Jan 25, 2016

“What are Stock Agencies”
- Kirill Kedrinski , Photostock


Generally speaking

Only a lazy bones hasn't written about it. Me, for instance.

Crowds of “gurus” who have just uploaded their first 100-200-500 works, consider it necessary to post some info on stock agencies and what they are on their free-hosted blogs.

That’s why for quite a long time, previous 3-4 years, I've avoided this theme. However, many people still ask me about my stock experience. Numerous questions are put forward to me and it seems I've already written hundreds of A4 sheets about this topic while replying to all the concerned. Therefore, I am writing this post. Instead of writing endless scribble to everyone in private messages of social networks I am just going to send them a link to our blog.

So! Stock Agencies, Photostocks, Stocks and so on are web sites specializing in selling photos, movies, audiotracks, vector images and so on.

The content on them comes from thousands of contributors from all around the world. Every day these guys upload grand numbers of their works for stock inspectors to check. These guys, i.e. inspectors, check the works for technical and visual quality. Approved works join the search engine of stock sites in order to start taking part in global sales.

Customers are on the other side of the barricade. These mysterious people are usually designers, representatives of magazines (photo editors, for instance), advertising agencies, fair bloggers etc. They are people who for one reason or another need inexpensive content of good quality.

It’s costly and time-consuming to order a personal shooting. Moreover, you never know what you’ll get in result. In stock agencies you see the result and all you need is just to choose the stuff you like. More than 70 000 000 images to satisfy the most picky customer! You can find anything you want.

Thereby, stock sites are the agencies that connect sellers and buyers of creative content all around the world

Types of stock agencies

There are different types of Image selling agencies.

Microstocks – web-sites with low prices for customers and low payments to contributors, and often they come with a system of purchasing via subscription (meaning, notably large amounts of content at super low prices), pretty low quality of content due to presence of many novice photographers pressed for budget and photographic equipment. Besides, there are two types of licenses on microstocks. Standard license allows you to use one file a limited number of times and usually for restricted informational and advertising purposes. If you want to launch an advertising campaign with banners, unlimited circulation, sell T-shirts with the print of the purchased image, etc., you need to buy an extended license. Such agencies include:

  • Shutterstock is perhaps the most popular stock site. A huge amount of images. Currently the number of them is nearing to 70 000 000 files. From 200 to 500 thousand of new files are being added every week. There is a system of subscription with the help of which you may download up to 750 images per month. You may buy a subscription for the period between 1 month and 1 year. Also there are on demand sales. Well, of course, there is an extended license, but also a license called Sensitive Use. Such kind of license is necessary for using images in ads that can affect the reputation of the model. For example, advertisements of cigarettes, night clubs, bars… Shutterstock usually gives about half of the income from all stock earnings to its contributors. In order to register a contributor account you need to have an international passport and to pass an exam. The exam includes a review of 10 photos. If 7 or more photos are approved, you are allowed to get in.
  • Fotolia is also a very popular agency. It has practically no differences with the others. Probably, prices and user interface differ a little bit. It suits better for Russian companies due to the fact that it can provide tax administration with all the necessary documents. Not a considerable difference is that contributors can fix their own prices for an extended license. In practice it happens rarely because nobody wants to overprice photos in a highly-competitive environment. Contributors' incomes on this stock site are high enough and it should not be ignored.
    is a very peculiar stock site. On the one hand it can bring good income, sometimes even more than Shutterstock. On the other hand it has one of the most difficult and prolonged processes of uploading, the strangest requirements to model releases, images in common, and to your behavior (for instance, discussing this stock site on forums). The site’s portfolio is much smaller than other agencies have, and the process of approval is much more scrutinous. Prices are much higher. Royalties are small percentage-wise, but in terms of one sale they are often bigger. If you have enough time and patience to work with Istockphoto then it's worth uploading your images to this particular site.
  • Dreamstime in my opinion, this stock site is less adequate in its rules than the above-mentioned. This is the only site that doesn’t accept model releases suitable for all the other stock agencies. It also has a very strange system of approval and relatively low sales. We don’t work with this site. We have an account there; however, it is practically empty with the exception of my first works uploaded in 2008.
  • Depositphotos is one of the most fair stock photo sites. They practically offer you autoload, if you have an interesting portfolio. It’s enough to upload photos with the help of an FTP client (for example FileZilla) and model releases. Then you need to attach the release to only one photo of each set in order for moderators to recognize the model. Then all the categories and other tricks are done by the site administration. Incomes on this stock site are appreciable, but not too high. Nevertheless, considering how simple the system of uploading is, the stock photo site is worth dealing with.

