When I started work as a graphic designer, image libraries were a very expensive resource. When purchasing usage rights for images from a supplier (such as Getty Images), they'd arrive as transparencies, ready to scan in. Quite apart from the cost of using them, we would then be subject to the cost of getting them drum scanned in order to get a suitably high resolution digital version to use in print.
Alternatively, we'd purchase a pricey CD of royalty free images (selected from a printed rather than web-based catalogue) - which was the most cost-effective way to get even a single image. We'd then use the remaining images on the disk whenever possible in order to get our money's worth. I still have a couple of these disks that contain the most appalling '80s hairdos and shoulder pads...
Of course today, everything's different. Just one of the myriad ways in which the Internet changed our creative lives was to 'crowdsource' images from anyone with a half decent camera and a good eye. Websites like Dreamstime, Shutterstock and iStockphoto (amongst many others) now offer users as well as contributors new ways to both access millions of images and to make good money into the bargain.
The image library that's been most successful for me has been Dreamstime, which is why I'll use it for this example - and I use it both as a graphic designer (a paying customer) and as a contributing photographer. The way the site works is very simple:
Photos aren't the only type of image that Dreamstime will accept - you can submit graphics or illustrations of any kind, as long as they are usable as 'stock' images. In the library you'll find everything from infographics templates to brochure and stationery mockups, ready for use. The only limit will be your own creative boundary - so go nuts! You can even submit stock video footage, although this is something that I'm yet to try.
Once an image has been accepted, it starts to show up in Dreamstime image search results, depending on what keywords and description you've added at the time of submission. If someone purchases a license to use that image (the prices vary depending on the resolution required), the contributing photographer gets a modest commission on the sale.
If you have a lot of popular, high quality images in the catalogue, this can lead to a very effective source of income. Once funds have built up sufficiently, you can have them transferred to a PayPal account (or via whatever payment method you've selected).
This is all very well, but how do you know what kind of images will become popular? Dreamstime helps with this by publishing monthly trends via an e-newsletter that detail the most searched terms. There are also assignments and contests that can help with your creativity - and the Media Room has a stack of handy links for you to explore and learn from.
There are also obvious seasonal and repetitive milestones (like Christmas, Summer, Independence Day, The Olympics etc) that need new stock material regularly - and if you can get your graphics or photos accepted in good time, you'll be able to take advantage of these.
Another way you can make money from Dreamstime (or any other similar royalty free stock image library) is as an affiliate. At the bottom of the Dreamstime website you'll find a 'Community' column in the footer. At the bottom of this column (at the time of writing), there's a link called: 'API / Referral'. Click this and you'll reach a 'Spread the Word' page that contains a load of links that (assuming you're signed in) you can use to promote the website. Each link has a unique ID at the end of it that lets Dreamtime know where the referral came from. If someone clicks one of these links and ends up making a purchase of some kind, you'll get an affiliate commission added to your balance.
The commissions you get from Dreamstime vary depending on what has been purchased. The purchasing options on Dreamstime vary from single images to higher value subscriptions - and your payment will be correspondingly high or low depending on what the person you refer signs up to. Naturally the more people you refer, the higher your earning power.
It's simple and free to sign up for a Dreamstime account so you can explore the opportunities for yourself.
The short list below demonstrates different ways to make extra cash - but they all have one unifying factor - once you've set them up and created your products (or set up an account through which to sell others), they're fun to monitor and exciting to watch as you track their progress - but you have to put the work in first.