Side-by-Side Comparison of The Most Popular Sites To Sell Stock Photos
When it comes to making money from your photos, there’s no shortage of stock photography sites to choose from.
But which one is the best or most importantly, the best-paying stock photo site?
The answer, surprisingly, is not always the one that pays the highest royalties per download. In fact, there are a number of factors that go into determining which site is the best for you to sell your stock media.
These include the royalty rate, the minimum royalty, customer volume, the level of competition, and contributor friendliness.
In this post, I’ll take a closer look at each of these factors to see how they can impact your earnings.
And because nothing beats the old fashion experience and research, I’ve done the legwork for you and compiled a side-by-side comparison of some of the best-paying stock photography sites out there of which I have first-hand experience too!
- Wirestock Review – All-In-One Site to Sell Stock Media: Don’t like wasting time on keywording and distribution of your stock media? Then this is for you!
The Factors What Make a Site Good for Selling Your Photos
To get a better understanding of which site is best for selling stock photos, it’s important to first understand the factors that go into making a stock photography site good for content creators.
As I mentioned before, these include the royalty rate, the minimum royalty payments, customer volume, the level of competition, and the contributor friendliness.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors
First of all the actual royalty rate. This is because some sites pay higher royalties than others. For example, IStock pays only 15% royalties while Dreamstime pays 25% royalties. So, if you’re looking for a site that pays higher royalties, you’ll want to check out Dreamstime over iStock.
However, higher royalty doesn’t necessarily mean that Dreamstime is the better-paying stock site. Because there are other factors to consider as well. If there’s no volume of buyers, then the higher royalty rate won’t make a difference.
Customer Base and Traffic
The second factor to consider is the size of the customer base and the amount of traffic the site gets. Because the more customers a site has, the greater the sales volume. And, of course, more sales means more money in your pocket. Customer volume may be actually the most important factor. Without customers, there won’t be money either.
Another factor to consider is the minimum royalty rate. Each site has its own minimum rates they pay per download. If the minimum royalty rate is low, then you won’t make much money, even if you have a high number of sales.
For example, Shutterstock has a low minimum of $0.10 per download, Adobe Stock has a minimum of $0.33. If we compare these two, it’s easy to see that Adobe Stock will pay you 3 times more than Shutterstock for these minimum-priced sales.
How about competition? Some sites have more competitive platforms than others. For example, Shutterstock has over 400 million images on its website while IStock has about 179 million images.
When buyers are searching for an image, they will get a lot of results to choose from. You have a better chance of having your image on the top page and being seen if the platform has fewer images.
So, if you want to increase your chances of selling, you might want to consider a platform with less competition.
However, that doesn’t mean you should completely avoid competitive platforms. As a content creator, you should put your images in as many places as possible to reach the widest audience.
Finally, the last factor to consider is contributor friendliness. Some agencies are more contributor friendly than others and make it easier for contributors to understand how the site works.
For example, how well the agency informs the contributors about keywording and what kind of images to produce on that site, whether is there a community to find help, how good the agency is to motivate the contributors, etc.
It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but if an agency is contributor friendly and makes it easy for you to work with them, you’re more likely to stick around and continue contributing your photos and earn more.
Side-by-Side Comparison of The Best-Paying Stock Photo Sites
Comparing the best-paying sites side-by-side is actually not as easy as it first sounds.
This is because each site has its own royalty structures that are challenging to compare directly.
While some sites, such as Dreamstime, have more confusing royalty systems, others like Adobe Stock boast a much simpler structure that is easy to understand by reading through their website.
Exclusivity, contributor levels, sold license types, subscription plans, etc. All these have an effect on how much you can earn per download.
However, for the sake of this comparison, I’ve simplified the royalty structures by combining my own experience of these sites and the data found on their websites.
For example, I’ve collected a database of my sales over the years from where I can see the most useful metric to compare the royalty rate of different stock photo sites. The Return Per Download (RPD).
RPD is the average royalty of ALL image downloads whether the license type bought or the subscription plan the buyer had.
