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Not happy, Jon!

Our series of stories on Shutterstock have been some of the most searched-for and commented-upon in Inside Imaging over the past two years – proving (THIS WILL SHOCK YOU TO THE CORE!) you don’t need clickbait to get clicks.

– Shutterstock founder and chair Jon Oringer’s suggestion on Twitter to unhappy contributors.

Photographers all over the world search for information or discussion on Shutterstock’s changes and they arrive at Inside Imaging. We wear as a badge of honour Facebook banning one of our stories on opposition to its business associate, Shutterstock.

The notion of reducing the already meagre payments made to stock photo contributors and passing that money onto shareholders and well-remunerated suits has understandably stirred passions among photographers.

We expect our revelation that the quantum being shifted from content providors to well-heeled Californian superannuants is a cool US$15 million will elicit further comment.

Well that went well: After a sharp uptick in the share price in mid-2020 when the contributor cuts were introduced, the Shutterstock share price has been slipped alarmingly over the past 12 months.

Here are some of the more interesting comments from readers from our Shutterstock series:

Peter E Hogg recently provided a pragmatic, realpolitick take on what’s going on at Shutterstock and within professional photography more generally:

Because everyone has a camera, they can now be a professional photographer if they sell any image regardless of what they sell for. Even photos taken with a cell phone sell.

I was a successful commercial photographer for 40 years and fortunately didn’t fall into the rip-off of the stock photo industry. Because of the ease of taking a picture now and editing them digitally, it’s an open field for “wantabe” photographers driving prices down, as many buyers feel they can do it themselves or simply don’t recognize true photo quality from someone who is truly talented.

The digital industry has made it so much easier for stock photo companies to file and keep track of all the image types and qualities. Thus the sheer volume is incredible with similar images, some good and some bad to horrible. Those that make a living from stock are truly good photographers where most of the others are amateurs and some are advanced amateurs.

Agencies will put up the images taken by these so-called photographers only because they want volume over quality, which reflects in the price. But the amateurs are the people that take the value down for images taken by the truly professional photographers. The ‘good enough’ images, as I call them.

I’m just happy I don’t have to compete in this market and get myself ripped off by these stock agencies.

Scootros Bootros (a nom de plume, methinks) just wanted to add a bit more data on where some of that dosh liberated from the content providors is going:

– And then there is the generous remuneration for the fat cats of Shutterstock.

And these do not reflect the multi-tens-of-millions paid as bonuses to the CEO and other fat cats. Search for yourself.

They rob from those who put food on their table. Disgusting. Do not support these thieves.

The shareholders are sitting on their hands, allowing this to happen.


Tim Collins says don’t blame them, blame photographers willing to work for peanuts:

Getty and Shutterstock did not drive down the price of stock photography, the market did that. Photographers who are complaining should focus their ire on their fellow photographers who give away their work for free on all the free stock photo sites.


And here’s Mon Baum responding in useful detail to a Shutterstock customer who asks ‘can somebody recommend a provider that pays their contributors fairly?’ (Looks like Alamy has issues, too.)

I am not sure it can be called ‘fairly’, because it’s still rather low for the work some photographers put into their work, but Adobe Stock pays considerably better than Shutterstock.

There would also be Alamy, they pay really high, but I would not call them contributor-friendly, as they don’t pay properly (you have to sometimes chase them for months to get your money), sometimes simply don’t register sales at all (you will find an image of yours used on a website with credits back to Alamy, but the sale is not listed anywhere on your Alamy dashboard… Don’t even want to know how often this happens without contributors ever knowing and ever seeing any money for their images, as, of course, I only know of the cases where contributors found out and told me about it.

Alamy also gives customers easy means to scam contributors by offering a very cheap “private use licence” (which often is bought for images that have absolutely no personal use value, like a shot of an airport. Who is printing that on personal Christmas gift cards for their family?) as well as allowing customers to claim a refund for their money months after the purchase (while you can find your image being used by that company and you get no explanation why the money was refunded). So, while their royalities are in principle high, they really open up a whole new can of worms of possible contributor exploitation.

Also, Alamy has no real quality control for images, they just do sample control and don’t check for property or model releases, so there is always a high risk for customers that they might purchase an image they are actually not allowed to use in the way they thought they could.

(By the way – Dreamstime, PicFair and Pond5 were also mentioned in despatches as good alternatives to Shutterstock. Unfortunately, Pond5 was gobbled up by Shutterstock earlier this year!)


Jasmin responded to Shutterstock’s talk-to-the-hand response to unhappy contributors by suggesting the stock giant wasn’t as all-powerful as its arrogance implied:

Shutterstock has 1.2 million “registered contributor accounts”, not active producers.

The company is 15 years old and every year thousands of fresh new people sign up hoping to pay for their camera gear and vacations by selling images.

In the last few years, SS dropped their stringent quality approval process, which lead to a vastly bloated image library and far too many people signing up who really know very little about photography.

However, they quickly realize how much work it is and that for amateur content, which has not been produced specifically with a target buyer group in mind, there is little demand and rarely any sales. So after 1,2,3 years…they give up and move on.

The microstockgroup is the largest professional producer forum and has 47 000 registered members. That number really hasn‘t changed much in the last few years. And again, not all of them are active, because that forum is also over 12 years old.

So overall, worldwide, the professional production teams are a much smaller group, maybe 20-30,000 people,  and the top 500 producers create the most relevant content worldwide.

Please consider amending your article above. To suggest that Shutterstock has 1 Million active contributors is very misleading. They receive 1 million new photos a week, that does not mean 1 Million people are sending in 1 photo weekly.

Crowd intelligence platforms don‘t work that way.

Thank you for the well researched article.

Mack London calls out Shutterstock for slamming contributors in the midst of the Covid pandemic:

I have worked in the photography industry for over 30 years and the recent move by Shutterstock to cut its photographers’ commissions by up to 75% is by far the most stupid move by a stock library I have ever seen – and there have been some real stinkers in the past so this is truly saying something.

In the middle of a global pandemic when everyone is hurting, both financially and in some cases medically, Shutterstock has chosen to hit hardest those who are most vulnerable; the freelancers whose hard work carried them up the ladder of success to become the global leader they are now.

It is without a doubt the cruellest blow they could have inflicted upon their so-called partners in their time of greatest need, and although Shutterstock, their board and their investors may not realise yet, without a swift reversal it has sounded the death knell of their own company.

Shutterstock do not own the product they sell, the artists who created it give them permission to sell it on their behalf, when that contract of trust and mutual benefit is betrayed the rot sets in, the ship starts to leak and eventually it will sink. Many buyers have left and even more creators have already removed their content from the site. This exodus of income and resources will continue until there is a reversal of policy or at least some positive changes.

Unfortunately it seems that arrogance and incompetence have walked hand in hand into the boardroom, looked for an easy option to create the illusion of a healthy increase in profits while at the same time cutting the supply chain of vital product that the company needs just to survive, let alone thrive and expand. The microstock market was hard enough for artists before this move by one of the leading players, sadly what they have done will make it impossible, they have truly killed the geese that for them were laying golden eggs.






  1. Matt Matt October 7, 2022

    “you don’t need clickbait to get clicks”


    “Shutterstock shares middle finger with contributors”


    • Will Shipton Will Shipton October 9, 2022

      Thanks for reading, Matt. Since you’re a self-appointed expert at journalism, you’re welcome to elaborate and educate us about how the referred article is click bait.

    • Keith Shipton Keith Shipton Post author | October 10, 2022

      No Matt – that’s a good, old-fashioned, bloody strong headline.

  2. Naresh Naresh October 7, 2022

    Thanks for sharing informative article.

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