Top Microstock Sites: The Best Place for Beginners to Make Money

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The global photography community has finally, after many years, realized that micro stock photography is here to stay. It’s not the passing fad most photographers thought it would be and it’s making big money. In fact it’s so big that all the Macro (or traditional) stock companies are buying up all the successful micro stock businesses.

There are all kinds of micro stock sites out there, some successful and some a complete waste of time if your goal is to make money. I’m going to outline some of the top micro stock sites out there. If I was new to microstock, these are the sites I would want to apply to first.

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Shutterstock is where I would tell most would-be ‘micro stockers’ to begin. There are multiple reasons for Shuttetstock to be your first choice. The most important one is the contributor forums. The people that actively post on these forums are a wealth of information, and unbelievably helpful. I only post on them on the rarest of occasion, but I read the forums constantly.

Like most microstock sites, Shutterstock has a screening process for new photographers. The downside for beginners when it comes to Shutterstock is that you need to upload 10 images for review to show your merit, where most other sites require only 3 photos. Once at least 7 of 10 photos are accepted through this review process you can start uploading more photos for review. You will be a full fledged contributor to Shutterstock and you can start earning an income off your photos.  Here’s the kicker, if you don’t get at least 7 of your 10 photos accepted, you have to wait 30 days before trying again. The only bonus is you can still post and read the forums while you wait until you can submit again. It took me 2 tries to get into Shutterstock, just don’t get discouraged as they a great way of earning money. Although income from them has slowed down over the past year for me they are still a good micro stock income source. Also don’t be dissuaded by Shutterstock’s low pay per image download. They are primarily a subscription based site, which means less money per image sold but you will get more sales through the subscription sales model.

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Dreamstime is my favorite micro stock site out there right now. I’ve always found them to be fair when approving photos. Some of the other sites don’t give you a reason for your photo being rejected or, if they do, the reason makes little sense. It’s one of the things you need to get use to when submitting to micro stock. The monthly contests on Dreamstime are well advertised and can bring in a lot of extra sales so compete in them as often as possible. The only downside that I have found to dreamstime is the wait time to have your submitted photos reviewed. This can be as long as 160 hours but with Dreasmtime being my top earner, it’s easy to overlook this one flaw.

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Istock is the undisputed micro stock leader and, although they are a very good money maker for most photographers involved with them, I do have a fair list of complaints when it comes to their service. It is hard to get accepted to Istock, it took me 3 tries, and I’m not alone. They are also one of the more picky micro stock sites. As an example, my approval ratio with Istock is a mere 38 percent as apposed to other sites I submit to where my ratio is normally between 80 and 100 percent. I also get thoroughly annoyed when dealing with Istock’s upload process and the 168 hour wait time to have your photos looked at by a reviewer. Istock also caps your uploads to 15 photos per week unless you are exclusive with Istock, forgoing all other micro stock sites. Despite these flaws (and quite a few others) Istock delivers where it counts, they sell photos. They are my 3rd best money earner, even though only 30 percent of my portfolio is available on the site. In fact some photographers make a living only by submitting to Istock.

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Fotolia is another one of my favorites, not only because they sell a lot of my photos but because they are easy to use! Fotolia has multiple ways of uploading. Like most sites, you can use ftp, or a web form uploader, but Fotolia also has a nifty flash uploader that shows the progress of each file as it goes. My only complaint with Fotolia is that they only pay one third commission on sales where many of the other sites pay 50 percent. Despite the low commission percentage they are still a great income earner and shouldn’t be passed up.

The next two sites I have to recommend to you are on the lower end of my earning scale but using their ftp makes submitting to them quick, and easy. The money you earn from them is still decent with a good sized portfolio.

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Like Istock, StockXpert has recently been acquired by Getty. In this case when Getty bought out stock rival Jupiter images, StockXpert’s previous owner. Since this is a new acquisition the future of StockXpert is a little uncertain, but it hasn’t affected my sales thus far. The stockXpert site is a little hard to navigate at first but once you get use to it, it’s not that bad. Don’t worry, despite the sites awkwardness, you’ll be happy with the money it brings in.

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BigStock is my lowest earning site mentioned in this article. Even so I recommend Big Stock to everyone that wants to start in micro stock. The upload process is easy and you can make some really good sales here. They pay 50 percent commission and they pay out at a mere 30 bucks, where most other sites make you wait until you’ve earned 50 or 100 dollars before they send you any money.

I hope this helps anyone thinking of getting into the micro stock community. You’ll find it a terribly frustrating ride at first but once you get use to the industry you’ll love it.

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