18 Jan 2010 All About Microstock Comparison Websites

If you haven’t seen them yet, microstock comparison websites do a simple but useful task. They help buyers search multiple microstock agencies at once. Some do this by showing search results from multiple agencies on a single page. Others show a single group of search results but show which photos are available at which agencies and at what prices.

Leading buyers to the cheapest source doesn’t sound like a positive thing for microstockers. But as microstockers and microstock agencies we are hardly in a position to protest a new idea forcing down the prices in our market.   Let’s take a closer look at some of these sites and then consider what might be their net impact.


SpiderPic impresses me most. It comes from the makers of Ginipic who partnered with Picitup for images recognition technology. It’s just entering private beta now and they’ve offered 200 beta accounts to Microstock Diaries readers via this link.

Spiderpic microstock price comaprison screenshotLike most microstock comparison sites, it shows search results from a customizable list of agencies on a single page. What sets it apart is the image detail page which lists all agencies that have the image and their price ranges. Hovering over the thumbnail for each agency shows the specific prices and sizes available. Buyers can then click through to the agency of their choice. Check out some of the big price differences on the examples page.

SpiderPic also comes with a browser plugin for FireFox and Internet Explorer (Chrome coming soon) which lets buyers compare prices of any photo they find online with just a right-click. Of course the photo must be available at one or more of the agencies SpiderPic support, but it also works on microstock agency websites themselves. Don’t like the price of the large size at agency X? Just right-click and you can see where else that photo is available and at what prices.

StockBlend search result screenshot


StockBlend is another very new site. It’s from Anders Peter Amsnæs, creator of Arctic Stock Images. Its unique point is that it also searches video and shows illustrations separately from photos.

The interface is gracefully simple with a useful horizontal scroll bar for each search result, avoiding the need to page through results of all agencies together.

StockBlend includes options to search Flickr, Flickr Creative Commons images, and Google Image Search alongside the results of microstock agencies.


Cyclops agency tabs

Cyclo.ps differs from the others by placing search results on separate tabs. This makes it more difficult to compare but there’s more space to display images. The search is performed when a user switches from one tab to another, speeding up the initial results but slowing down the switching between result pages.

Like StockBlend, Cyclo.ps support Flickr searches, but adds traditional stock photo outlet photos.com (which at the time of writing is broken).


ImageTrail is the oldest of these sites. The primary difference is there is only one search result. When a buyer clicks one of the images it shows which agencies have that image, which is sometimes just one agency. This focuses the buyer on image choice rather than cheapest price.

It doesn’t allow the buyer to choose which agencies are included and only searches Fotolia, Dreamstime and 123rf. It also only shows photos that have been ‘indexed’ in advance, so it doesn’t catch the most recent photos and the quantity is limited. The site is also quite neglected with more page links broken than functioning.

How they Work

Monetization is via the agencies affiliate programs. As a buyer-focused application, they can be much more lucrative than microstock contributor blogs! However, judging by the lack of maintenance at the two older comparison sites ImageTrail and Cyclo.ps, it’s not easy money.

The data is collected from code that ‘scrapes’ the content from the website in most cases.   Some agencies allow these applications to work via their APIs – a cleaner and more reliable method. However, when not all agencies have an API or don’t permit it’s use for this type of application, it can be easier for the developers to just scrape the data from all websites in the same way.

What the Agencies Think

The larger and more successful agencies are usually the most expensive, so naturally they’re not happy to have their prices compared against other agencies. Their rate of customer acquisition is often high enough to make the traffic from these small websites unappealing. It’s not uncommon for agencies to block access for websites like this, though it’s not always motivated by not wanting to be compared. Sometimes these websites can have an excessive strain on server resources due to the nature of scraping.

On the other end of the scale, most newer and smaller agencies are happy to be included for the exposure and potential supply of new customers. Most comparison websites are happy to hear from agencies wanting to be included, even though the potential affiliate earnings are lower.

Do Buyers Really Shop Around?

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest weak price resistance in the microstock market.   However, there’s no doubt some buyers will consider price the dominant factor in purchase decisions. Even if they’re a minority, the combined traffic (via Alexa) for the above four websites suggests there’s enough to make a small difference to the market, though probably not a noticeable difference to the top agencies.

What is the Impact on Microstockers

There’s a chance these sites could bring new customers into the market and help focus on credit based sales (not subscriptions), but that’s about the only positives for us microstockers. These tools are built for photo buyers, not contributors.

Just as microstock stripped the traditional stock photo industry of lucrative inefficiencies in supply and distribution, new technologies will continue to make photo buyers better informed about availability and pricing. The recent PicScout ImageExchange browser add-on does the same thing, allowing buyers to see which photos on more expensive agencies are also available at Dreamstime. We’re getting closer and closer to a perfect market.