Unfortunately, this is not an absolute truth, because the RPD varies depending on the contributor. Also, because sales volume is lower for some smaller stock photo sites, my RPD in these sites might not be entirely accurate. My RPD is most reliable on the high-volume sites Shutterstock, Adobe Stock, and IStock
So, to make things easier for you, I’ve put together a side-by-side table comparison of each site’s royalties and other factors that should help you quickly see which site offers the highest value.
Here’s the Comparison Table:
|Royalty Rate Percent||15% – 40%*||15% – 45%***||33%||25% – 60%*****||30% – 38%*||30% – 60%||General Royalty Rate. The actual cut you get from each download|
|Royalty Rate Subscriptions||0.10 – 1.50||0.10 –||0.33 – 1.65||0.35 – 2.00||0.25 – 0.33*||0.216 – 0.432*||How much the site pays per download from subscription sales|
|Royalty Rate Extended License||15% – 40%||15% – 45%***||21.12 – 26.40||$13 – $40||30% – 38%*||30% – 60%*||How much the site pays per extended license sold|
|Minimum Royalty||0.10||0.10****||0.33 – 0.38**||0.35||0.25||0.216||Minimum amount the site pays per download|
|Sales Volume||High||High||High||Low||Low||Low||How good is the download volume based on my own experience|
|Site Monthly Traffic||213M||138M||55M||40M||14M||7M||How much traffic the site gets monthly according to Ubersuggest (Higher is Better)|
|Competition (Library Size)||424M||179M||286M||196M||169M||unknown||How big image library the site has indicating the level of competition (Lower is Better)|
|My RPD||0.30 – 1.47||0.34 – 0.49||0.49 – 1.03||2022 average: 1.67||Not enough Data||Not enough Data||My Return per Download (RPD) range in 2022|
*Based on your contributor Level **Based on Lifetime Downloads ***Based on Exclusivety ****No minimum for connect sales *****Based on File Level and exclusivity
If the table doesn’t show up properly on some mobile devices please take a look at the screenshot here:
In this section, I’ll go briefly through each site and explain the metrics in the table and also my own experience contributing to the site.
Shutterstock is one of the most popular stock photo agencies in the world with over 400 million images on its website.
Overall Shutterstock is the top-selling site for most contributors and should be on the list of beginner contributors. With over 400 million images, the competition is fierce but the sales volume is very high.
However, the creators who contribute to SS feel disregarded and unappreciated because the agency’s staff seems to have a superiority complex.
Shutterstock may have some big flaws, but when it comes to making money, it just can’t be ignored.
For example, right now, while writing this article, I’ve got a sale of $72 for a single image! This is what makes Shutterstock good in my eyes. Whether you like it or not, they are too good to ignore… unfortunately…
For me, Shutterstock comes second in terms of monthly sales.
Please find below the summary of the site:
- Royalty Rate: Shutterstock reduced its royalty rate in 2020 pissing off ALL contributors. Now they offer 15% – 40% royalties based on contributor level. The 6-step level is based on total downloads in a year and reset back to 1 in January each year. Royalty per subscription download range between 0.10 – 1.5 depending on your level.
- Minimum Royalty: $0.10 per download. Unfortunately, most of the sales are these 10-cent downloads.
- Traffic and Volume: Traffic is the highest of all other stock photo sites with 0ver 200 million monthly visitors indicating that Shutterstock is the most popular platform among buyers -> high download volume
- Competition: With popularity comes competition. Shutterstock has also the largest image library of all stock photo sites. This makes it challenging the get your images in front of buyers’ eyes but not impossible.
- Contributor Friendliness: Shutterstock’s relationship with its contributors crashlanded in 2020 when they cut the royalties… hard! They also closed a popular forum which was a great source of information and conversations and a dialog channel between the agency and the contributors. Now there’s no communication whatsoever. There’s only a blog and some youtube channels that are full of generic info which doesn’t really help at all. Shutterstock used to be good in contributor relations but eventually decided to wipe its butt with it.
