Uploading the same portfolio to multiple stock photo sites. Advantages and disadvantages.
What is exclusivity?
Exclusivity in connection with stock photography means that:
- your particular photo is available only on a specific stock photo site, or
- you, as a photographer, only upload images to the site of the given stock photography company and nowhere else.
While the former has contractual benefits at several stock photography companies, the latter, has some (also contractual) benefits with (to my knowledge) only one agency, Dreamstime.
Companies tend to reward exclusivity with a higher share of revenue.
If you mark a photo as exclusive, it will only prohibit publication on the sites of companies that sell stock photos. You can safely upload or offer for sale on your own website or other non-stock sites (e.g. POD print on demand sites), social media sites.
The question is: can you upload the same images to different stock photography sites?
The answer is yes, if you have not undertaken exclusivity with any agency.
The answer is no if you have committed to exclusivity. Of course, if you only marked some of your photos as exclusive, this only applies to those.
If you don’t have an exclusive photos, you can even upload the same portfolio to virtually any agency, there’s no theoretical obstacle.
Different methods of stock photographers
Experienced photographers basically follow two methods.
- upload the next batch of photos, with the same metadata (title, keywords), to each of their preferred agencies at once with an appropriate software,
- upload photos to only one agency.
Advantages and disadvantages of being exclusive
- Companies offer clear financial benefits if you agree to make each of your images available only to them. This means either an increased percentage share or amount of revenue. You can find the exact conditions on the website of the given agency.
- If a customer needs your image, they are usually willing to pay higher amount.
- It may also be important for your customer not to come across your image in every second blog post or newspaper article if it can only be purchased in one place. The product (website, magazine, calendar, etc.) they use your photo for may be more unique this way.
- If you only upload your images to one site, you can learn more about the rules of the company and the habits of their customers. You can dig into forums deeper simply because you have more time.
- You may have less overall revenue because you will miss out on some sales at other stock photo agencies (it's the numbers that pay).
Advantages and disadvantages of a multiplied portfolio
- Chances of more revenue as many small amounts add up.
- Reach a wider audience.
- You don't have to sort your images to fit the needs of a particular agency's customers.
- You don't get to know any stock photo company (and their customers' needs) in detail because you don't have time to study their forums and rules one by one.
- The same photo is available in many places, reducing the experience of uniqueness.
- Many buyers look around before making a purchase and choose the cheapest site. If your image appears on both a cheap (e.g. Shutterstock) and a more expensive (e.g. Alamy) site, buyers will usually choose the cheaper one, so you could lose as much as tens or sometimes hundreds of dollars.
- Because a given image has the same title and keywords at different agencies, ignoring specific expectations, can significantly reduce the discoverability of your images, which can also lead to a loss of revenue.
My method and strategy
For the first few years, I tried several major stock photo agencies and had a period when I uploaded the same photos everywhere. Or, I just wanted to, because not all images were accepted everywhere. My Matchbox model car series was only accepted by Dreamstime and Alamy. Shutterstock, Adobe Stock and Getty Images immediately refused it.
I later realized I would have to divide my portfolio (not just because of the refusals). I uploaded my more general photos to the microstock (Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, iStock) sites, while my more special, editorial images to Alamy and EyeEm. The latter two sell photos much more expensive.
I liked Alamy better than any other company in the first place (I got to know them last), so I got to the point when I was just uploading my new photos to Alamy and always chose the exclusive option.
I’ve tried this on Dreamstime before, but there I didn’t feel any impact of the benefits of exclusivity (Dreamstime promises to prioritize exclusive images on their search page).
Since I no longer uploaded anything to the microstock sites, sales stalled and it was not worth it to maintain my portfolios. I canceled my registrations.
Alamy was the only one that remained in my basket, where all my pictures were exclusive. Although the previous 50% share dropped to 40% in July 2021 (the same as non-exclusive photos), it is still much higher in terms of both the share and the expected revenue per image than the cents given by microstock agencies.
Upload your portfolio to multiple stock agencies if
- you don't have time to study the habits of a particular agency's customers or read their forums,
- it doesn't bother you if your images are used in many places therefore they may get boring,
- you don't mind if your special photos will be sold for cents,
- you are not interested in the benefits of exclusivity,
- or you are willing to share your portfolio between the microstock (general images) and macrostock (special and/or editorial) sites.