  • Rick (dragon_fang)
    Posted at 12:55h, 18 January Reply

    I’m not too worried yet. According to the example page, Canstock is the cheapest in many instances, yet they also have the lowest sales for most people.

  • Sinisa Botas
    Posted at 13:51h, 18 January Reply

    I’m not too worried too!

    Because every industry has the same, someone always search cheapest solution, but every story has an other side…
    I think this is leading in bigger prices not cheapest,because this can lead to the abandoning of small sites by contributors …
    You saw what is happening with smaller sites lately (like Zymm, LuckyOliver etc)…
    They can’t survive without investing of big money into marketing…
    So Canstock can risk departure of the photographers,financial problems only because of prices….

  • R. Kneschke
    Posted at 14:00h, 18 January Reply

    I guess, the more image suppliers become aware of services like this, they will stop uploading to low-selling agencies with little prices. Might be good in general?

    • Christopher Futcher
      Posted at 05:12h, 28 January Reply

      I agree… and am doing that myself. It’s hardly worth my time.

  • Dave
    Posted at 15:22h, 18 January Reply

    I buy the lowest priced image all the time, with the volume of images I buy for my blog, it just makes sense.

  • Sinisa Botas
    Posted at 16:08h, 18 January Reply

    Why should I allow my image to sell several times cheaper than the highest price? I will simply be removed where the cheapest …

    If someone really wants m picture, he will pay, microstock prices are already too low …
    So I invite you to leave cheapest sites if they won’traise prices in the coming period …

    I don’t want bigger sales on “low sellers” sites, but less earnings in global…

  • Anders
    Posted at 16:10h, 18 January Reply

    StockBlend was created not as a price comparing site but rather as a tool for buyers to find just the right image. To most people buying stock I don’t think the price is that important. On StockBlend you can search a lot of sites at the same time and maybe even find something very unique through one of the niche agencies that you likely wouldn’t have come across otherwise. These sites can indeed be a good thing for photographers as well.

    Anders Peter Amsnæs
    StockBlend and Arctic Stock Images

  • CandyBox Photo
    Posted at 02:39h, 19 January Reply

    Lee great post ( I know I say it all the time), insightful information and make me wonder even more how long the old business model of traditional (macro RF) stock will hold? What are the more expensive agencies offering the buyers? Or even better the contributors? What is an image worth? Cheers

  • Zbynek Burival
    Posted at 04:45h, 19 January Reply

    Agree with Sinisa Botas – I would exactly go the same way. We are still very far from perfect market and we are on extremely low prices already – we must think how to get them up to reasonable compromise for both buyers and contributors – now all the cream is on buyers and agencies site which is very bad.

  • Alex
    Posted at 04:57h, 19 January Reply

    Sorry, it’s hard to be objective while reading this but I don’t have the luxury to view at things from a skewed point of view. CSP is constantly low because if you bothered to actually click on the link to go to the actual image detail on CSP, you’ll find that the actual price is at least 2 times higher than reported by the EXAMPLE page at spiderpic. Is this a careless error or a craftily designed omission? Only fellas at spiderpic will know.

    • Orr Sella
      Posted at 06:12h, 19 January Reply

      Alex – The prices showed on CSP are always twice as high, but simply by signing up with CSP the prices drop by half (it’s clearly stated on every photo page).

      Hope this helps,

  • Sinisa Botas
    Posted at 07:27h, 19 January Reply

    I like Canstock because of Fotosearch regular sales…
    Its give me good RPI…

    But in a future ,prices will be the first criterion, where to upload,where not…

  • Jon H.
    Posted at 12:11h, 19 January Reply

    I am a non exclusive photgrapher so I may or may not expect a potential loss of income by websites like spiderpic.

    So here is my question. Are they paying for the use of these images???

    If they can link to low res images at will should that not also apply for all web users that actually buy our images?

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 13:36h, 19 January Reply

      They’re only using the thumbnails and watermarked previews.

      • Jon H.
        Posted at 15:36h, 19 January Reply

        really? I dont see any watermarks here… http://www.spiderpic.com/examples

        And even so I allow the sites I sell on to use my photos with watermarks I dont have any agreement with those sites. Lets face it these sites are not for charity – They are about making money through aff. programs and I dont see how they can use our images without paying for them. Could the NY Times website use watermarked photgraphs with every article without paying for them?

        I dont know, I may be wrong here but the first thing that crossed my mind when I heard about those sites was “can they do that?”

        • Lee Torrens
          Posted at 16:02h, 19 January Reply

          There’s no watermarks on the images on their examples page because those are thumbnails.

          My understanding is that legally this falls under ‘Fair Use’ legislation so they’re not breaking any laws.

          Commercially, the agencies make the thumbnails and watermarked previews available on the website to help sell licenses. The comparison websites are doing exactly the same thing, so for most agencies there’s no commercial conflict either.

