What Are the Prices To Be at Microstocks in the Upcoming Years?

Recently microstock iStockphoto has celebrated its 10th anniversary. Meanwhile the whole microstock industry has celebrated this event too cause it's iStockphoto which was the pioneer to bring to the market revolutionary idea of selling cheap images in Internet.

10 years — it's always a remarkable achievement. And it's the right time to analyze past years and try to take a look into the future. That's the way we are going to take in this article.

Of course it's hopeless to make comprehensive analysis of microstock market using just one article. That's why we will pay attention only to pricing. Cause it's the price to be the corner stone of the microstock industry. After all prefix “micro-” is taken originally from the word “micro-payment”.

So, what had happened with the pricing and what will happen with it in the near future? Will the prices be raised or lowered? Just to gain insight into this let's take a look into the past.

Prices Have Been Raised Always

Let's take iStockphoto as the starting point of our journey cause it was the pioneer as mentioned above.

And it's amazing but in 2003 the most expensive credit at iStockphoto was valued at… $0.50! “Just 50 cents per image? At iStockphoto? You must be crazy” — one can say surfing through a detailed pricing review of iStockphoto. But it's not a joke: paying just $10 one could get 20 credits which could be easily spent for buying 20 images.

As the time passed by the price of 1 credit had been raised to $1. In 2007 1 credit price was at $1.20, in 2008 — $1.30, and now — $1.52. The prices had been multiplied up several times.

And it's all the same for other microstocks too. Though the picture is not so impressive. So, in 2004 monthly subscription plan for buying 750 images was valued at $139 at Shutterstock. Later — $159, and now it's as high as $249.

During the past years prices were raised at Dreamstime too. And Fotolia has raised its prices just few months ago.

These facts underline the tendency of price raising. But this trend is going to be ended soon.

Prices For Regular Microstock Images Are Almost at Their High

It's well known that every business exists in one of the pricing segments: the bottom, the middle (quite often — “the dead zone”) and the top. Microstocks are the brightest examples of businesses which belong to the bottom pricing segment and it's highly dangerous for it to cross the line.

Big raise of prices from their current level is against the very backbone idea of microstocks. Cause they won't be “micros” anymore and will lose great part of their customers. And this part will consist of the customers who buy licensed images at microstocks just because they don't have enough money to spent it on purchasing the same images at traditional photostocks like Getty Images or Corbis. These peoples' business just can't afford such expensive pricing as traditional photostock giants have.

That's why microstocks have no other choice than to follow idea of “one dollar per one image”. Otherwise they'll start to lose their customers. Nonetheless minimal prices could be raised by several dollars per one image but this would be a serious challenge to microstocks' stability and profits just because of financial and psychological aspects of human behavior.

Bottom pricing segment — that's the destiny for microstocks. And it will always bring joy to its customers. At the same time owners of microstocks and artists submitting content won't be happy — everyone wants to earn as much as possible and even more. So…

Prices For Specific Collections of Images Will Be Raising

As usual regular images will be valued at $1. But along with regular images there always will be collections of premium-class images at microstocks. And prices for images of these collections will be much higher than for regular ones.

And what content will be in such collections? Only high-skilled artists will have an opportunity to submit their work to these collections and earn significant royalties of the high-priced sales microstock make. And it's not about “30 cents per image”.

At the present one can see such collections at some microstocks. For example: Vetta at iStockphoto and Evo at 123RF.

Furthermore microstocks have other ways to ensure raise of the prices for images of popular artists. So there are many exclusive contributors at iStockphoto and their work is priced higher than non-exclusive ones.

At Fotolia artists have the right to set the price for their images and they can raise it significantly. At Dreamstime popular images with many sales are priced higher and higher as they are sold more and more.

But the main part of the images at the market won't have its price raised. And this is very important. Just because of that customers of microstocks will always have the choice: to buy images for $1 or to purchase expensive images of maximum possible quality.

If one day large microstocks decide to get out of the bottom pricing segment and raise prices for every image they sell then it always be the newcomer ones which will sell the same images for $1. And the game will get started again.

Concerning Subscription

Prices for subscription packages for buying images at microstocks won't change noticeably. New expensive packages with low price for one image or cheap packages with high price for one image can enter the market but it won't redraw the whole picture for customers of microstocks.

And it's a pity cause it is very useful to have very cheap monthly subscription packages even if the price for one image is much higher than usual.

At the present the cheapest monthly subscription package is offered by 123RF and is valued at $89 ($0.59 for one image). And still it is too much for many of microstock potential customers.

Maybe the time has come to make subscription attractive not only to prominent customers.

Photo Credits

“Hand With 50 Cent Coin” by photobuyerguide at iStockphoto.com.


I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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