pie expanded.)
However, it also seems that Stocksy may be leveling off in terms of client acquisition and sales over the past year – certainly compared to the growth experienced in the first three years.
This is somewhat of a chicken and egg problem.
Original buyers have already purchased what they want and high volume buyers need more and more images to choose from to generate repeat sales. Add to that the fact that there is a limited pool of deep pocketed corporate stock photography buyers in the world and with agencies such as Offset and Adobe Stock offering premium collections, there is a lot more competition in the premium royalty free stock category today then there was four years ago.
The problem for contributors is the more images there are in the collection the more diluted each individual artist’s work gets, the less opportunity there is for a sale, the less incentive there is to contribute.
The good news is that there are some exciting business developments in the works which should kick-start sales, and in the meantime I need to re-commit to uploading as much content as possible.
2. Workflow Bottlenecks
My next complaint will be well known to all stock photographers: the bottleneck created from keywording and removing logos!
I have hundreds of images sitting on my hard drive right now (maybe thousands) that I have not found time to upload simply because keywording and deleting logos is such a hassle. As I create new work, my old work gets left behind in Lightroom purgatory.
(Forget about face recognition and self driving cars – where is AI when you need it? Seriously, how hard could it possibly be to design software to automatically recognize and delete logos?)
Obviously, this is not Stocksy’s fault – but it is a real restriction that limits the long term growth of the collection.
3. Stock Video
Stocksy officially launched video in 2016.
As a still photographer, I have realized that I suck at video and the learning curve has surprised me, but I am very excited about the opportunity that selling stock video brings.
The technical requirements for video submissions are complicated and translating the Stocksy aesthetic from still photography to motion has been a challenge.
At the moment, we’re all trying to figure out a workflow that will work.
Stocksy Drives Me To Do More & Be Better
Stocksy’s tagline is “authentic stock” and if you think about it, that is something that is actually extremely difficult to do.
If I meticulously plan a photo session, book models, wardrobe, location and everything else there is a pretty good chance that I’ll come away with at least a few images that fit that “authentic stock” aesthetic.
But what I have found is that I actually get much better results with much less effort if I simply invest in lifestyle experiences with my wife and kids – and photograph those. (Click here for my article on why I think it’s OK to use your kids for profit).
It is a lot easier to photograph an amazingly authentic experience it you are actually out enjoying an amazingly authentic experience (go figure)!
We plan cottage weekends, camping trips even full family vacations (this summer we’re doing a six week Europe road trip) – all with the premise that the more interesting things we do together, the more opportunities there are to capture images for Stocksy, the more interesting things we can afford to do together.
That’s not to say that everything we do is totally serendipitous – we have to work very hard to be at the right places at the right times, wearing the right clothes doing the right things – but it’s usually a pretty rewarding experience and totally worth the experience.
As a photographer, I also really enjoy the challenge of pushing myself to capture better images. It’s easy to take a bunch of vacation snapshots and hope a few might be good enough to sell as stock. It’s a whole other challenge to plan ahead, slow down, see the potential of any particular scene and then figure out how to capture it in a way that is interesting and marketable.
Of course, the side benefit is that we end up with a lot of really amazing family photos that I would never have captured in the same way without contributing to Stocksy.
(I’m planning a series of coffee table photobooks this year for Christmas presents – “A Year in the Life of the Danko Family in Stock Photos”).
What Do You Think About Stocksy United?
Are you a stock photography buyer?
What stock photography agencies do you prefer? Have you tried Stocksy? What did you think?
Are you a stock photography contributor?
What do you think about the current state of the stock photography industry? What stock agencies are worth contributing to? What stock agencies do you avoid?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!
JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand. To see more of his work please visit his studio website blurMEDIAphotography, or follow him on Twitter, 500px, Google Plus or YouTube. JP’s photography is available for licensing at Stocksy United.