Stock content is in high demand these days. Many marketing agencies, businesses, bloggers, influencers, social media users, and other people trying to stand out online use stock material in their promotional content. Having appealing visual content is a vital part of capturing attention in today's fast paced, modern age. Not everyone has the ability, equipment, skill, and/or time to produce the content they need from scratch. The quality of the images or footage is also a major factor giving stock content it's appeal.
For someone with no equipment or photo/video skill, it is far more cost-effective to license stock content than to buy a camera, trying to figure out how it works, buying editing software, and then attempting to produce the content themselves. Also, people like marketers, web designers, etc. deal with a wide variety of content and large numbers of projects for different clients. Stock content is critical to their work because they often require stuff you can't just step out of your door and snap a picture or shoot a video of, like footage from the summit of Mount Everest for example.
We have been producing stock for a few years now. This article is going to introduce you to stock production and help you get started selling your own stock content to earn money doing what you love!
Becoming a Stock Content Contributor
There are a number of different stock media websites that you can sign up to sell with. You have to find the right sign-up page first though.
When you search for a stock content website, the top results are usually consumer-facing links, such as customer sign up pages. You need to find the "contributor" sign-up page. Check the website's footer (section at the bottom of each page on a website) for links labeled "Become a Contributor" or something similar. You can also look for the contributor page directly by searching "[STOCK WEBSITE NAME HERE] contributor sign up" on Google or other search engines.
If all else fails, contact them and ask if they are accepting new contributors, and if they are, how can you apply or sign up to become one.
Contributor Application Review
Different sites have different application processes you must pass through to become a contributor. This is done for quality control purposes to ensure that only professional content is being submitted. Stock websites aren't interested in teens submitting their selfies, they want quality content that sells.
The application and approval process usually involves submitting a few samples of your best content. Read the site's content requirements detailing the standards which submitted content must meet and what content is not permitted (we'll talk more about this later on), then submit your work.
If you pass the entry application, you will be accepted as a contributor. If you aren't accepted on your first try, don't be discouraged. Most sites will give you the reason why you weren't accepted. Use this feedback to improve your skills and try again when you feel your work is ready.
The review of your application submissions won't be the last review you'll need to pass. It is only the first of many quality reviews you'll undergo as a stock contributor. Once you're accepted as a contributor, all content submissions must be reviewed for quality control and compliance before it can go on sale.
Now you have a general idea what the process of becoming a contributor will be like. You're ready to select the platforms you want to sell your content on and sign up for your first stock content contributor account. Let's talk about some popular and reputable platforms you can get started with.
Where to Sell Stock Media Content
Can't decide which stock content platform to start contributing on first? Here are a couple of suggestions.
The stock media website Shutterstock is a great site start selling your stock photos and footage on! It's one of the first stock content sites we started selling with. Their keywording and metadata editing system is, in our opinion, one of, if not the most intuitive and easy to use out of those on all the other stock websites we sell with. You can sell stock photos, footage, and vector graphics with them.
To sign up as a Shutterstock contributor, click the button below!
Adobe Stock is another great platform to become a stock contributor on. Contributors with their platform also get a free Adobe Portfolio account. You can select content from your contributions, as well as other work, to be displayed on a fully customizable portfolio site.
One of our favorite things about Adobe Stock is that uploaded content which you haven't finished processing and keywording isn't removed after a specific amount of time. It remains in your uploads tab until you are ready to submit it for review. The keywording system is also pretty easy to use.
Alamy has a strict quality control process for contributors, but if you can meet their content requirements, it is a great platform to sell your content with! Alamy is another one of the first platforms we started contributing on. They use a quality control ranking process to incentivize contributors to submit only the highest quality content. The QC ranking is determined by how many of your submissions are accepted vs. rejected. Contributors with higher QC rankings get their submissions reviewed faster than those with low QC rankings.
Alamy also gives you the option to mark individual submissions as exclusive to their platform. Only mark a submission as exclusive if you aren't going to submit that particular content to any other platform though, because Alamy will pursue it as unauthorized use if exclusive content is detected on other platforms.
Beware of Sketchy Sites
Be aware that there are a small number of sites which require you to have a regular customer membership subscription in order to become a contributor. If you're wanting to make money selling stock content, we strongly recommend avoiding sites like that. To put it simply, our advice is avoid any sites that require you to pay to become a contributor.