          The NY Times could use watermarked versions if they’re talking about the image or helping to sell the image like these comparison websites do. But for illustrating an article, no, they could not.

          In short, yes, “they can do that”. Most agencies actively promote use of thumbnails and previews through their APIs and referral programs. This is nothing different. Agencies may object to the price comparison functionality, but there’s limited basis for objecting to the way these websites use the images.

  • numbeos
    Posted at 08:38h, 21 January Reply

    thank Lee..great post…

  • Vitezslav Valka
    Posted at 12:12h, 21 January Reply

    Interesting read. Thank you Lee for the explanation of people behind these projects. Anders Peter Amsnæs is pretty interesting guy as same as boys from Ginipic. It’s good to hear that the market is getting mature soon…

  • Ian Murray
    Posted at 11:26h, 26 January Reply

    Using Spiderpic and Picscout Image Exchange I am finding many images as RF on micros and as RM on a famous non-exclusive ‘macro’ site even though it is against the rules ( obviously!).

    I’m very pleased that software is being developed so that there is more transparency and that buyers and others have tools to prevent themselves being cheated by the unscrupulous.

    Ian Murray

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 16:22h, 26 January Reply

      It is my understanding that images can be legitimately offered as RM and RF as long as exclusivity is not offered as part of the ‘managed rights’ of RM. Though I would not be surprised to learn that many of those you’ve spotted haven’t removed exclusivity.

      I’m not sure the sarcasm in your second comment will come through for those who don’t know you, so I just thought I’d point it out.

      • Ian Murray
        Posted at 16:31h, 26 January Reply


        I’m not being sarcastic, I’m being dead serious.

        On the site I’m referring to it is explicitly against the rules to have RM images that are RF elsewhere. Yet, some of the big names in microstock still persist in placing their RF micro images as L.

        This is clearly misleading to say the least. I’m pleased that software is emerging to pick this up.

        I hope that is clear and unambiguous.

        Ian Murray

        • Lee Torrens
          Posted at 17:04h, 26 January Reply

          My apologies. I presumed the second comment was in reference to pricing. Yes, all clear now.

          Regarding Alamy (again ‘presuming’ that’s the agency you’re referring to), I wasn’t aware that they explicitly prohibit listing images as Licensed (effectively RM) if they’re RF elsewhere. I’ll take a closer look.

          • Ian Murray
            Posted at 17:48h, 26 January

            Here is an extract from the Alamy contract:

            2.2 You cannot submit identical or similar images to Alamy as both Royalty-Free and Rights Managed. The licence type on Alamy for an image must be the same as the licence type for that image and similar images which you have on other agency websites.

            So why is it that some of the most famous, I mean the most famous, microstock photographers are breaking this clear rule?

          • Lee Torrens
            Posted at 18:31h, 26 January

            We discovered some of Yuri’s photos with both licenses in the comments of this post, which turned out to be a distribution issue and not an intentional breach of the Alamy agreement. If you’ve found some similar, I’d suggest there’s no harm in calling out the contributor and publishing the file numbers as was done in that thread. The ‘crowd’ is the best resource for spotting and highlighting errors such as these.

  • Nacho
    Posted at 14:18h, 26 January Reply

    Hey Lee!
    Good article, as always…
    I was wondering… What happened with december Earnings Report? Are you and Jack going to stop the report? I hope not.
    Thanks and cheers.

    Anton Prado

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 16:24h, 26 January Reply

      Hey guys, yes, we’re changing the earnings reports. I have a new project to replace the earnings reports. I was hoping to launch this month, but there have been some delays. Hopefully it’ll be ready by next month. Stay tuned.


  • Ian Murray
    Posted at 16:42h, 26 January Reply

    I tell you one thing I find amusing. That’s seeing that some so-called exclusives on a very big micro site actually have pics on Dreamstime according to PicScout!

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 17:05h, 26 January Reply

      I’m sure the admins at iStockphoto are also using this tool to police their exclusivity agreements.

      And yes, I agree that it’s great that technology will help the industry keep people to their word.

      • Ian Murray
        Posted at 17:50h, 26 January Reply

        My sentiments exactly. I’d suggest that it will make people think more carefully about the most appropriate way of marketing their images rather than trying to cover all bases.

  • Ian Murray
    Posted at 19:14h, 26 January Reply


    I’d like to add to the thread but can’t see a ‘Reply to this comment’ link.

    Yuri has images with McPHoto that have the wrong licence but also a small number that appear to be his directly. As with another famous microstocker I emailed this week I expect it will be an error by an assistant.

    That thread was back in 2008 and the pics are still there so not sure how hard they tried.

  • Lee Torrens
    Posted at 06:27h, 29 May Reply

    Adding ShotSpy.com to the list.

  • Camden
    Posted at 16:55h, 22 June Reply

    shotspy.com is great actually, because you can search and compare photos and/or video. And everything is microstock so you know none of the images or clips will be expensive…

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