Currently there is a really large amount of microstock agencies here in the market, and it can be quite a challenge for a beginner in this area to understand them. In principle, they are similar, but differ in terms of rules, entitlements, user interface, offered commissions and tax obligations. Here you can see a list of the most popular microstock agencies in the market and their concise definition:
One of the longest lasting, most popular microstock agencies. Anyone who registers has to send in 10 photos for evaluation first. If the contributor gets at least 7 photos approved, they can start uploading more photos. Shutterstock has a slightly higher quality standards compared to others. There is no exclusivity, so every contributor gets paid the same amount. The initial commission is 25% of photo sales, which increases to 33% after the contributor earns 500 dollars. After the contributor earns 3,000 dollars, their commission increases to 36%. When they earn 10,000 dollars, they receive a 38% commission. The user interface is very simple. Anything the contributor earns is automatically subject to the US minimum tax rate unless they fill out the right tax form (W-8BEN). Shutterstock lets the contributor track the saleability of each photo based on keywords.
One of the microstock agency leaders. The commission depends on exclusivity and a number of sales of each contributor. The commission for a non-exclusive contributor starts at 20% of the sales value. For exclusive contributors, the minimal commission is 35%. This website allows the contributor to pick which photos they’ll sell exclusively. While the commission is the same as it is for non-exclusive contributors, those who have already reached 100 downloads can set a price for their exclusive photos. In case of sales via subscriptions, the commission is the same – 33% regardless of exclusivity. The quality bar for photos on this website is set quite high. A common reason for rejecting otherwise quality photos tends to be overabundant category. Registering is all the contributor needs to do to create an account. The user interface, which has been very simple and user-friendly for many years, has recently changed quite a bit. In case of Fotolia, the commission is also automatically subject to the US minimum tax rate.
Another big player among the world’s microstock agencies. After creating an account, new contributors have to wade through user manual, meet entry requirements and send in at least 3 photos for evaluation. iStockphoto offers exclusivity. The commission represents 15% of the sales value for the non-exclusive contributors and 25% for the exclusive ones. While the overall demands for approving photos have become significantly less harsh in the past few years, iStockphoto is very strict about photos that require Model or Property Release. Unless you fill out required tax forms, the agency will deduct automatically a 30% withholding tax.
A microstock agency with a simple user interface and a minimum of settings the user can change or control. After registration, the users have to send in at least 10 photos for evaluation and approval. The criteria for having the photos accepted aren’t as strict as the other competitors’. This agency doesn’t offer exclusivity and the commission is 30% of the photo’s sale price for all the contributors. Just like with the other agencies, it is required to fill out the W-8BEN tax form to prevent being taxed at source.
This website has no entry requirements. The user interface is more intricate and offers access to individualised statistics. The contributors can set their own price. Agency affords exclusivity for both contributors and their photos. The commission is 25% of the sales value for the non-exclusive contributors, 27,5% for the exclusive photos and 60% for the exclusive contributors. The prices of photos and the commission automatically change based on the number of downloads. For a fee, Dreamstime offers keywording and description of photos by its own employees.
One of the smaller microstock agencies in terms of the number of contributors and the size of their database. The Canstockphoto website is available in other languages, including the section for contributors. One of the registration requirements is sending in 3 photos for evaluation and approval. The user interface is very simple. Canstockphoto doesn’t offer exclusivity to the contributors, but the photos themselves can be sold as exclusive. The commission is usually fixed based on the selected license. Commission starts at 1 dollar for instant downloads or 50 cents for credit downloads. If the photo is downloaded via subscriptions, the commission is at least 25 cents. Canstockphoto is based in Canada, so filling out the W-8BEN tax form isn’t required. Their requirements for quality and content of the photos are comparable with other microstock agencies. However, the approval process takes much more time.
One of the younger microstock agencies. It was founded in 2008, so it also has a smaller database of both contributors and photos. The Depositphotos website is also available in other languages, including the section for contributors. As a part of the registration process the user has to send in sample photos. The commission is 44% of the sales value, and depending on the number of downloads, the commission can jump up to 52%. The commission from sales via subscriptions is fixed from 30 to 35 cents per photo. Depositphotos doesn’t offer exclusivity. The W-8BEN tax form can be filled out. When it comes to quality, Depositphotos is a bit stricter than some of the other microstock agencies.
One of the few global microstock photography agencies that were founded in Europe (UK). It offers a 50% commission for each sale, a 100% commission for the photography students during the first two years. As a part of the registration process, the contributor has to send in 4 photos for evaluation of quality and eligibility. The user interface, like the approval process, is rather complicated and a bit confusing. Alamy doesn’t offer exclusivity to the contributors, only to their photos. Since the agency is based in Europe, the W-8BEN tax form isn’t required.
A microstock agency that specializes in video content. It has no entry requirements. It also offers a 50% commission and the contributors can set their own prices. It doesn’t offer exclusivity. The user interface isn’t very easy to navigate and the photo captions are a bit more time consuming than at some of the other microstock agency websites.
You can learn more about the microstock agencies and how it all works in this little e-book guide I prepared for you.