Apart from the above mentioned agencies there are lots of others. If you want to learn more about them, you can visit MicrostockGroup. There is a column on the right hand side with a rating of all known stock sites, and also there are lots of articles and forums on this topic.

Macrostocks. These are relatively old agencies, where photos are sold rarely and at a high price. The main differences between micro and macrostocks are prices and types of licenses. In case you are buying an image on Microstocks, there is no guarantee that your competitor won't buy the same image. So you might end up using the same image to promote goods and services. Whilst on Macrostocks there is the Right Managed licenses. This license allows you to buy the exclusive right to use the image for a specific period of time and on the required territory. It is quite difficult to become an author in such agencies. You must be invited by a curator or an acquaintance-photographer who is agency’s contributor with a good reputation. Such agencies include: CorbisGetty ImagesAlamy and others.

The third type of agencies is something between micro and macro stock agencies. Sometimes it is called Midstocks. There are plenty of such agencies. Their main idea is to have content of macrostock level – of a better quality and limited in quantity to simplify choice, using macro and micro stocks licenses. As for the prices, they are higher than on microstocks but lower than in classic agencies like Corbis and Getty Images.

The most vivid examples are Stocksy and OffsetIt is practically unreal to become a contributor of these stock agencies. They are extremely fastidious about contributors and content. Regular stock photo sites have around 50 000 active authors, whereas Stocksy and Offset have only several hundreds, not more.

  • Stocksy is a young stock site. One of the founders – Bruce Livingstone created Istock – the first microstock that has changed the world of stock photography and has given a chance to many authors to earn money for their images. Stocksy has a small team, and the main peculiarity of the bank is that it is a co-operative, which also partially belongs to contributors. This means that having become a contributor of Stocksy you also get a share in the co-operative from the first sales and become someone like a co-owner. Contributors participate in decision-making by voting and they can influence the stock agency's policy. Each photographer definitely dreams of becoming a lucky author of this agency. They get thousands of applications every year, but only 20-30 are approved. The uniqueness of the agency's policy lies in not enlarging the pool of contributors and also the stock site's portfolio. Thereby they keep a high quality level of images and allow authors to earn considerable money, understanding that if there are more authors their average income will decrease. This means that they reduce competition within the site to a minimum. My personal opinion is that Stocksy is not just a gulp of pure air in the industry of stock photography, but it is also a brilliant project.
  • Offset is a bitlike Stocksy, but it is not a co-operative. At large, there is nothing special in this photo agency for authors. According to my friends' feedback, who are contributors at this stock photo site, it has an obscure and time-consuming system of photo submission. It is not easy to create a good portfolio that could bring you money. It is worth mentioning that Offset is a project of Shutterstock. Thereby they decided to enter the market of more qualitative images.


In conclusion, I would like to say a few words for you to understand whether to dive into the world of photography sales in our time, or not. 

When I was just starting to work with stock market in 2008, there was less competition and the market wasn’t overfilled with photographers and their work. In those days it was possible for one person to sell images for hundreds and even thousands of dollars per month. It was a chance to provide oneself a comfortable life.

In the recent years the situation has become more complicated. Crowds of photographers of different levels, like swarms of locusts invaded stock sites and flooded them with their works. More than 80% of the images are of a very poor quality. Including technical quality, when photos are shot by simple non DSLR cameras, and visual quality, when there is no understanding how to work with light, photoshop and other tools.

Thus, sales have become heavily diluted between contributors. So now it is very difficult to compete in such streams of files. This requires much higher quality of content and a much larger quantity. Therefore, different kind of money needs to be invested into your team and equipment in order to earn more.

Deciding to work with Stock Agencies you’d better not expect huge amounts of money streaming into your pocket. Every day it requires hard work. If you only have an access to microstocks, don't bet on it, and don't get your hopes up too high. Start small – upload images which you took wholeheartedly for yourself, or worthy images of your clients, if you have their permission.

If you are able to become a contributor of Stocksy or Offset, it is clear that it makes sense to focus maximum attention on building up a portfolio there.

I hope this article helps you understand what Stock Sites are and make a reasonable decision about working with them. And allows you to avoid disappointments. And, of course, if you have any questions, you can always message me, for example, on Facebook

Have a nice day!