33 Things That You Control to Increase Earnings and Success in Microstock

Posted 09 August 2014 – 04:25 PM

We regularly study the attributes of top-selling portfolios and our most successful contributors – the contributors whose images ultimately become the most popular on the site and those that generate earnings year after year. Here are 33 things that you directly control that can significantly affect your portfolio’s success. These attributes are often the difference between an image that gets five downloads vs. those that get 5,000, and the portfolios that make $5,000 per year vs. portfolios that make in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

(not specific to one file type, and in no particular order)

1. Portfolio size
2. Upload timing and seasonality
3. Portfolio diversity
4. Relevance: choice of subject matter
5. Creativity, personality and uniqueness
6. File type (photos, vectors, videos, etc.)
7. File size and image quality
8. Content type (commercial vs. editorial)
9. Presence of model and property releases
10. Metadata quantity
11. Metadata quality
12. Choice of models
13. Age of models
14. Ethnic or regional diversity
15. Category (lifestyle, nature, medical, etc.)
16. Literal vs. conceptual content
17. “Authenticity” (real people, real situations, natural lighting)
18. “Aspirational” qualities – images that reflect realistic ambitions for something better.
19. Geographic diversity or specificity, global vs. local content
20. Composition, geometry, symmetry, and patterns
21. Visual simplicity
22. Lighting quality
23. Room for text
24. Color palette (pastels vs. saturated colors, B&W vs. color, etc.)
25. Trends in aesthetics: model, prop styling and art direction
26. Relevance to customer needs and whether you’re filling a content gap
27. Retouching and post-production
28. Amount of similars vs. distinct variations from the same series
29. Distribution (Shutterstock, Bigstock, Offset, or partner programs)
30. Building your personal or company brand, as well as your followers
31. Optimizing your contributor profile page
32. Marketing your own portfolio (via social media, a personal site, SEO, your profile page, and otherwise)
33. And don’t forget that you can also add income through the customer and contributor Referral Program!

There are many resources that get into the specifics of how to optimize for each of these things, with many more to come.

Please start with:


You should also meet some successful and fellow contributors at our Contributor Stories page.

And lastly, you should be analyzing the performance of different groups of images, and their attributes, through the Catalog Manager.

The important thing is to take risks, always be learning, and always be attacking the next level of growth. Experiment and test variations of what you do to see what customers respond to, then invest, then test and learn, and then invest some more.

We’ll be updating this thread over time, with more to come.


Scott Braut
VP of Content
On behalf of The Shutterstock Team


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