- RPD: My RPD has been ranging monthly between $0.30 – $1.47 in 2022. High variation indicates that some months I’ve got very low income despite many downloads but on the other hand, I’ve also had some great months with high income despite a low amount of downloads.
For some tips on selling content on Shutterstock, read this post: How To Make Money On Shutterstock?
IStock is very good in terms of sales volume. However, they’re also the one to pay the lowest royalties.
The RPD is the lowest of all other sites, but just like Shutterstock, it can be ignored because of the customer size and sales volume.
Another good thing about IStock is that the staff is very friendly and helpful, and they’re relatively quick to answer any questions you may have.
I started with IStock about 2 years back. Since then it has quickly grown to my third-best site earning me $84 last month.
- Royalty Rate: As a non-exclusive contributor you only get 15% per photo downloaded. From illustrations, you’ll get a 20% cut. As an exclusive contributor, you’ll get 25% – 45% depending on your lifetime downloads.
- Minimum Royalty: 0.10 per download. However, there are also so-called connect sales in which royalties are only cents. Read below for more about these connect sales.
- Traffic and Volume: Very high traffic and very high sales volume. One of the highest in the market. You can expect to get hundreds of downloads in a few months after starting if you are consistent and upload high-quality content
- Competition: Competition is lower than in Shutterstock. If you apply as an exclusive contributor your images get even more exposure because you can get your images into IStock’s signature collection that is offered to customers more actively.
- Contributor Friendliness: Not bad. They have a forum and there’s plenty of information available via the contributor portal. The staff is there on the forums to answer questions too. However, they are nowhere near Adobe Stock level.
- RPD: My IStock RPD is always lower than on other sites and ranges between $0.34 – $0.49, which means that even though I get a lot of downloads, royalties are low.
What are Connect Sales? According to IStock connect is a “Toolset that enables customers to use Getty content as part of their online businesses, where traditional license models won’t work. This solution embeds Getty Images content, metadata and search functionality directly into customers’ publishing tools, products and services.”
Honestly… I don’t know what that really means. I only know that royalties from those sales are only pennies.
My personal favorite is Adobe Stock. They are the fairest of all other agencies with best-in-market royalty rates with a great community and guidance.
Traffic is lower than on IStock and Shutterstock, but the integration to Creative Cloud Apps brings in sales.
They also offer annual bonuses to contributors who exceed download limits. For example, last year they offered 1-year Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan for free as a bonus for those having more than 150 downloads in the year. Worth $10 / month.
Adobe Stock is the best-paying microstock site out there at the moment.
Please read also this post for details about selling on Adobe Stock: Selling Photos to Adobe Stock – The Best Practises
Below is a short summary of Adobe Stock:
- Royalty Rate: Royalties are clear and well-informed. 33% cut from on-demand or credit pack sales and extended licenses. With this 33% cut subscription royalties range between $0.33 – $1.65 and extended licenses between $21.12 – $26.40. Sometimes even higher sales may pop up.
- Minimum Royalty: Minimum royalty is based on lifetime downloads: 0-999 DLs = $0.33 per download, 1000-9999 DLs = $0.36 per download, and 10000 and above DLs = $0.38 per download.
- Traffic and Volume: Lower than the other big ones with only 55M visitors per month. However, this does not include the Creative Cloud Customers who can download stock assets directly from super popular apps such as Photoshop and Illustration, etc. Because of this, the sales volume on Adobe Stock is very high.
- Competition: About average competition. Not as many images as on Shutterstock making Adobe Stock a bit less competitive.
- Contributor Friendliness: The only stock photography agency that is seriously working on building a contributor community and helping everyone to get better in stock photography. Clear guides on what to shoot and how to keyword the content not even mentioning the annual bonus that you may get each year. Really top-notch stuff!
- RPD: My Adobe Stock RPD ranges between $0.49 – $1.03. As you can see the minimum is much higher than IStock’s or Shutterstock’s RPD. This means you can get quite a good income even with a lower amount of downloads.
I have a love-hate relationship with Dreamstime. They offer pretty good royalties. One of the best in the industry in fact.
