Making Money with Referrals

One of the most overlooked methods of making mone with microstock agencies like Fotolia and 123RF is to take part in their referral programs. While it may sound easy at first, you need to understand a few things about why agencies offer refferal programs and which programs will really work out best in the end.

Top Referral Programs

In our first table I list some of the best microstock referral programs availible today. Each part of their program is important. A referral program needs to pay a good percentage for a long time in order to be effective. You don’t want to spend a great deal of time getting a great referral only lose out on the referral money after 3 months.

Agency Percent /Terms Duration Cookie
Fotolia 15% Designer / Buyer
10% Photographer / Seller
5 Years  15 Days
  Fotolia is generally the most attractive referral program out there, a long 5 year period means that if you can get a few busy graphic designers under you, you can significantly increase your income for a long period.
Shutterstock 20% Designer / Buyer
10% Seller
Buyer : Only first sale
Seller: Permanent
30 days
  This would be my second pick for a top referral program, especially for photographers. On the buyer side, we don’t see many referrals, but when we get them, they are VERY NICE, generally $30-$40 per referral
Dreamstime 10% Designer / Buyer
10% Photographer
3 years  30 days
Dreamstime recently improved their referral program by going form 1 year to three years. This is greatly important for photographer referrals where it often takes longer to build a large portfolio.
123RF 15% Designer / Buyer
10% Photographer / Seller
Buyer: 1 year
Seller: 6 months
 1 Year
While the buyer referral program is very attractive, a 6 month photographer referral programs is not worth much.

About the Photographers
We have learned a lot in the last two years about referring photographers. In many ways it seems better than buyers, because photographers should be ongoing income where buyers can just stop buying after the first package. However, remember that it takes a photographer 1-2 years to get a good portfolio together (unless he/she has it already in place from other agencies). A photographer referral program for less than a year is not normally going to make you much money.

Other Agencies

There are many other agencies that offer excellent referral programs. We have tried to list many of them here. We are involved in some of these and have chosen not to participate in others. See the warnings below when trying to evaluate a program.

Agency Percent /Terms Duration Cookie
iStockPhoto $10 first sale Unkown
LuckyOliver $5 for first sale  Buyers: None (only first sale) 30 Days
StockXpert 10% Designer / Buyers 3 months 30 days
BigStockPhoto 35% Designer
$5.00 for 75 approved photos (Photographers)
Buyers: None (only first sale) 60 Days
CanStockPhoto 10% Designers / Buyers
$5 for 50 photos sold
Buyers: 6 months
Sellers: 6 months
Albumo 10% Designers / Buyers
10% Photographers
1 Year None
Fotomind  25% Photographers Permanent 7 days
GeckoStock 3% Designers 6 months

Statistics in these table cannot be guaranteed accurate. It may be user specific depending on the current agreements with each agency. Check the terms with the stock photo agency before you spend a year developing a project and watching it fizzle out. –No– I have never done that…

On the next page we’ll look at this cookie thing and why its important. We’ll also discuss a few of these programs and why they are made for success and failure.

Who wants a Cookie?

We breifly mentioned cookies on the last page and a little about why they are important. Here we are going to discuss why they are critical to the success of your referral marketing.

While many people understand cookies, it is worth having a brief overview to make sure we understand how they help or hurt us. A cookie is a small piece of information stored on your computer that is used by a website to hold data (your referral id in the case of stock photography agencies). The longer the cookie remains active the more time that a buyer or photographer has to take your advice and signup with the agency. A cookie of longer than 2-3 months won’t make much difference as a different cookie has probably replaced it, or the user may have cleared their cookies by this point.

Testing Links – How do I know its working?

Testing links periodically is very critical. We once went for 2 months with a broken referral link, losing who knows how much money. Firefox is a great tool to test referral links and we are going to discuss just how to do it.

Got Firefox?

In order to do our testing, you need to have Firefox. If you don’t have it now is the time to get it, use this link if you like or goto

Once you have installed Firefox, youi need to track down the plugin called LiveHeaders. LivedHeaders allows you to see what is going on behind the scenes when you load a web page.

Open Firefox and goto the url: to install live headers. When it is installed you should see Live HTTP Headers under your tool menu (you may have to restart Firefox, I can’t remember).

Sniffing out the code

Once you have everythign installed testing your referral code is not very complicated, though you have to look trhgouh a lot of stuff that is note english.

Here are the basic steps to making sure your referral code is working.

  • Open Firefox and go to your website or blog where the referral link is active.
  • Open Live Headers in the tools menu and move the window to the side
  • Click the banner or other link and wait for the agency webpage to load
  • You will now have a ton of information in the Live Headers window, most of it useless. The thing that you are looking for is a line that starts with ,“Set-Cookie” and has your referral code in it.

Take a look at this image:
If might be helpful to copy all the text into notepad where you can search for your referral ID. If you can’t find the set-cookie there is a pretty good chance things are setup correctly. Also double check the referral id to make sure its correct (no typos allowed here).