Earn Money From Microstock Photography Affiliate Programs

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]

7 comments for this post.

  1. Perrush Said:

    Affiliate programs are a clever and relative cheap way of stocksites to advertise. And indeed, those who want to put some effort into it, can earn a few extra $$$.

    I myself have more than 100 affiliates on shutterstock, but only 14 of them are approved. Those 14 sell 3 times as many images as I do. This makes that 30% of my income comes from affiliates at the moment.

    Those who want to read more about microstocks and their affiliate program could read my 31 page guide :


  2. tyler Said:

    If you are interested in microstock photography you should also check out the forum at http://www.microstockgroup.com

    It is very active with nearly 1000 members and includes comprehensive polls which give a great overview of the top sites.

  3. iStockdiary Said:

    Hi glad to hear that everyone is earning money through microstock. Currently I'm also a active contributor to iStockphoto selling vector art and has been earning a 4 digit income every month. If your are interested you can read my post here: http://www.istockdiary.com/microstock/microstock-make-money-selling-photos-vector-art/

  4. c Said:

    I agree with Lee: I managed to get about 30 affiliates on Shutterstock and some other agencies (http://postpop.drivehq.com/stockphoto) but only two of them have actually some pictures uploaded, and very few sales! the next step is to find the 'good' affiliates

  5. Anders Said:

    I have mad quite a bit of money on Shutterstock. You dont have to be a professional photograper. It's a great way to pay for your camera equipment. Try it out - there is nothing to lose... Shutterstock

  6. Andrey Popov Said:

    There is a new Referral Program running on http://www.microstockanalytics.com

    20% comission - up $60 on Owned License purchase

  7. Gary Said:

    I run http://www.stickstock.com and we use shutterstock's API, it is very easy to work with, and their support staff has been very helpful.

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