However, the sales volume is just pathetic. I have more than 1000 images on Dreamstime and in the last 12 months, I’ve only had 83 sales. The RPD is excellent though being $1.64, but this is not a very reliable figure because of so low number of sales.
Anyway, find the summary below.
- Royalty Rate: The royalty system on Dreamstime is so complex you need a professor’s degree to understand it. Basically, you get 25% – 45% percent based on how many times the file is downloaded. There’s also file exclusivity and contributor exclusivity. Exclusive files get a few percent higher cut from each download. Exclusive contributors get 60% per download. Royalties from subscriptions vary between $0.35 – $2.00. Extended licenses sell between $13 – $40.
- Minimum Royalty: In my experience, the lowest amount per download on Dreamstime has always been $0.35. This is a very good minimum royalty in the stock photography industry.
- Traffic and Volume: Although by traffic, Dreamstime is the 4th most popular stock agency, its sales volume falls considerably behind the top 3 companies. In fact, I only receive a few downloads each month in comparison to hundreds on other platforms.
- Competition: Almost 200 million images. This is a huge number of images, particularly when checked against the low sales volume.
- Contributor Friendliness: Nothing bad to say about Dreamstime really. Maybe only that they seem to like being stuck in time and not going forward. They have forums and contests and contributor-written blogs but something is missing…
- RPD: My RPD from 83 sales in 2022 has been $1.67.
I have very little experience with Depositphotos, but this little time I’ve been with them hasn’t been positive.
So, I’ll stick around, for now, build up the portfolio, and let’s see… maybe my mind will change over time.
- Royalty Rate: Depending on the contributor level, royalty from subscription sales will fall within the $0.25 – $0.33 range. For On-Demand and Extended licenses, you will receive a 30% -38% cut again based on contributor level; however, I am curious as to why these levels even exist when for example Adobe Stock guarantees a minimum return of $0.33 or 33%. So why bother with these stupid levels at all? Whatever…
- Minimum Royalty: $0.25 is OK for a minimum royalty
- Traffic and Volume: Low traffic and low sales volume. Really bad combination. What can I say…
- Competition: With 170 million files and low traffic this makes it hard for new contributors to step in.
- Contributor Friendliness: Uploading images is fast and easy, however, community, forums, etc. are all non-existent. Whoo-Hoo? Where are you!? I was able to find a blog is full of useless generic information at least.
- RPD: I do have not enough sales to give reliable data, so I don’t.
I was contributing to 123RF for a year or so but decided to remove my images. Bad experience mainly because of low sales volume.
Also, I think these smaller sites only exist to benefit the old contributors while for the new contributors it is demotivating because of these stupid level systems which take forever to climb up.
- Royalty Rate: On-demand and extended license sales give you a 30% – 60% cut based on your contributor level with $0.216 – $0.432 from subscription sales. Again… why bother with these levels…
- Minimum Royalty: $0.216 which is too low within an agency with very low sales volume.
- Traffic and Volume: Lowest traffic in the list with only 7 million monthly visitors
- Competition: It is unclear how many images 123RF has in its library as they are good in hiding that info. However, being one of the top sites the count is in 100s of millions.
- Contributor Friendliness: Another non-existent community. Uploading images is quite easy though.
- RPD: Also not enough data
Many people assume that the site that pays the highest royalties per download is always the best-paying stock photo site. However, this is not always the case.
Factors that go into determining which site is the best for you include royalty rate, minimum royalty, customer volume, level of competition, and contributor friendliness
In the side-by-side comparison table in this post, you found some valuable data to compare these factors of the most popular stock photography sites.
But, which stock photo site is the best to make money from?
I can say that for me it is Adobe Stock. Adobe Stock pays fair royalties, has good guidance, and great community.
However, it seems, most people say Shutterstock is the best. Shutterstock’s strength is the occasional big sales, but the minimum royalty of $0.10 is pathetic.
If you want to go exclusive then IStock is the best option.
It is hard to say what is the best agency in general as it depends on so many factors. But I can definitely narrow it down to these three: Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, and IStock.
Thanks for reading!