You have probably found images online with watermarks that say "shutterstock", "istockphoto" or something similar. These sites sell photos and clip art. People who want high quality digital images for their projects go to these sites (there are many) and pay money for the right to use images. They either pay per image or they buy a membership where they can download a certain amount of images per month.
Anyway, these sites use "contributors" to provide the saleable images. Most of these contributors are photographers, but a growing percentage are illustrators like myself. It takes some time and effort to make this income stream work, but I'm convinced it's worth it. I know of some contributors who make between 4 and 6 figures per month doing this. The key is to submit large numbers of the right images. To make that kind of money you have to amass a Microstock portfolio of several thousand images. Now that sounds overwhelming at first, but I think of it like this... creating and adding a few images per week will add up to a whole lot of images over time. You just have to stick to it. Diligence is the key here. Besides, if you are already creating images that will work anyway, you might as well spend a few more minutes uploading them.
There are several reasons that make Microstock sites a good thing:
1. You make the image once and sell it over and over again. But unlike selling prints, there is no printing or shipping.
2. Once you upload your images and they are accepted by the site, you are done. The Microstock site has a built in audience so you don't need to do any marketing. They accept payment from customers and take care of delivery of the digital product.
3. Although you aren't paid very much per download, if you have a good amount of images it can add up to real money. You can submit as many images as you want.
4. You can submit the same image to as many Microstock sites as you want.
5. You continue to get paid as long as your images are on the site. This is truly passive income. You put work in at the beginning then you sit back and watch the income flow in. It helps to contribute on a regular basis so you are considered active, but you could stop contributing for months and still receive a monthly paycheck.
Anyway, when I learned about this way of earning an income with artwork I signed up with a few Microstock sites and started uploading. I started with dreamstime.com, fotolia.com and 123RF.com. I uploaded the same few images to all three and waited to see what happened. Not all the images were accepted. Surprisingly each site accepted and rejected different images for different reasons. I had to learn a little bit about what they wanted, But it didn't take long to get it right. I started making a sparse few sales within a couple of weeks. I think it took a month to make my first combined dollar. The small amount of money didn't bother me because I was excited that it was working! I knew at that point that real money could be made. I just needed to put more work into it.
But like always, my attention was pulled into another direction and I turned my efforts into another project. Every once in a while I would get a notification that I had made a sale. Certain images did better than others, but the sales kept coming. I am embarrassed to tell you that, other than a few uploads, I forgot about Microstock for several months. Even without consistent activity on the sites the sales kept trickling in. This was more proof that it was a viable means of making money. Think how much better it would be with regular deliberate work!
At this point I am working on my art business schedule so I can give this more regular attention. I’ll let you know how it goes.