Being an Exclusive Author in Microstock


Another way to increase the basic commissions that are paid by the microstock agencies is to choose the path of exclusivity. It is a rather radical choice, which has advantages and disadvantages, moreover with large differences from one agency to another. For this reason it is also one of the most debated topics on the forums and on the microstock communities.

First we need to make it clear that we are talking about exclusivity from the supply side and not from the side of the end user. In other words, an exclusive image from a microstock agency can be sold only by that agency, but it can be purchased from all of its customers, which anyway don’t have the exclusive license of use.

From the point of view of the authors, there are also two types of exclusivity:

Exclusive contributor: it means that the author can contribute with his images to one single agency only, therefore in an exclusive way.

– Exclusive content: it means that a picture sent exclusively to an agency can not be sent to any other agency, but the author is free to send other not exclusive images to whatever agency he wants.

The reasons why microstock agencies favor the choice of exclusivity of their contributors depend on the will to offer to their customers content of higher commercial value, because  less distributed around the world. Therefore, customers have greater assurance of not seeing those same content used for other purposes, thus giving their projects a higher value of personalization and distinctiveness.

Pros and Cons of Exclusivity

From the author’s point of view, the main advantage in becoming exclusive (or in sending exclusive content) is to receive higher commissions for the downloads of their files (see comparison chart). But there are also other specific privileges, such as lower limits for uploading files, or priority review of the submitted works (resulting in shorter time for the approval of the images). Microstock agencies also grant a greater exposure for the portfolios of their exclusive authors, through a higher ranking in search engines or through the promotion of the work in exclusive collections or highlighted on the homepage of the agency. Finally, a good reason to become an exclusive author is the possibility to concentrate on a single agency, avoiding wastes of time for managing many agencies, some of which presumably also not very efficient and profitable.

But there are also many negative aspects resulting from the choice of exclusivity, which is good to keep in mind. First of all, it must be said that some agencies, such as Shutterstock, 123RF and Canstockphoto, simply do not offer the opportunity to become an exclusive author: therefore the contributors of these agencies have no advantages in limiting themselves to send their images to a single agency. For those agencies which allow exclusivity, generally the prices of exclusive images are higher, according to their greater commercial value. This higher price is both a sacrifice that the customer is willing to make for a content of greater value, but at the same time it is also a strong deterrent to the purchase when customers are less concerned about the commercial value of the images they buy. Moreover, an exclusive author must put into account a lower number of downloads for his images, especially if compared to the downloads of a non-exclusive contributor (with an equal portfolio): therefore it’s crucial to evaluate if the higher value of commissions earned for exclusive images is enough to compensate the gains that would be obtained with the higher number of downloads that would be generated by a non-exclusive content. In addition, the exclusive pictures that are rejected by reviewers can not be sent to other agencies: considering the fact that the severity of the reviewers greatly varies from agency to agency, it is possible that an exclusive image rejected by an agency would have the potential to be accepted and to get good results with another agency, whereas in this case would be essentially lost. Moreover, exclusive authors generally can’t offer their images for free: this option is frequently used by non-exclusive contributors to increase the exposure of their portfolio. Finally, another counterpoint for exclusive authors is about the editorial images: if you decide to become an exclusive contributor of an agency that does not accept editorial images (such as Fotolia), then a possible revenue opportunity is lost because you can’t even send this type of content to other agencies, which could possibly accept it.

Ultimately, the choice of the way of exclusivity should be weighted according to the personal preferences of each contributor: crucial factors are the availability of time to manage several agencies, the characteristics of your portfolio and last, but not least, the feeling and the relationship of trust that is established between contributor and agency. We must not forget that becoming exclusive contributors basically means “betting everything” on a single agency, trusting that it will continue to grow and prosper its business also in the future.

More about the world of Microstock at the following pages:

What is Microstock?

Top Microstock Agencies

What Images sell best on Microstock market?

Legal Issues about Microstock and Digital Photography

How do buyers use microstock pictures?

Earnings and Payments

Promoting your portfolio, Referral/Direct Links

Tax Center

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Expert in Marketing and Communication in a major company of the Italian FMCG market, traveler by vocation, passionate photographer, contributor at all major international microstock agencies, founder of Marcor$tock, a blog focused on Microstock Market and Digital Photography.