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Tell HN: Shutterstock is changing its commission structure
106 points by throwstock 77 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 23 comments
// sorry if I'm wrong but I believe that a significant number of tech companies buy Shutterstock's packages or subscriptions

// throwaway because I'm involved with stock image production

Today Shutterstock announced[1] their new payout levels where they now start to reset authors' commission rates every year. Level 1 starts at 15% per sale, then it goes to 20%, 25%, 30%, 35%, and finally 40% per sale after 25,000 sales which most photographers and illustrators will never achieve in a single year.

They are also switching from the $0.25 flat-rate commissions per image bought via subscription packages to a percentage fee that will result in payouts as low as $0.10 per image. And with the aforementioned yearly commission reset, even popular authors are going to receive these miserable royalties during the first months of each year.

In other words, total payouts are going to drop for 50% or more for the absolute majority of authors (who are usually from low-income countries like Ukraine and Thailand). There is no good reason for this except for Shutterstock being a stagnating rent-seeking company in need of higher quarter earnings. Of course there's no way to influence them because the contributors can't simply delete their portfolios from the largest stock platform out there, even if it pays peanuts per sale.

Most authors upload their content to multiple stocks at once, so please switch to any alternative out there to help them earn more (except for Bigstock because they're owned by Shutterstock).

[1]: https://www.shutterstock.com/blog/contributor-earnings-update

There is a producer platform cooperative, Stocksy United (https://stocksy.com), that is competitive in this space. I think the photographer payout is at least 50%; critically, profits are distributed to the producers based upon the revenue they are responsible for. They don't have equity owners.

A producer cooperative is a company that is entirely owned by its members, the producers. There are no outside shareholders. One of the important implications of this is that unlike with a for-profit company, where shareholders might be tempted to squeeze out extra profits at the expense of employees, a co-op has no motivation to put the screws to their workers, because those workers are also the owners of the company.

But I'm a little curious about the profit distribution structure you describe. Generally profits are calculated after paying salaries for founders/administrative staff who keep the service running. So you subtract those costs from revenue and then whatever's left is profit/surplus, which gets distributed to the worker-owners according to their contributions.

I was thinking it would be a great time to form a co-op. Submit to Shutterstock as a collective and you’ll reach the higher percentages faster. Get large enough and you can cut them out and compete with them.

For photos there's also istockphoto (the classic who started micropayments, now owned by Getty Images), and for vectors there's Adobe Stock (where I used to buy when they were still NL-based Fotolia/before they went all-subscription and raised prices). There are also indie type foundries left who haven't bought out to Monotype and who don't insist on draconian analytics to gauge prices but on trust.

the problem with trying to find platforms that give more money to contributors is that the big platforms which take more money have more money for marketing. Historically big sites with low payouts have out preformed smaller sites with higher payouts. you need to find a way to both give out more money to contributors but also out advertise the big names to win in this space.

Elements.envato.com has moved to unlimited subscriptions. I expect shutterstock is responding.

Sucks for creators but the downward pressure on pricing will give customers more amazing content to use in marketing material.

Just a random note, Elements did destroy the Envato marketplaces for authors. I was an author on CodeCanyon (until yesterday), sold an analytics script[0] and earned $65k+ over 7 years now, but since they released Elements they drive all their traffic away from the marketplaces, they no longer care about authors. Yesterday I actually deleted my product from CodeCanyon, it was pretty sad to delete an 8 year old item with 1500+ happy customers and 5 stars rating, but the way they treat authors should not be encouraged.

Just one of many examples of how the authors are no longer respected on the marketplace: Imagine that you launch a paid marketing campaign for your product, you drive traffic to Envato's website on your product page and the first thing the customer sees is a prominent banner promotiong Elements where they get unlimited everything for $15/mo, when your product alone costs $99 (even though your product is not even on Elements).

[0]: https://www.usertrack.net/

> Sucks for creators but the downward pressure on pricing will give customers more amazing content to use in marketing material.

Only until new content begins to dry up because it's not profitable for creators to produce it anymore

Stock photographers and illustrators are already mostly from poor countries (predominantly non-EU Eastern Europe and South East Asia). Individuals working full-time earn somewhere between $600 and $2,500 monthly on average (depending on the popularity of their content). It's going to become unprofitable even for them.

> will give customers more amazing content to use in marketing material.


Is there a business opportunity here? Would it make sense to open up a competitor to Shutterstock? How well is Getty doing?

Or has that ship sailed and the service (as it is, anyway) can't grow any more due to having satisfied the market demand?

I think it's quite saturated and the success depends on how well you can attract companies who already use some other stock.

Currently, the best-paying stock is Adobe. Getty isn't as bad as "new" Shutterstock but they also lowered their rates years ago. The same portfolio earns 52% at Shutterstock, 25% at Getty/iStock, 12% at Adobe, 6% at 123RF, 5% at four more small stocks.

On Shutterstock more than 50% of sales come from outside the US, so it doesn't seem like there's much room to grow globally. The problem with Shutterstock is being a public company with growth expectations while not diversifying whatsoever.

I am expecting it to move towards unlimited subscriptions due to the vast amounts of existing content like every other form of media.

But that would decrease, not increase payouts to photographers.

Isn’t this inevitable? The number of new things to take photos of is not going to increase that much year over year and digital photos last forever.

The squeeze is going to come simply because at some point there is far more content than buyers.

> digital photos last forever

Lolz. I'm sure you wouldn't mind using pictures of mulleted '80s dude in your advertising. And in 20 years, all these bearded gentlemen being photographed today will look so silly. Fancy a NY skyline with a couple of extra towers?

The problems with professional photography have nothing to do with durability and everything to do with technological advance in the overall process. The easier it gets to take good pics and tout them to the whole world, the more competition there is, the lower prices are inevitably going to get.

Photographers are like recording musicians, their bread is becoming tied to real-life presence - something that remains unique and effectively not scalable.

Stock photography has to catch up with lifestyle, technology, fashion, society, culture and architecture, among others. On top of that, stock sites sell news images as well.

So no, there always will be something to be photographed.

Sure, there will always be a market for hyperlocal and hyper-relevant stuff, but most of it is fairly timeless. Many of those landscape photos will be good 30 years from now.

Add in that an image competes globally and is infinitely scalable and that is essentially perfect competition with the prices to match.

There are trends for what looks good. If you look through some stock photos you can easily spot things uploaded years ago just from the style and quality alone. Just like all UIs are essentially the same thing, but you can tell which era the XP windows decorations came from.

Actually, no. Even the composition of the picture is dictated by fashion. Even pure landscape scenes change over time.

But there is an upper limit to consumption. I know we keep pushing to see how much we can consume, but ultimately some FPS times the number of seconds in a day..

If that’s the case, then we eventually won’t need shutterstock.

Wait, why? Because eventually everything will end up in the public domain? Not arguing for or against anything here but Shutterstock is the distributor not the creator, so they theoretically never "loose importance" in the scenario where stock photography hits a ceiling, right?

Photos get dated extremely quickly. And if you are creating marketing material the very very last thing you want is to look dated.

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