Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

“Pile ’em high and sell ’em cheap” was the old Tesco motto, and that’s how buyers get seduced by microstock. All you can see when you first look is A DOLLAR PER PICTURE. Irresistible, thinks the picture buyer’s boss or client. Use them.

Look what happens if we pick a fotoLibra picture at random. Let’s chose FOT373296. I’m throwing a dice to get this number, which is why there’s no zero in it. It turns out to be a photograph of Rowley Waterfalls in Lancashire by Simon Wimbles. Now say I am a publisher and I need a photograph of Rowley Waterfalls. Let’s try Shutterstock. They have none.

Let’s try a few other big name microstock agencies.

iStockPhoto (owned by GettyImages): none
fotoLia (wonder what inspired that name?): none
Dreamstime: none

OK, that was too hard. It seems that the only picture of Rowley Waterfalls you can buy is from fotoLibra. And it will cost you more than a dollar.

Let’s try FOT432625. This is an aerial shot of Heathrow Airport by Michael Webberley. That’s better — the microstock agencies are sure to have Heathrow. And they do:

Shutterstock: 43 images, 2 aerial shots
iStockPhoto: 37 images, 1 aerial shot
fotoLia: 31 images, no aerial shots
Dreamstime: 54 images, 2 aerial shots

I swear to you that this image was chosen at random. Tiddly fotoLibra, by comparison, has 183 photographs of Heathrow.

So if I want an aerial shot of Heathrow for a double page spread in my glossy magazine, here’s my selection from Shutterstock:

Neither of these are very good. They don’t show me Heathrow Airport. Let’s try Dreamstime:

Two like this. Portrait, not landscape.


More reservoir than airport. Anyway, I’ve had enough, the boss has told me to buy from those places which have pictures for a dollar, so here goes.

I don’t want to subscribe to buying 1,000 pictures a month, I only want one high-quality aerial shot of Heathrow Airport. Once I’ve waded through all the options, these are the prices I think I can get these images for:

Shutterstock: Not allowed to buy a single image. I can however buy an enhanced licence for two images for £119. So this picture will cost me £119.
iStockPhoto: I need to buy credits. This costs 20 credits. I can’t buy 20 credits, I can only buy 26 credits for £31. So this picture will cost me £31.
fotoLia: Nothing that I wanted, but if I needed an image at this size, it would cost me 16 credits. 20 credits are £21, so that’s what it would cost.
Dreamstime: 54 images, 2 aerial shots


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2 Responses to “How Much Do Microstock Images Really Cost?”

  1. John says:

    How much would it cost to buy the pictures from fotolibra? The things which put me off buying rights managed images are (1) before finding the price I have to tick more boxes than when contacting my locating my local council (2) I think find, usually, that the price is too high

  2. David Williams says:

    Gwyn – all very valid points that you make. Fotolibra appeals to a certain buyer – who perhaps cannot find that image elsewhere and you must constantly promote and capitalise on that “niche”.
    John – the problem with royalty free is that the contributor gets almost nothing. I contributed for some months to a royalty free site and after selling 18 images – had $28. Unless my maths is very bad that is around $1.50 per image. My first sale on rights managed netted me around $120. Need I say more.
    I don’t do it for the money – the greater point for me is the joy of someone buying your image – and the creativity.
    I don’t yet have any sales on Fotolibra – but have elsewhere sold images to 6 different countries to be used in books, magazines, company brochures and on the web.

    People that chase making money – never make any – I chase getting my “product” right and money always ultimately follows – in my 30+ years of experience.

    In future I hope you will look more favourably at rights managed and give it and Fotolibra a chance.