Microstock has lowered the barriers for photographers hoping to make money out of their hobby, and plenty of people have chosen to make the most of that opportunity. But selling pictures isn’t the only way that you can earn money from microstock.
In addition to earning royalties for downloaded images, it’s also possible to generate a steady income from affiliate links. Every time you send a microstock site a photographer or a buyer from your website, the site will pay you a commission. That commission can be much higher than the amount you can earn from a single picture download but rates vary widely from site to site.
Lee Torrens at MicrostockDiaries.com has outlined the different rates the sites pay and the conditions under which they pay them. It’s all horribly confusing, with some companies, such as iStockPhoto, making one-off fixed payments for buyers and others, such as Shutterstock, paying a percentage of the amount a buyer spends. Of those paying percentages, some choose to limit affiliate commissions by time (123rf) and others by amount, often stopping at $50 (CanStockPhoto). A few (DreamsTime and Fotolia) place no limits at all on the buyer commissions they pay.
Affiliate commissions for photo suppliers are just as haphazard with rates ranging from three cents for every picture sold by a photographer you’ve referred (Shutterstock) to nothing at all (iStockPhoto). In any case, a photographer has to actually upload images before the affiliate gets paid, a result that occurs far less frequently than you might think.
“The biggest surprise in all of this was the number of people who register and do nothing,” Lee told us. “[Only] about one in 20 registrations does anything… I have around 20 referred contributors at Shutterstock, but only one has any photos in his portfolio. I’ve been really lucky that he’s such a high-selling artist, as otherwise my referral income from Shutterstock would be zero.”
In fact, Lee has generated over $130 in affiliate earnings from Shutterstock, more than double the $50 he has earned in buyer commissions from iStockPhoto, his next highest affiliate earner. That might suggest that the best strategy is to send photographers to Shutterstock and pick up three cents every time a picture is sold; and recommend buyers to join iStockPhoto and pocket a flat $10 for every buyer. Ideally, the emphasis would be on the buyer side where the commissions tend to be higher. “My blog is clearly targeted to contributors, but referring buyers is much more lucrative,” says Lee.
Choosing the right sites to send your users to is clearly important and the old affiliate strategy of actively recommending the service you’re advertising works well too. Nor do you have to create a special website to cash in. Although Flickr states that use of its site has to be non-commercial, there’s no shortage of photographers linking back to their microstock portfolios and creating affiliate earnings at the same time.
Gabriele Tamborrelli, for example, uses his Flickr photostream both to show his images to other photographers and to demonstrate his microstock images to buyers. That gives him two possible income streams.
“Yes, I’m making affiliate earnings,” he said, “but till now the most useful way to make more income is lightboxes… If a photo surfer arrives to one of your pictures he can see the lightbox link at the bottom of the page… [W]ith one click you can show other, similar pictures.” And, presumably, sell them too. In fact, Gabriele estimates that his microstock sales might have increased by as much 20 percent after he began linking back to iStockPhoto.
One of the most important strategies for any growing business is to set up multiple revenue streams. However many microstock images you’re selling — or hope to sell — it’s always worth getting two shots at earning money from your marketing.
[tags]photography affiliate programs [/tags]