Not All Stock Agencies Are Equal

The Costa Rican Red Poison Dart Frog in Jungle Underbrush
(One of my stock photographs)

Periodically, I get a message from someone asking for my advice on which stock agencies I use and what I’d recommend. I don’t mind the questions, and I don’t mind giving honest answers.

I’ve done a little research on this subject, perhaps not enough, but enough to understand how the system works in general and how it works specifically for me.

Here’s a little information, and I don’t know exactly how accurate it is, but one must work with the information they have and try to find more as time moves on.

By shear bulk of market share, here are the current Microstock agencies position in the market. I would add that from my view of the road, this looks to be fairly representative of my little nich of stock photography as far as how much I earn from each of the agencies I use, which is most of them.

Here is the market position of the top 20 Micro-stock photo vendors according to Datanyze.

1. Shutterstock. 56.36% of the market
2. iStock. 24.37% of the market
3.Thinkstock 3.76% of the market
4. Unsplash. 2.82% of the market
5. Adobe Stock 2.57% of the market
6. Flicker. 2.08% of the market
7. Fotolia. 1.97% of the market
8. Getty Images. .95% of the market
9. Pexels. .94% of the market
10. Pixabay. .92% of the market
11. Stocksy. .90% of the market
12. DreamsTime. .60% of the market
13. Stockvault. .43% of the market
14. 123RF. .40% of the market
15. Alamy. .19% of the market
16. Depositphotos. .16% of the market
17. Canstock Photo. .13% of the market
18. Fotosearch. .10% of the market
19. Bigstock. .09% of the market
20. 500px Marketplace .09% of the market

As you can see, the top two, Shutterstock and iStock are the big dogs in the game, so if you’re thinking about selling your images on the stock sites, you should probably start with establishing a portfolio on these two.

Anecdotaly, I would say that Adobe stock sales for me have been at least as good as iStock, so there I’m doing better than the average Joe will probably do on Adobe from a market perspective.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many of these different Micro-stock agencies are owned by the same parent company or they are in business agreements with other micro-stock agencies for sales. For example, Adobe/Fotolia are actually the same business, as are Shutterstock/Bigstock, and iStock/Getty. They are just separate operating units within that business and as such they don’t share all the same resources and business practices. The micro-stock agencies have been and will continue to be streamlining, merging, acquiring one another and some will just simply dry up and go away, while still others will start up from scratch.

Keep in mind also, a few of these photo websites are not really offering your images for sale, they are photo sharing sites. Where their revenue is coming from I don’t know, but I suspect it’s advertising. Unsplash and Flickr come to mind, but there are several others on the list. If you’re selling stock photos, don’t publish them on free sharing sites. There’s no money to be made giving your photographs away for free.

From a strategic standpoint, I would recommend that you join as many stock agencies as possible to cover every market niche. Your images will do better in some places than in others, and much of that is beyond your control. What you do have control of is the quality of your work and how wide a market you want to present that work to.

From a functional sales standpoint. Many of these stock agencies are based outside the United States, so your images will have a different appeal to the clients in Europe and Asia than they do in the US. My images are more related to the US, so my foreign sales are primarily coming from iStock. the actual foreign micro-stock sites are not generating a lot of income for me as people in Europe aren’t really interested in images from the United States. Different cultural needs and such. Still, you can sell your photos everywhere around the world, just temper your expectations.

If your photographs aren’t earning money, they are worthless.

Help a brother out. If you are contemplating getting established with micro-stock sales, start with the big dog and join Shutterstock using this referral link.

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