Sites which do that are usually lesser-known, less popular platforms. You will likely lose more money than you make as a contributor having to pay to contribute. Those sites basically let anyone willing to pay for a membership become a contributor. Submissions go through little, if any quality control (QC) reviews. The site becomes swamped with sub-par content.
The owners of the sketchy sites aren't as concerned with offering quality content since adding a new contributor is another recurring membership payment they receive. Your content has to be REALLY bad or outright illegal to get rejected as a contributor. When you do manage to get a sell, you can be certain the site will still take a cut of it which is often just as much, if not more than that of stock sites which don't require contributors to have paid memberships.
Popular, reputable stock content sites, such as Shutterstock, do not require you to pay to be a contributor. They only make money if the content on their site sells. This gives them the incentive to focus on providing quality content from professional contributors. These are the kind of sites you want to become a contributor for.
Each stock website will have its own quality control and technical requirements. A link to an explanation of them is often provided on the upload page or in the contributor FAQ. You should take some time to study these requirements for each site you apply to contribute for.
Some sites have stricter requirements than others. This can seem like a lot to keep track of at first, but you will find that these requirements and standards will actually have the side-effect of helping you become better at your art.
Many of the common requirements are pretty simple- minimum image file size, minimum number of megapixels, etc. Logos and other trademarked/rights-managed content in your photos/footage is a big no-no in most cases unless you have a signed release form or if it is uploaded as editorial only content.
We don't do editorial stock content, but it's basically content that is for news and media use only. Editorial stock has a whole list of its own requirements. Unlike regular stock content, editorial stock is not allowed to be edited. Only original, unaltered shots may be submitted as editorial stock content. This requirement exists to provide the media with true-to-life content. Sites will have a separate list of requirements for editorial content. You can usually find them in the same help pages as the regular stock requirements.
You don't realize how many logos there are in the world until you start shooting stock content. When you are reviewing your content in post-production, check any man-made object for logos. You must remove them before submitting your content. Identifiable people, tattoos, and any art also must have a signed release or it can't be submitted.
Logos and faces often require a good bit of working around on your shoots, unless you can get release forms signed. That little tiny logo at the edge of the frame in the background WILL be noticed by the reviewers. They don't miss anything, so don't try to sneak it past them.
Footage submissions are reviewed frame by frame, so you will need to pay careful attention to every part of your shot while filming and editing. If a logo is readable, a face recognizable, or tattoo/artwork distinguishable in even a single frame, the clip will be rejected unless you have a signed release.
You should always avoid getting any identifying information in your shots. Information such as phone numbers, URLs, addresses, serial numbers, license plate numbers, private info, etc. will likely be rejected regardless of release forms being submitted. Anything like that should be removed or covered up before capturing the shot. If that isn't possible, you will need to remove it in post-production.
Some platforms don't mine if you use blurs to conceal faces, logos, etc that are in your shot. Others require them to be completely removed from the shot and the removal must be clean. They will reject it if they can see where something has been removed, so your masking must blend seamlessly into the shot. Check your platform's rules to see what's acceptable.
Other requirements usually include technical aspects such as noise/grain, exposure, black point, focus, etc. Remember that every stock content platform is different. The specific rules and requirements will vary from platform to platform. Review the submission guidelines in-depth for every stock content site you contribute to.
When checking your content during post-production, be sure to check it with the view scale set to 100%. Your content will be reviewed at 100% when submitted. You may miss something if you're not checking at this same scale.
Logos which may seem unreadable at first can become very obvious once you zoom in. Noise and artifacts in your shot can become a lot more apparent at 100% too.
Some sites will also have criteria for aesthetic and commercial value requirements. These requirements focus on the appeal of the content; is it something that has potential to sell? Sites with these kinds of requirements won't accept content that is deemed visually unpleasing, boring, lacking demand, or any other reason they think it wouldn't sell.
Out-of-focus rejections are among the most common reasons listed for content not passing a review. They can often be the most frustrating too. Reviewers will frequently mistake images with selective focus on a subject as an out-of-focus shot.
One tip to help reduce out-of-focus (OOF) rejections is to include "selective focus" in the descriptive text of the image when tagging your submissions. For example: "Selective focus shot of a bird in a tree." This will only help if you are using selective focus on a subject. If the focus is totally off, it will still be rejected.
