27 Mar 2007 Which Microstock Websites Provide the Most Revenue?

One of the reasons I started this blog was that I couldn’t find anyone talking in detail about certain topics on any of the microstock blogs or forums. This was one of those topics.

For photographers starting out and wanting to know which microstock agencies are best for selling their photos and worth their time, this is fundamental information. Even for established microstockers who’ve been selling their photos online for some time it’s helpful to compare earnings across multiple microstock agencies.

In researching this article I found a lot of helpful information which I have collected and summarized here. With this information I realized that other microstockers are having success with websites that I’m not using. Based on the detail of that information I’m going to extend the number of agencies which sell my photos.

Microstock revenue comparison chart (2007-01-26)

This chart shows my microstock revenue since I first started. There are some things you need to know about this chart:

  • I have uploaded the same portfolio of photos to each of the top four agencies, though they have each rejected different photos
  • Figures for Jan-07 are estimates based on the average per-day rate so far this month
  • I had an extended license sale on iStockphoto in Aug-06 and one on Shutterstock in Sep-06
  • The start of each line indicates when I first started contributing to each site
  • I’ve grown my portfolio of photos along the way, but when starting with a new site I uploaded almost my entire portfolio
  • The figures exclude referrals and other non-royalty payments

Some initial observations:

  • iStockphoto is a stand out leader for our portfolio, most months
  • iStockphoto is also our most dynamic in terms of the high peaks and low troughs
  • Shutterstock is our second-best producer by a small margin, though with iStockphoto they’re in a league of their own
  • The introduction of iStockphoto’s disambiguation facility in Nov-06 caused a disproportionate drop in revenue in that month
  • There are clear seasonal trends where all sites experience a downturn at the same time

iStockphoto is clearly the agency which generates the most revenue for my portfolio at this time. Almost all the other articles and forum posts I’ve seen put Shutterstock as the most lucrative with iStockphoto second. I’m not sure why mine is different.

As for the weak performers, I’m considering my options at this time. I’ve continued uploading there in hope that they’ll increase sales, but the return on the time I spend submitting is looking like it’ll be more educational than financially lucrative.

It will be interesting to see how this young market consolidates and whether so many sites can be profitably sustained. For now I’m leaving my portfolios intact and monitoring progress. Remember that this chart is the experience of one portfolio and your mileage may vary. Consider also the popularity of each agency, as well as the license, agreement, rates and website features.

How do your experiences compare to mine?

For more up-to-date information on my comparative earnings, see my monthly earnings reports.

  • torque
    Posted at 01:49h, 02 March Reply


    I also sell on stock sites.. Funny that, Istock is by far the slowest site for me, and Fotolia is by far the site where I make most of my income (if you can call what I make an income that is 🙂 ).

    I liked your site dedicated to stock… Keep up the good work.



  • CJPhoto
    Posted at 05:55h, 14 April Reply

    Shutterstock is the best for me but iStock is catching up. The reason is I have less photos on iStock due to rejections. I think sales are more sustainable there so I think it will be my number 1 site shortly.

  • Rich B
    Posted at 21:46h, 19 April Reply

    I have yet to actually upload anything to a website . Shutterstock will not accept anything less then 4.0 megapixels and even though my camera is a 4.0 , most of my images only get to 3.9mp . I am forced to try a site that might allow 3.9 and be happy with my pic’s .

  • Peter
    Posted at 15:29h, 07 May Reply

    Shutterstock does well for me if I consistantly upload new images. As for ongoing sales without new additions I prefer Dreamstime and Fotolia. iStock has slipped a lot for me, but is finally starting to pick up again.

    I would have to say that I am actually impressed with LuckyOliver. Very few sales yet (none of the new agencies really do), but they are unique and seem targeted to a different crowd.

  • Steve Rosset
    Posted at 11:01h, 25 June Reply

    I got into the microstock business in late October and am currently uploading to iStock and Dreamstime. I have to say thus far iStock is far more lucrative because the site has substantially more traffic. Both my image views and sales volume are double that of Dreamstime with the same portfolio. In my opinion Dreamstime is struggling to grow their site visitor numbers and the reduced exposure has the obvious effect on sales. Additionally, my upload success rate is substantially higher with iStock and the overall search ability, volume of content and navigation are all far superior on iStock. For now I will continue to contribute to both but am seriously considering going exclusive with iStock in the near future.

    I am curious to hear what other photographers are experiencing so I will stay tuned to your great site.

  • Lee Torrens
    Posted at 17:24h, 25 June Reply

    Hi Steve,

    Yes, iStockphoto are certainly the market leader. Perhaps look at contributing to more agencies so you can better compare how much difference exclusivity would make for you.

  • Steve Risset
    Posted at 03:32h, 13 July Reply

    Hi Lee,

    I just started contributing to shutterstock and my limited portfolio is already performing at iStock levels. Will have to wait and see how things play out. Shutterstock seems to get pretty good volume due to their subscription model and I have noticed I am getting a broader download distribution on the site.

    Dreamstime continues to be weak in terms of sales and exposure. Additionally, their attempt to copy shutterstock with a subscription model has not had a very high level of success as their traffic volume is much lower.

    I also just signed up with SnapVillage – Corbis’s entry into micro stock – but they have a long way to go before their site is user friendly and bug free.

    I would be very interested to hear other people’s experiences!

    • LFChavier
      Posted at 23:58h, 08 October Reply

      Hi Lee,

      Congratulations, your blog is awesome!

      My revenue ranking for the last 5 months is:
      1. iStockphoto
      2. Shutterstock
      3. Dreamstime
      4. StockXpert
      5. LuckyOliver
      6. Fotolia
      7. BigStockPhoto
      8. SnapVillage (zero)

      I had some extended license sales from iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime and LuckyOliver.

      Steve, I also hope that someday SnapVillage is up to the Corbis brand… Still waiting…



  • Claudio
    Posted at 10:02h, 27 April Reply

    My best performing site is Fotolia; now I have a larger portfolio there (I maily upload there since it’s the best selling site for me), but for about 6 months I had the same portfolio there and on Dreamstime, so I was able to compare results: Fotolia sales were about 3 times higher.

    • Claudio
      Posted at 10:04h, 27 April Reply

      Not sure why but I would advice it is because it has many localised sites in many languages and so it really sales worldwide.

  • allievn
    Posted at 16:01h, 28 April Reply

    I am totaly confused. I sold the following amount of photos in the past 3 months; Dreamstime 1, Fotolia 8, iStock 4, Big Stock 6.

    Since beeing accepted at Shutterstock last week I have sold 40 photos in 4 days? How can that be?


    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 18:20h, 28 April Reply

      Hi Allievn,

      That looks about right to me. Remember the above article is comparing revenue, not sales. Shutterstock sell high volume with low per-sale revenue.

      Also consider the size of your portfolio. Until your sales figures rise considerably there’s insufficient sample data to draw too many conclusions. Even my figures above are inaccurate when I compare them against the results of our market’s top performers.


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