Shutterstock vs iStock for Contributor. Which is The Better?

HomePhotographyShutterstock vs iStock for Contributor. Which is The Better?

Shutterstock vs iStock for Contributor. Which is The Better?

Shutterstock and iStock are two big names in the stock photography industry. They both often chosen by digital agencies to fulfill their imagery needs, photos in particular. For photographers, Shuttertock and iStock are also two of the most favorite platforms to sell their stock photos. Which is the better between these two, for photographers?

First, you need to understand that Shutterstock and iStock use the subscription model in selling their images. Although they may also offer other paying options, but most customers of them buy images using subscription model since they can get more images with a cheaper price.

Second, Shutterstock and iStock are non-exclusive stock photo websites. This mean, photos you sold on Shutterstock can also be sold on iStock and other non-exclusive stock photo websites, and vice versa. In other words, you can become a contributor of Shutterstock and iStock at once, as long as you don’t mark the image as exclusive.

What about the commission percentage?

Well, this is probably the aspect you consider the most when choosing a stock photography website since your intention of selling photos is to generate money. Before answering this question, let’s take a further learn about them.


As you have known, Shutterstock is one of the most popular microstock photography websites. At the time of writing, Shutterstock has had about 170 million royalty-free images, with about 1 million new images added each week. Shutterstock offers two paying options in selling images, subscription model and on demand. However, as I mentioned, most Shutterstock customers buy images via the subscription model. Currently, the cheapest subscription plan offered by Shutterstock is $49/month ($29/month for annual bill). This plan allows customers to download 10 images per week. If we take an individual calculation, each image is priced between 1 to 2 dollars.

How much does a photographer get?

New contributors will earn 20% of the total sale. With the average image is sold between $1 to $2, you will get about $0.25 for each image downloaded by Shutterstock customers. The percentage rate will be increasing once your lifetime earnings increase. What is lifetime earnings?

Lifetime earnings is the total amount of earnings you have earned from Shutterstock. Here is the table of the percentage rate based on the lifetime earnings status.

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Now, you know that generating money from selling stock photos on microstock photography site is really a hard task. To earn $100 for instance, you need to get your images downloaded by 400 times.

The advantages of Shutterstock is that it provides a great contributor dashboard. This dashboard gives you insight over your content performance like real-time sales and earnings, download location to top performing contents. The submission review time is also pretty good. The turn around is usually not more than several days.


iStock is the most senior stock photography site in the market, older than Shutterstock and other microstock photography websites. However, iStock is no longer a stand alone firm as Getty Images bought this company in 2006. iStock is the answer of Getty Images for those who want to get more images in a lower price.

iStock offers several paying options. Customers can buy images from this stock photo website whether by credits or subscription. Additionally, they can also buy only a single image. In iStock, images are divided into two categories, Signature and Essential. Costumers who choose Essential Subscription won’t be able to download images labelled “Signature”. The cheapest subscription plan offered by iStock is $40 per month. This plan allows you to download 10 images per month, but only images labelled “Essential”. If calculated individually, each photo is priced about $1.

What about the commission rate for photographers?

iStock applies different royalty rate levels for each type of content. For photo contents, the royalty rate levels are vary from 15% to 45%, depends on which choice you choose when submitting photos. When submitting new photos to iStock you will have two choices of licence, exclusive and non-exclusive. Exclusive license means you only sell your photos on iStock. If you select this option, your commission percentage will increase based on the number of photos downloaded by customers.

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Conversely, if you prefer non-exclusive license you will have a flat commission percentage of 15%. Which means, no matter how many of your photos have been downloaded, you still get 15% of the total sale. About 0.15 per photo. However, it’s not the fixed amount since iStock offers several paying options. It’s just the worst scenario.

The downside about iStock is it doesn’t provide a decent contributor dashboard like Shutterstock. You won’t be able to monitor the performance of your contents like you can do on Shutterstock. Other minor, it takes longer in the content review proces, usually up to 4 weeks.


As a photographer, I personally prefer Shutterstock instead of iStock since it has a higher commission percentage. Of course, the contributor dashboard is the aspect I consider too. iStock offers non-exclusive license to enables us get higher commission percentage. However, since you can’t submit the same photos to another places, your chance to get more money remains little.

Buying option is another aspect your should consider when choosing a stock photography site. iStock offers more buying options than Shutterstock. One of which, customers can buy a single image which is priced $12 per item. 15% of $12 is $1.8. That is amount you will get if you get your photos get bought using this method. But, with most sales coming from subscription customers, your chance to get $1.8 per photo sold is very small.

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