Articles eCommerce

Online Sources of Images: Microstock vs. Macrostock

5/5 (1)

Imagery is critical for website and blog owners. When it comes to choosing an online source of images, those who intend to run their businesses legally certainly have a wide range of options. They can buy images they need either from traditional photobanks (macrostock agencies), microstock agencies, or from the authors directly.

Contacting photographers in person can sometimes be rather problematic, due to several different factors; in particular, it might be problematic to get the exact image one needs in the short term; whereas specialized stock photography agencies offer millions of images, and enable customers to find an image of any style and on any subject quickly and easily. The trick is to select the proper agency for the specific type of business, based on the particular demands and opportunities a buyer has at his disposal. Photographs and vector images (as well as videos, and even audio files) can be purchased through different types of stock agencies.
Image Source: Photos by Yewenyi
The macrostock agencies and traditional photobanks were at ground zero of the online photo-selling industry. Such giants as Corbis or Getty Images offer a variety of images but prices start at several hundred dollars and might reach thousands. For these prices, customers who buy images from such agencies buy exclusive rights to use these files. On the other hand, microstock agencies, the number of which is constantly growing, sell files provided by their contributors for significantly lower prices, starting as low as $0.10–0.15 per image. Files offered by microstock agencies are sold under a so-called royalty-free license, and the customers do not get exclusive rights to use them.

The question is: Which type of agency is best suited for buyers?

First, it is important to dispel the myth that macrostock agencies offer better quality images than microstock agencies. Due to their more liberal examination and approvals process, microstocks offer a broad quality range, yet they also feature works by the world’s best-respected professional photographers and illustrators.

Thus, microstock agencies offer an opportunity to access professional images for better prices. What they don’t offer is exclusive rights to the images; exclusivity is the primary reason why buyers seek out macrostock images.

Let’s summarize who would benefit the most from working with either microstock agencies or
macrostock providers:


  • Publishing houses: The use of exclusive content is the core of their business, as well as a
    matter of prestige.
  • Advertising agencies: Large agencies working with multinational brands have big marketing budgets at their disposal; they have to be sure that the imagery they use for promotional campaigns is exclusive and would by no means match images associated with their competitors.
  • Those who require artsy or custom designs: Macrostock agencies sometimes provide the opportunity to commission certain works directly from contributors.


  • Companies: Even huge multinational companies also use microstock imagery in all those cases when they do not need exclusive rights.
  • Graphic designers: Artists who need images to be dropped directly into a particular design without much additional processing.
  • Website and blog owners: Designers who want to use high-quality images to illustrate their articles.

Basically, if you are not searching for exclusivity, why spend far more money than necessary? Microstock agencies would seem to be the perfect solution. At this point, the following question comes up: Which specific agency should one choose? At closer look, a prospective buyer will definitely notice that the portfolios published at different microstock websites are often the same; in order to maximize their profits, authors are uploading their works to as many websites as possible. Therefore, the major websites (Shutterstock, iStock, Fotolia, Depositphotos and others) are trying hard to attract the attention of customers. For instance, Depositphotos is offering a generous afffiliate program for bloggers and website owners, allowing them to use images for their purposes for free. Besides, their pricing start at $0.15 per image (when bought by subscription). In addition, purchasing methods at different agencies vary. For instance, there is no way to use so-called pay-as-you-go credits (the internal currency at some microstock websites, e.g., iStock or Depositphotos) to pay for images at Shutterstock; they offer only images by subscription, which might not be suitable those users who buy stock files only occasionally.

* * *

Consequently, the marketing rivalry between microstock agencies make them an even more attractive marketplace for customers. What one should do is analyze pricing, terms and available subscription plans at different websites, then choose the one what would suit your needs best. And don’t forget about special seasonal promotions!

* * *

2 Responses

  1. “Depositphotos is offering a generous afffiliate program for bloggers and website owners, allowing them to use images for their purposes for free.”

    One we signup as affiliate how do we use/get images for free?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *