Shutterstock – Complete Review

Shutterstock is definitely the leading Microstock agency in the world, with a portfolio of over 100 million images (updated January 2017) and since 2009 also owner of the BigStockPhoto agency. Created in 2004 by Jon Oringer, over the years has been able to gain positions through an innovative business model: in addition to the usual ways to buy single images, this agency started to promote a subscription plan that allows its customers to download up to 25 images per day. For the contributors, the images sold by subscription plans pay particularly low earnings, starting from $ 0.25 per image and gradually increasing after reaching specific thresholds about overall gain ($ 0.33 per image after reaching $ 500 of total sales, $ 0.36 after reaching $ 3,000, and so on) . With this system, the number of downloads is very high and, from the contributor’s point of view, it largely compensates the low earnings per single download.

To become a Shutterstock contributor, after a free registration on their website, you need to pass an admission test, which involves sending a selection of 10 among your best images. 200x125_banner_1The test is passed if at least 1 out of 10 images are approved by the reviewers. Until 2015 this test was quite demanding (you needed to have approved at least 7 images out of 10), but however it’s always better to send only your very best works. If the test goes wrong, it will be possible to submit a new test only after some weeks. It is quite common to make more of an attempt to become a Shutterstock contributor and, given also the rather long time to get response after each test but it is definitely worth trying again and again without being discouraged from the early rejections, because after being finally accepted the results will be immediate.

After becoming a contributor, it is immediately possible to send your images and to submit them for approval, without any daily limit. The loading of the files can be done either directly on site through webform, either through FTP upload, which is a very convenient way in case you need to transfer a large number of files. The submission process on site is rather fast, because the system automatically recognizes the IPTC informations of each file (and thus title, description, keywords, etc.). The only thing you need to do is to select the categories for each image, but it is also possible to apply these informations all together on a multiple selection of files, therefore with a minimum expenditure of time. Reviewers take usually 2-3 days to give a response about the files, but it’s quite common to receive a feedback even within 24 hours. The Shutterstock reviewers are very selective and quite firm on certain matters: it happens quite frequently to get unfair rejections, but in any case this strict selection allows to raise the overall quality of the agency’s portfolio. Anyway, even a few “good” images approved on Shutterstock give you generally many more downloads and total revenues than many “good and not so good” images approved on any other microstock agency.

Among the types of files that can be sold on Shutterstock there are photos, vectors, footages and music. It is also very interesting the possibility to sell images with editorial license, which therefore can be used by buyers only for illustrate news and editorial articles. Thanks to the editorial license, even images containing copyrighted material (or recognizable properties or people) can be sold without authorization, but of course they must be quality images, with a significant and editorial content and described with a particular caption defined by Shutterstock.

There are 2 types of license offered by Shutterstock: Standard License (with no limits of time and space, up to 250,000 prints, not allowed when used on items for resale) or Enhanced License (no limits). Shutterstock, as well as other agencies, doesn’t offer to its contributors the chance to become exclusive authors. Personally I do not think this is a disadvantage, for the reasons already mentioned on other pages of this blog.

Payments to the contributors are made in US Dollars, via PayPal, Skrill or via bank check. Payments are sent on a monthly basis, automatically when the minimum sales threshold set by the author is reached (starting from $ 75). There’s also a valid referral program with interesting extra earnings.

For what it may concern sales strategies, the mechanism of the Shutterstock‘s website tends to favor the frequent loading of new images by the contributors, due to the fact that the search engine gives great visibility to new uploads, allowing to those images to sell well in the first week after being published. The images without good results in the first week will gradually become less visible and less able to get downloads in the future. That’s why it is important to send images frequently and regularly in order to significantly increase the exposure of the author’s portfolio.

Among other important aspects, it is worth recalling some useful tools provided by Shutterstock to its contributors: first, a popular forum where it is possible to discuss and share opinions with other contributors on all matters relating to the microstock market and to Shutterstock in particular. In addition, the Shutterstock blog, a treasure of informations about the agency and about everything connected to the activities of contributors (from the explanation of the main reasons why the images are rejected, to advices on how to correctly edit them, etc.). A very useful keywording tool for keywords research and, last but not least, the opportunity for contributors to create galleries for the promotion of their images.

Below is the table with the main informations about Shutterstock:

Logo Shutterstock Logo
Social Links/Blog Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Contributors Forum, Blog
Headquarters United-States New York, USA
over 100 millions (updated to January 2017)
Website Traffic Rank
by Logo Button 125x40
Admission Test
Needed, quite easy. You need to send 10 among your best images and get 1 out of 10 approved by the reviewers.
Image Size
Minimum 4 Megapixel (2400 x 1800 px)
Accepted File Types
Photos, Vectors, Footages, Music
Severity of the Reviewers High
Editorial Images
Accepted, although a particular description of the file is required before submission, according to specific directions
Types of Licences Standard License, Enhanced License, Editorial License
Price of the Images € 199 per month for the subscription of a plan which gives the possibility to download 25-A-Day (25 photos a day) or on-demand buying from € 39 per 12 downloads
Earnings for Contributors
From $ 0.81 (smallmedium) and $ 1.88 (any size) for download on demand and as low as $ 0.25 per download subscription. Increases to the achievement of specific thresholds of total earnings, according to this schedule
Payout Minimum Threshold
$75, adjustable
Payment Mode
Automatic, Monthly, via PayPal, Skrill or Bank Checks
Exclusivity Program not available
Referral Program For each referred contributor, you get $ 0.04 per download (up to 2 years); for each referred customer, you get 20% of his first payment (up to $ 200)
Uploading Mode
Webform, FTP
Recognition IPTC data from file Automatic
Currency $ US Dollar (USD)
Supported Languages
Chinese, Dutch, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish
Tools Shutterstock App, Mini-Gallery, Keywording Tool
Download Release Forms Adult Model Release
Minor Model Release
Property Release

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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.