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Quiet achievers win in Shutterstock changes. Really?

Clickbait website Petapixel has presented an unusual new perspective on Shutterstock’s slashing of contributor royalties: Photographers who are ‘causing all the fuss’ are merely ‘contributors with smaller portfolios or the ones whose quality of work is simply not up to the game.’

Shutterstoc logoUK wedding photographer Christopher James Hall made the claims in an article published this week under the click-worthy title: Is This The End of Microstock Photography? He also claimed that really good photographers like him ain’t moanin’, and will in fact somehow benefit from Shutterstock reducing its rates.

‘The ones though who are keeping quiet are the ones who consistently provide good quality images that generate A LOT of downloads. These are the people who will come out of this the winners,’ he wrote.

Then, cobbling together some random and unverified ‘facts’ from Wikipedia about Yura Arcurs, perhaps the world’s most succesful contemporary stock photographer, he attempts to ‘prove’ that it is possible to make US$1.5 million a year from Shutterstock at a rate of 40 cents per download: ‘It’s still $180.00 per hour, 24 hours a day. Or put another way, almost $1,500,000 per year,’ the writer claims.

This is loosely based on an article published in 2012 (in Swedish) and cited on Wikipedia, in which it was claimed that Yuri Arcurs ‘was reported to be selling 450 images per hour.’ But in that same article Yuri states: ‘I think it is best now to sell the pictures yourself and not through photo agencies…Commissions from, for example, iStockphoto and Shutterstock are currently low – in our estimation you only get 1/5 of the actual sales. ‘ He recommended six or seven photographers get together to create their own stock site instead.

– This was in 2012. Rates have dropped further since Yuri was recommending fellow photographers avoid Shutterstock et al. Furthermore, if he was ever selling 450 images per hour, 24/7 (it’s not something he claims in the interview – it’s in the headline), it wasn’t exclusively via Shutterstock. By 2012 he also had his own stock photography agency, and, in his own words, ‘we have more than 100 people employed worldwide, and paying them their monthly salaries is our biggest expense.’ So it’s hardly, as Christopher James Hall implies, a one-man band. That fictional US$1.5 mil has a lot of mouths to feed!

And in a 2011 interview with Yuri, Petapixel itself states he sells ‘2000 images a day and 2 million a year

Shutterstock Arcurs
The ‘King of Microstock’ Yuri Arcurs, was advising photographers back in 2012 to look to alternatives to Shutterstock and its ilk. (Source:

.’ Now we might be missing something here, but if he was selling 2000 images a day, 365 days per year, that amounts to 730,000 images, not 2 million.  (All credit to Yuri nonetheless – he is clearly in a class of his own w

hen it comes to making a success of stock photography!)

In that 2011 article he states: ‘There are so many stock photographers now, and many of them are extremely skilled. It is always difficult to see where things are heading, but I think it is safe to say that making a living of stock photography will be something only a few people will be able to do in the future.’

– That was almost 10 years ago. He is being proven right.

Meanwhile, although Christopher James Hall clearly doesn’t think much of the photographic skills of the boycotters, he is hoping the boycott is suported. In comments added to the version of the Petapixel story on his website he writes:

… I am looking forward to seeing if some of these contributors will follow through with their threats to ‘Boycott Shutterstock’ and pull their portfolios. For one this would reduce the number of images available and increase my chances of making a sale.


COMMENT: The clickbait instincts of Petapixel have never been sharper or more acidly cynical. Judging by the limited response, not many readers seem to have been sucked in by its (to be kind) devil’s advocacy. But here’s one comment following the story which is perhaps more representative of stock photographers’ thinking on the issue:

LOL, oh dear. This has been the go-to argument of every bottom-feeding elitist on SS since the site’s founding: “It’s not that you’re all being unfairly compensated; it’s that you’re not as talented as moi.”

I’ve been on SS since 2005, and success at the site has never, ever been about “providing good quality” images. It’s always been about providing a cheaper alternative to a similar image that cost way too much money at some other venue. My most downloaded images were ones that took me practically no time, effort or skill to make. It was just a matter of having my finger on the pulse of something that people desperately wanted but didn’t exist anywhere or was too expensive.

Given all that, it always amused me when people pulled the elitist card whenever SS made a new controversial decision that wound up negatively impacting photographers in the lowest tier. Elitists always saw themselves as somehow “coming out ahead” over them. What they never realized is that they were underselling themselves the entire time and were losing the most out of everyone.

An analogy is if a Michelin star chef decided to work as a burger flipper at McDonalds for $8/hr and somehow saw it as a badge of honor that he beat out all the 17 year old high school dropouts for a $10/hr promotion. You wouldn’t be a “winner” in this regard, any more than a group of world class athletes would be winners for beating out a bunch of fourth graders at a grade school track meet. The only winner in this entire affair have always been and always will be the bean counters without an ounce of artistic or photographic talent who earned their millions convincing suckers to give away work for a fraction of what they were worth or could have been paid through traditional channels.

The author of this piece may sneer with derision at my comments, but I bet you if he really saw how lavishly SS execs were living and how much they were worth, he would think twice about feeling that he and the other elitists were really “winners” coming out on top of this latest slash in revenue.

Here’s the article.

To sign the Change-org petition protesting Shutterstock’s shenanigans, click here.

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  1. Geoff Geoff June 11, 2020

    Quiet achievers? Really, indeed. Selling 450 images per hour? Multiple agencies? What BS. No-one can press the shutter release fast enough.
    Shutterstock is typical of the usury employed by countless American companies in any industry determined to screw every last dollar from a hard-working provider. For photographers, 10 – 40c/sale doesn’t even cover the ‘paperwork’ and upload involved.
    The elitist argument is accurate. Even way back in the 1980s my studio contributed to an agency where the mantra was “volume makes dollars”. And if sales were slow, well maybe we just weren’t good or fast enough. But back then, the reality of film meant far fewer images available to stock. Even now, few contribute other than remainder images. Those very rare and exclusive ‘shoot-for-stock’ suppliers won’t survive the digital mayhem long-term, especially with infinitely-burgeoning on-line predators.
    At best, stock merely supplements an otherwise lucrative business. Why serve the greedy for miniscule return?

  2. Gencho Petkov Gencho Petkov June 14, 2020

    450 images per hour, 24/7 = 450*8*365 = 3 942 000 DL/Y * 0.55(rpi) =2 168 100$ /12m = 180 675$/m

    180 675$ / 100 men = 1 807$ mountly per men


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