As you all know I am miles away from some real success. But on a way I learn things, so I am glad to share my thoughts with you.
So far I have 102 images online. A few days ago none of them was free. Many contributors (including me) may feel sorry to give away image that is accepted by editor to be added to main database (which means that it is recognized as image that have SOME market value). We expect to make some money. Knowing that donating image for free is irreversible process may bring up some sad feeling, which is even emphasized with the fact that your free image starts to increase download counter almost immediately.
Now, don't fall into this mind trap. If you donate image that has zero downloads for a several years, you may be surprised that it will jump to 10 or more downloads in a very short time. How much money is that? None. We can say for certain that the same image in the main database would continue to have poor performance as before. If it is failure why dont put it to some use, give it different function. So, In both cases you don't get any money from that image. Lets' go through some basics and (at the end) some ideas how to take advantage of this very useful feature.
There are several ways to donate image.
1. You can upload the image and tick the checkbox where it says that if your image doesn't qualify for the main database you agree that it should be placed in free section
There is one thing that you should think about before you do that. If you believe that your image has potential, you may take the opportunity to correct eventual refusal reasons and resubmit image online for sale. Otherwise, once your image goes to free section it is irreversible process. Since I didn't try this option I cannot say if you have another chance. Maybe some of you have this experience.
2. You can donate any image from your portfolio. This is pretty simple, you go to free section, click on donate image and enter your image ID. Done deal. Note that due to the system functionality your image will probably show up in Latest additions almost instantly. But you will not be able to find in free image search engine. In the process several weird things will happen. At some point you will be able to find your image using regular free search and at the same time your image will still be in commercial area. Clicking on it will open "404 - Page not found". But this is how it works and you should allow 24-48 hours until things will set up completely.
I am sure that everybody understands that free image section's purpose is to bring people on the site. And it is, because search result brings a section of commercial images too based on the same searching criteria. And it is obvious that free images are good but commercial are better. When someone is searching for a specific subject he may be tempted to buy one of the commercial images, simply because they are better and they are not expensive as we all know.
But there are numbers of contributors who thinks that donating images is someone else's job: "Hey people, while you donate images for free and bring people here, I will happily sell my images". This could work, because this is how it SHOULD work.
Again, in order to increase sales Dreamstime developed smart mechanisms to motivate contributors in common interests. You should know that just ONE of YOUR free images is greater benefit for you then hundreds of others free images.
There are two different kinds of free images results page.
First page is simple, you search for some subject, you get some free image results and bellow that are suggested some nice royalty free commercial images from the main database. Those images are sorted the same as someone would search main database directly, it means that all contributors are included based on the search engine algorithms.
Another page (which is more interesting for promotion) is when someone clicks on your free image with intention to download it. He will be presented with commercial set of images from your portfolio. Only your portfolio! These results are the same as on the page one with the difference that your contributor name (or ID, whatever) is included as search criteria for main database. This way you have direct exposure of your portfolio which may tempt someone to buy some of your other images. Anyhow, there is no guarantee that it will happen, but your chances are increased. It may sound useless, but let see how to utilize that.
I will concentrate only on this second part of free section (where someone clicks on your free image to download it). There are some things that you should have in mind. Your commercial portfolio is selected by search terms, which brings us to keywords. Similar keywords - similar images. So when you have variety of images on very different subjects this feature could be a big bummer.
I started to use the free image section in order to understand what will happen and if I can benefit from donating.
First I selected few images that are sitting in my portfolio for years and have no sales at all. I believe that they would not sale in the future too. Before donating I edited the image (this is important) to see if there is anything I can do with title, keyword and description. I figured out that all of this suits my experience so the main reason for no selling is probably in the image itself. Either there are better images on the subject or the subject is something that is not asked for. So I don't need this image because it doesn't earn me money. Donating it to free section may bring some exposure to my portfolio, so there is chance that some of my other image will bring interest.
Real life example: You can find my first 4 free images by searching for the following: plasma lamp, golden pound, white pebbles, and dwarf icon. On these terms all mention images took the first place :) at least when I last checked out.
Now I was thinking what was the reason that exactly those commercial images to appear. One of the reasons is certainly the word "white" in search term. Even I have more images with this keyword they are not there.
So my conclusion was that system compares free image keyword set with keyword sets of my images in commercial portfolio. It is obvious that there are more common keywords in this example, like 'decorative', which was not in search term but somehow connects those images. At the moment my "golden pound" returns even recently uploaded set of green icons. They don't have either "golden" or "pound" in keywords or everywhere else. But they have common keyword "symbol".
So, if this speculation is true then it is pretty neat functionality. Your free image can be found by one set of keywords but the commercial suggestion will be based on other keywords that are common with your free image and commercial images.
I have a collection of icons in my portfolio that have many keywords in common (small cartoon characters presenting different roles, occupations etc.). So I decided to donated small dwarf (which doesn't sell comparing to others) to see what will happen. You can check for "dwarf icon", click to download and you will see my commercial screen full of other similar icons (even not all, because of limited number). But I am glad for that.
At this moment a little dwarf jumped from 0 to 6 downloads in a few days (which is amazing) and every time my commercial collection was exposed.
After checking the other keywords I noticed that my golden pound didn't contain word "isolated" so I added it today. Still no result of this action because it takes some time, but I expect that my little figurines will be exposed even on golden pound image based on word "isolated". This would prove my speculation.
Images that don't make any money for a year will probably stay like that in the future. Donating it for free will not be any lose. However, it will do at least something - expose other images from your portfolio. Free image will probably be suddenly downloaded many times but don't look at this as losing money, as this image was useless even before. Free images section have way less images that main database so good keywording is pretty effective and your free image could be found easier. There is no guarantee that this will bring you any sells, but as i mentioned, it is promotion of your other images. Seeing them potential buyer may get some new idea.
If you have series of images which share subjects (therefore share keywords and other literals), it is smart to risk one of the images and donate it to expose other commercial images of the same series. You don't need to donate the best image, but rather the worst from the series, or the one that shows the worst performance. It is good to take some time checking for the keywords, if there is any possibility to match your commercial images with the free one it will benefit. Note that overstuffing and misskeywording just for the purpose of matching is not recommended. Stick to normal keywords technique.
Another idea is to make free image that will somehow describe some of your series, and upload it directly to free section so it can be representative of your portfolio. Free images should fulfill technical and other quality requirements, don't forget. Thinking of that you may get the idea of how you can benefit from your vector images. They all have "vector" as keyword, don't they?
People that search for free images are most probably not buyers. If they were, they will go to main database to get the most quality images. Exposing commercial images near free images is giving a chance to people to realize that they can choose from more quality images and for just a small compensation.