5 easy steps to breaking into the microstock business

May 28, 2020 / by Taras Kushnir

Do you have any creative skills but think you’re not good enough at your craft to earn money from it? You might be wrong about that. If you can make graphics on your computer, take an interesting photo, or shoot a quick video, you might be able to sell the rights to use your pieces in the microstock industry. Keep reading to learn more about what this industry is and how you can find your place in it.


What is microstock business

It’s no secret that thousands of blogs, news and magazine articles, advertisements, websites and more are published every day. All of these works generally incorporate images, video or audio to boost the appeal of the final piece. However, it’s often impractical for the people working on these projects to create these things themselves. A home and gardening blogger running a piece on azaleas usually doesn’t have time to seek out some azaleas to photograph, get the right shots, edit them properly, and add them to the blog post - by the time they finished all of that, they could have published several more blog articles instead.

The microstock industry connects these people with ready-made creative assets that they can use in their projects simply by paying a small fee. This is done through the use of agencies who accept work from hundreds or thousands of individual artists and then market and sell that work on their behalf. If you submit a piece to one of those agencies, you immediately become part of this industry too.


Your steps to success


Interested in trying your hand at some microstock work? These 5 steps will guide you through every stage of the process.

Step 1: Creating artworks

The first thing you’ll need to do is create some pieces of work. You can use any equipment or editing software to do this as long as the end result is a professional-grade piece. Get creative with the resources you have available and you probably won’t have to make any initial investment in your new microstock endeavor.

As mentioned above, the microstock industry covers a range of different mediums, so you can potentially submit anything from photographs and music clips to hand-drawn illustrations. It’s important to note that photographs do tend to sell more than other mediums, though, so you may want to focus on those if you have any skill in that area.

Step 2: Submitting your work

When you have a small collection of pieces ready to submit, you’ll need to choose an agency to send them to. Some of the most popular include Shutterstock, iStock, and Getty Images, but there are dozens of different ones to choose from. You can even submit the same photo to multiple agencies in some cases - but since not all of them allow this, make sure to check the submission guidelines for the agencies you have your eye on before you do it.

Uploading your pieces is easy, too. You can almost always do it directly on the agency’s website in just a few minutes. If you want to be more strategic about your submissions, however, you can use standalone FTP software like Xpiks to do this too. This software makes it easier to upload a large number of images at once and send them off to many different agencies without filling out the same forms each time. Some versions also allow you to add optimized keywords to help your works sell better when they make it to market.

Step 3: Getting approved

Unfortunately, submitting a piece doesn’t necessarily mean the agency will accept it. Each agency has certain quality standards and may not approve every piece you submit. If they do reject something you’ve sent them, they will often tell you why that decision was made, and you may be given a chance to revise your work and try again. If not, you can always try submitting that piece to a different microstock agency. Regardless of the outcome, you should expect this part to take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

Step 4: Netting a sale

After a piece has been accepted and uploaded to the agency’s website, it becomes available for purchase by the agency’s customers. Some agencies use a subscription model that allows customers to select a certain number of stock pieces each month or year, while others sell pieces on an individual basis. These two pricing models affect the commissions you will earn, so it makes sense to be familiar with which one is being used by every agency you submit to. Either way, a customer will have to select your work specifically in order for you to be paid for it.

Step 5: Getting Paid

Once a buyer has paid for your work, the agency will pay you your share of the money they collected. Rates for microstock commissions like this start at about 20% of the purchase price and rise from there. Agencies will often license a piece to several buyers over time, too, so a small library of pieces could provide a revenue stream for you for years to come. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll usually have to meet a certain earnings threshold in order to cash out; you might have to wait a little while to receive your funds if your sales are slow in the first few months.



Getting started in the microstock industry is easier than most people think. If you’re motivated and have the right equipment, you could get started in a single weekend. Once you’ve started making money doing the things you’d probably be doing anyway, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to discover this new realm of opportunities.

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See also

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