29 Oct 2015 Colourbox Review

Although many people I speak to are not aware of Colourbox, this company has been around for a surprisingly long time. The business currently follows the typical microstock agency model, with a super low 20% royalty rate —which is in fact an improvement to their original rate, as you will see.

Colourbox is not a major player in the industry, but the fact they’ve survived this long warrants a closer look.


Colourbox is based in Denmark and was founded in 2003. Their Danish website launched in early 2005, followed by English and German versions. It began as a photo-only RF licensing site, adding vector graphics and video in 2010. In 2011, they introduced editorial licenses, first for Scandinavia and then worldwide.

In 2013, they expanded to include two international offices in New York and Berlin. The management team has stayed constant for 12 years, but CEO Esben Darling Meng departed this August. The new chief executive, Mads Martin Jorgensen, comes from five years in the COO role in the company.

The company now has offices in three countries and a staff of around 30 in-house employees. They are advertising the soon to be concluded redesigning of their HQ to create a work space for over 40 people.


Web address www.colourbox.com
Google Pagerank 7
Alexa Rank 20,842
Image Stats +13 Million
Minimum Size Photos: 1000px on shorter side, 2500px on longest side. Footage: 1080 HD
Vectors Yes
Video Footage Yes
Licenses Standard Royalty Free only; no Extended Licenses
Royalties 20%
Pricing $12.5 single purchase
Payment Methods Paypal, Skrill/Moneybookers, Bank transfer
Payout threshold €100
Referral Program No
Application Process Exam with sample images
Exclusivity Not offered
Upload Methods FTP and web
IPTC Data Yes
Delete photos? Upon request, subject to Contributor Agreement terms
Currencies Euro, USD
Languages English, Danish, German
Headquarters Odense, Denmark
Social Profiles Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest

They have a strong presence in the Scandinavian regional market. Many important local media companies and online publications credit Colourbox for images, and they count many brands and businesses among their customers. They claim to have a base of 200,000 customers and over 50 million visitors to their website.

Most contributors seem to be Scandinavian and European. Some well-known microstock producers from nearby regions are participating, including Pressmaster and Sergey Nivens.

Since the agency supports English, Danish, and German, keywording can be done in any of those languages and is automatically translated to the others.

In 2011, they developed a digital asset manager (DAM) called Skyfish as an independent service. It has FTP upload and metadata extraction, and has a free version available. Company says many contributors make use of this service to manage keywording and uploading of files. For the time being the software tool works separately, but they plan to integrate it with Colourbox, not only for image management but also to use it as a secondary marketing source for the stock site.

Their latest business strategy to boost sales is a common one for stock agencies today: an API.  They plan to launch this before the end of the year.


The company has refined its services over the years, adding products and licensing types. Prices and royalties have also seen changes. A few years ago, they had a mix of traditional and microstock prices, with single purchases at around €100 and an unlimited subscription for €150. The model didn’t make much sense contributor side, but a possible explanation is that their catalog was much smaller back then, so an unlimited subscription didn’t have the same effect than it would have for a large collection.

Now, however, they offer only microstock pricing for all media. Single purchases are priced at $12.50. Subscription tiers go from $40 to $188, taking the price per image down to a minimum of $1.25. Subscriptions have no daily limits, and unused downloads can be rolled over for up to 3 months.

The Colourbox royalty rate is a very low 20%, paid in Euros. Due to the monthly subscription system lowering per-image prices, they pay contributors a minimum of €0.20 per download. If you’re thinking that’s too low, consider that until 2013, royalties were at 3%!

Subscription royalties are calculated on 20% of the per-image price of the download.  Most agencies pay a fixed royalty per download that roughly calculates out to the agency breaking even if the customer downloads their full allocation, but they keep 100% if nothing is downloaded. The agency shares the risk. Colourbox keeps 100% if nothing is downloaded, but 80% if the full allocation is downloaded. Their subscription rates are a little higher than average, but the net result is still a lot less is shared with the contributor.

Colourbox subscriptions also allow customers to add multiple user accounts, making it much easier to download a full subscription allocation.  Other microstock agencies don’t offer this, and even go as far as actively blocking subscribers from having more than one simultaneous login session per subscription.

Content that customers download and do not use remains valid for use for up to 3 years after termination of subscription, or from download date for single purchases. At Shutterstock and most other agencies, this validity period is six months.

Their Royalty Free license includes many features that most other agencies separate into Extended Licenses, specifically unlimited reproductions and items for resale. This excludes a serious earnings opportunity for contributors given extended license sales with their high prices provide a substantial boost.

Verdict Not Good

Despite their relatively long survival period in the industry, Colourbox has stayed relatively small and quiet.  They’ve generated enough success to build a small team and branch out into the DAM market.

But this success, while relatively modest, has come from giving more to the buyer and less to the contributor than most microstock agencies.  The list is quite concerning when you see it all together:

  • Low royalty rate
  • No shared risk on subscription royalties
  • Extended license rights in the standard license
  • 3-year validity on unused images

All this, combined with being a low-seller and having a submission process that’s no less laborious than top earners, means Colourbox is not a lucrative option for time-poor microstockers, nor a model worth supporting.

Are you on Colourbox?

  • Martin Skultety
    Posted at 03:06h, 30 October Reply

    Awesome analysis, Lee. Many thanks. Can you please explain exactly what you mean when talking about content remaining “valid” (?) :

    “Content that customers download and do not use remains valid for use for up to 3 years after termination of subscription, or from download date for single purchases.”

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 11:21h, 30 October Reply

      Hey Martin, all stock subscription licenses invalidate licenses for images downloaded but not used within six months of ending the subscriptions. If the customer uses it, the license remains valid forever. It’s often called an anti-hoarding clause and in my experiences in quite misunderstood by buyers, photographers and agencies alike. Colourbox understand it, but extend it to three years instead of the standard six months.

  • Eric B
    Posted at 13:48h, 30 October Reply

    Thanks for the review.

Post A Reply to Eric B Cancel Reply