I guess most of you have heard of Unsplash now, but did you know that they have a premium subscription as well? I got accepted as a contributor for their Unsplash+ program and almost started uploading my files to earn some quick money, but right before that moment came I decided not to do it. In this blog I’ll explain Unplash+ from a creator point of view and why I think you shouldn’t contribute to it.
In This Post
What is Unsplash and what does Unsplash+ mean?
Unsplash is an open platform where people can download unlimited images of photographers from all over the world. For free. Site builders like Squarespace have an integration with Unsplash and it’s easier than ever to use photos without dealing with licenses or paid subscriptions. To give you an example of what’s possible, I’ve taken all the photos on this blog article out of the free Unsplash library. There’s quality content, but people actually don’t get paid. And that’s why I’ve always been a bit sceptical about the program. As a photographer, it’s nice to be valued for the work you deliver and we make huge costs to create certain shots, and then others use it for free. Yes, you get a lot of views, but you never really know where they end up. If you download an image, there’s an option to give credits to the owner, but you don’t have to. If you’re nice, you do that, if you’re lazy, you don’t. This post, for example, is filled with photos from Unsplash. I used them for my Pinterest pin, my header and my blog photos. I do give credits to the photographers, but you don’t have to and it’s all completely legal.
As soon as Getty Images took over Unsplash, some things have changed. One of them, is that the brand created a premium subscription called Unsplash+. As a consumer, you can take a subscription for $12 dollar a month. For this fixed price, you get access to a premium library of images, better protected with model and property releases. This content also gets control checks before being added to the library. As a paying customer, you get unlimited access to all premium photos and you can download all of them for one fixed price. Because of the subscriptions, contributors can get paid. I almost jumped on this train as I smelled easy money, but once I read the contract, I decided not to do it. Here’s why.
How does Unsplash+ work for a contributor?
As a photographer, the process is pretty straight forward. There’s a sign up page on Unsplash, where you write some basic information and where you provide a link to an active portfolio. You can link to your website, your Instagram portfolio or your Unsplash page. You don’t actually need to be active on Unsplash to become an Unsplash+ contributor. I linked to my Instagram page and got accepted a couple of days after applying. The whole process should be: Apply, choose your main subject, contribute and get paid. It looks easy and maybe it is easy, but make sure you know the terms and conditions before you decide to go for it. I must say that I was excited once I got that email: Your Unsplash+ Application is Accepted! Until I read the contract…
What about the contract?
As soon as you got accepted as an Unsplash+ contributor, they will send you a contract you have to sign. Once you sign, you agree with all the terms and conditions they state in the contract. As the contract is of course very hard to read, I recommend to check the FAQ for contributors instead. You can find the FAQ here. The contract tells you all about their rights, the rights you give to Unsplash+ and all the conditions involved. The biggest red flag I saw, was the exclusivity. Once you upload an image to Unsplash+, you can’t sell that photo on any other platform or any personal project again. Ever.
How much does Unsplash pay their contributors of Unsplash+?
Unsplash is pretty clear about their contributor payments. They don’t believe in a royalty system, so they decide to pay for every image that got approved by the quality and model/property checks. The payment will be around $5 to $30 dollar per accepted images as a one time payment. If you compare it to other stock sites like Shutterstock, Adobe Stock and iStock, that’s a lot. But not when you consider it’s just a one time payment. On the sites I mentioned above, you’ll get a commission for each download. It might not be a big amount of money, but the more a company wants to use your photo, the more they pay. Let’s take Adobe Stock as an example for this: the least you will get for a sell is $0,33 per photo, but for extended licenses, you can get $26 per download. On average it should be around $1 per photo, but you can sell your photo unlimited times and on other platforms as well.
Can I sell my submitted Unsplash+ photo to other websites as well?
Even though you own the rights of your photo, Unsplash gets an exclusive selling license to your photo. And that’s confusing, as they write: ‘
You grant Unsplash a non-exclusive, perpetual license to display and market your images on the Unsplash+ website, and the further right to license your images to Unsplash+ subscribers. – Unsplash.
By non-exclusive, they don’t mean that the rights of your images are non-exclusive, but your contract with them is non-exclusive. You’re still able to work with other brands. Pfewwww. Imagine being forced to work just for them, as a freelancer.
However, the content you submit that’s accepted in the Unsplash+ library will be exclusive to Unsplash+, meaning you agree that you will not license accepted content with other platforms or partners. – Unsplash.
With other words, once your image to Unsplash+ got accepted, it’s their exclusive image and you’re not able to sell it to other clients. Not to a newspaper, not to a magazine, not to any other stock site. And that means, once it’s accepted, you lose all the opportunities to actually make good money, because Unsplash already paid you maybe $10 for your image. And that’s ridiculous.
When I just started photography, a photo on my Instagram got attracted by a local newspaper. They contacted me to use it on the cover of their spring edition. I had no idea what to charge and asked €50 for a one time usage. They agreed straight away and I got the money in my bank account, still owning all rights to the photo and still able to sell this photo again. And again. And again. That’s how it should be if you ask me, but once your photo is on Unsplash+, all these opportunities are legally gone.
What happens to my photos once I resign from Unsplash+ or delete my account?
Hold tight: your uploaded photos to Unsplash+ will be theirs. The photos you once submitted are part of the platform and it’s impossible to get them down. You’re still the owner of the photos, but by giving you $5 to $30 dollar they bought the rights to publish the photos to their Unsplash+ program forever. You’re not able to get them down and when you delete your account, the photos will be transferred to an anonymous Unsplash account and they are still able to offer them to their paying clients.
Can I remove an image that is published on Unsplash+?
No, if you submit an image that is published on Unsplash+, you agree to allow Unsplash the right to distribute the image in perpetuity. – Unsplash.
Why I think you shouldn’t contribute to Unsplash+
The two questions I answered above, are my biggest concerns about the Unsplash+ program. As a photographer, you own the rights of your photo and it would be amazing if you can earn some money with it. Unsplash+ limits you to earn a decent amount of money with your photos. Other stock sites usually don’t work with exclusive licenses, but Unsplash (and Getty Images, their owner as well) does. They limit you to $5-$30 to earn with your photo, while you could sell your photos for way more to regular clients or through other platforms. You don’t have to care about reoccurring opportunities as your photo is yours and you can sell it to whoever you want, unless you decide to give them the full rights. But if you give exclusive rights of your image, I think you should get at least $500 to $1000 dollar for your photo, if it’s a quality shot.
Besides that, there’s no way back. You can’t remove your items and you grant the right to use your photos even for the promotion of Unsplash itself. As a photographer, you’re more worth than that. I do believe that stock photography is a great way to create a small income, but please head over to the other platforms instead of Unsplash+.
What are your thoughts about Unsplash and Unsplash+? Do you think it’s still worth it? Let me know, as I’m curious about your thoughts!