Footage submissions have some additional requirements. Most stock content platforms require footage to be between a minimum and maximum duration. The common duration criteria is a minimum of 5 seconds and a maximum of 60 seconds.
Sites will often have a list of preferred technical specs for footage. These are specifications which they prefer footage submissions to have but are not required. The preferred specs are usually what they have found to sell best, so it is advisable to follow preferred guidelines as much as possible in order to make your footage more attractive to potential customers.
Don't fear content rejections!
If and when your content does get rejected, don't feel defeated. Even the best contributors get rejections from time to time. Most sites will give you a reason for the rejection. Use this as a learning opportunity to improve your craft. If the issue is fixable, you can fix it and resubmit your content.
There are some reviewers that are pickier than others, especially when it comes to criteria such as noise/grain and focus. Friction between contributors and reviewers is part of selling stock content. Submissions are assigned to reviewers randomly on most platforms, so sometimes you'll just get unlucky. We've had entire submission sets be rejected one day, resubmitted the next day without making any changes, and it all passed review.
Some platforms are pickier than others as well. A submission may be rejected on one platform, but then get approved on another. Again, don't let a rejection discourage you. Use the feedback you get on rejected submissions to improve your skills going forward.
Selling on Multiple Platforms
As a GENERAL rule, most stock content websites allow you to sell content that you're already selling on other platforms.
There are some which give you the option to mark individual content as "exclusive" to their platform. This grants a bonus to the exclusive files, but you are expected to sell those files only on their platform. Selling "exclusive" content on other sites can cause some headaches if you're caught.
Some high-end stock content sites do require submitted content to be exclusive to their site only. But those platforms are in a league of their own and VERY difficult to be accepted as a contributor with.
Most regular stock sites won't require exclusivity. You should check the contributor guidelines or contact the site's contributor support if you're uncertain. There should be a section where the site states what rights you are granting them by submitting. If it is "nonexclusive" then you should be fine to sell elsewhere unless additional terms state otherwise.
The amount of money you make on each sale varies. It is determined by a number of different factors and each platform has their own pay scale. You'll get a percentage of each sale your content makes. The amount of the sale is determined by the type of license the customer selects. Stock content sites will have their percentages listed in their contributor information section.
Some sites have a ranking system for contributors. The more sales your content gets, the higher your rank becomes. Each new rank increases the percentage you receive from each sale. Rank 1 might be 10% of each sale, rank 2 might be 15%, and so on.
Stock video footage increases in price based on the resolution the customer purchases as well. It is worthwhile to shoot in the highest resolution your camera provides so that you can have higher resolution options for customers to select. 4K footage may sell for around $70 or more. This will net you several dollars in one sale, which is significant compared to the common $0.10 - $0.25 received from most single image sales.
Usually, your account's unpaid earnings balance must reach a minimum payout threshold before it can be released. The threshold varies based on which site you're selling on and your selected payout method.
Some sites automatically start a transfer when your earnings reach the payout threshold. Contributor earnings are released on a pay schedule of the stock media site's choosing. When you reach the minimum threshold, all earnings you've accumulated are sent on the next payout day.
Other stock content websites may let you request payout when you're ready. The payment threshold still has to be met before payout options are enabled. Once earnings surpass the minimum threshold though, you can request payment anytime at-will. Get paid at the first opportunity, or wait and let a larger sum accumulate for a big payout later.
Don't worry about how long it takes you to reach the payout threshold. There's no requirement or penalty for being below the payout threshold. Your account's unpaid earnings don't expire or anything like that. The payout threshold is just to prevent a storm of transfer requests and micro-payments every time someone has ten cents in their earnings balance.
I hope this information helps you start selling your photos and footage stock media content. As a stock media contributor, it will take a while to see results. Just work on steadily building your content catalog. The more media you have on the site, the more likely you are to get found and have your work generate sales.
That doesn't mean you should rush to get as many shots as you can though. Remember that the content you do contribute needs to be high-quality most of all. Check your shots carefully in the camera and during post-production. Keep adding high-quality images or footage and don't be discouraged when some of your content is rejected. Use that to learn from, improve your work, and become a better creator overall!