Microstock Price Comparisons

Posted on 2/13/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Many photographers that license their images at RM and traditional RF prices still believe microstock images are being licensed for $1.00. For the most part nothing could be further from the truth. Consider these price comparisons for images on 7 different microstock sites and in some cases multiple collections on the sites.

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
XSmall       1 1.5 11 2 6 9 19 15     20
Small 1 1 2.5 3 3 13 7 9 13 35 40 60 95 49
Medium 2 2 3.5 6 6 16 13 19 21 50 80 95 128 199
Large 3 4 5 8 8 17 19 21 29 70 120 128 175 390
XLarge 4 6 6 10 12 18 21 25 35 79 160 180 259 510
XXLarge 5   10 12 18 19 25 30 43 88 200 242 345 620
XXXLarge             30 35 49 95   270 400  

The numbers in the top row correspond to the agencies listed below.

1 – 123RF
2 – Bigstockphoto
3 – Canstockphoto
4 – Fotolia
5 – DepositPhotos

6 – Dreamstime
7 – iStock non-exclusive
8 – iStock non-exclusive+
9 – iStock Exclusive
10 – iStock Exclusive+

11 – Fotolia Infinite
12 – iStock Vetta
13 – iStock Agency (TAC)
14 – Fotolia Infinite

In many cases the same image is available on all these sites. The best way to see the comparison of what an image might cost depending on which site a customer chooses to use is compare the prices in rows 1 through 7. Thus, customers might pay 5 to 6 times as much to purchase an image on iStock as they would pay on 123RF for the same image.

It is also important to note that the numbers for each of the file sizes are credits not dollars. Each agency offers credit packages that provide discounts when the customer purchases a large number of credits. The larger the package the greater the discount, but in some cases the price of a single credit can be much higher than $1.00.

For example, the minimum package at iStockphoto is 12 credits for $19.99 or $1.67 per credit. Thus, if a customer wanted a Small image file that is listed at 7 credits it could actually cost $11.69. Even if the customer is willing to spend $4,200 up front for 3,000 credits she is still paying $1.40 per credit.

Comparison With RM and Traditional RF

Recently, we analyzed the sales of several Getty Images contributors and concluded that their average price for an RM image in 2012 was about $260 and for an RF about $130. Also see here and here.

Note that the prices for larger files sizes of some of the Getty and Fotolia special collections are higher than the averages for Macro images listed above. In addition there are two other pricing factors to take into consideration.
    1 – Unlike with RM these are fixed prices. The only discounts provided are when a customer purchases a larger package of credits. There are no deep discounts for “Premium Access” or other volume uses as is the case with Getty.

    2 – With microstock there are additional “Extended License” fees on top of the standard fee if the customer wants to print more than 500,000 copies of the product where the image is used, or if more than one person within an organization wants to use the photo.

Trends In Microstock

Yesterday, we reported that revenue for photographers is declining at Fotolia, Dreamstime and iStockphoto while sales at 123RF, Bigstockphoto, Canstockphoto and DepositPhotos are increasing. Given the price variations it is easy to see why customers may be leaving the big three and going to other microstock distributors for the images they need. And, we repeat, many of the same images are available on a non-exclusive basis on all these sites.

Some photographers think the answer to falling prices is to be exclusive with one distributor. That way their images will not be available at many different price points. But, iStock’s exclusive contributors are suffering as much, if not more, than the non-exclusive contributors. They have no way to make up for lost sales because their images are not available on any other site.

Just released yesterday were some statistics from Microstock Group’s annual survey of microstock contributors. 708 people responded to the survey and 25% of those who had images with iStock were exclusive. However, of the exclusives 52% plan to give up their exclusive in 2013 and go non-exclusive.

We suspect that customers begin to get an impression that the site they have been using is too expensive. At that point they look for a cheaper alternative. They are not looking for specific images just the best image the new site has to offer. If it happens to be the same image they would have found on the old site, and it’s cheaper, that’s great for the customer. It’s not necessarily good for the photographer. From the photographer’s point of view, just to stay even in revenue, he must make at least 5 or 6 as many sales on the sites with lower prices for each sale he loses from one of the three leading sites. This is extremely unlikely.

Another factor that is making things difficult is that many of the customers leaving iStock, Fotolia or Dreamstime are finding Shutterstock subscriptions. The average price per download from Shutterstock in Q4 2012 was $2.26. On Shutterstock all images are priced the same and the largest available file size is always delivered. If the customer needed an XXLarge file and had previously purchased from iStock it could have cost him 30 credits (approximately $45.00).

The photographer would have to make almost 20 sales on Shutterstock to equal the royalty he would have received from that one sale on iStock. If the image was from the iStock Exclusive+ collection and the customer needed in an XXLarge file size the photographer would have to make approximately 58 sales on Shutterstock to equal the revenue from one Exclusive+ sale. Shutterstock does make approximately 7 times the number of sales as iStock, but that is not near enough to offset the loss on one iStock sale.

More Fotolia And Dreamstime Options

Fotolia, Dreamstime and DepositPhoto have additional variations in pricing that are not included in the chart above.

  1 credit 2 credits 3 credits 17 credits 19 credits 15 credits 20 credits
xsmall 1 2 3 17 19 15 20
small 3 6 9 44 49 40 49
medium 6 12 18 131 229 80 199
large 8 16 24 185 339 120 390
xlarge 10 20 30 233 399 160 510
xxlarge 12 24 36 392   200 620

xsmall 0.8 1.5 1
small 1.5 3 2
medium 3 6 4
large 4 8 6
xlarge 6 12 8
xxlarge 8 18 10

For a table that outlines 6 pricing options on Dreamstime, plus the Extended Licensing options, check out this link.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Jim Pickerell Posted Feb 14, 2013
    Based on information received from Serban Enache, CEO of Dreamstime, I have made some corrections in the Dreamstime numbers that I posted origionally.

    Enache also pointed out, "It's important to note that the value in credits should always be correlated with the USD value of the credit (which can lead to a higher or lower price in USD)."

    "Also, our subscriptions are at least as attractive to those of Shutterstock so we don't experience the migration you are talking about. But it's nevertheless true that there are many customers who will purchase from various agencies constantly)."

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