Top Eight Microstock Agencies of the Year


Which are the best microstock agencies for the contributors?

The total earning coming from an agency is not the only thing to consider but it's certainly one of the main driver to pick up your list. Then you can deal with the upload/submission procedure, the fairness of the agency, the review policy and timing, the support quality, the project liking and so on.

Here my top eight list graphed in a pie with the percentage earning per agency, from the beginning of the year to October 21st, about a ten month period.

  1. The best agency is Fotolia with a good mix of credit downloads and subscriptions. Probably, I've got in my portfolio some European oriented subjects that work well with the strong presence of Fotolia in Europe (Germany Alexa Rank is 71, iStock is 168 there).
  2. Dreamstime is the second best earner site for me. Some quite old and high level photos (1 image at level 5, 2 level 4, 3 level 3) are the main source of income for this agency that also provides me a good amount of referral earnings (not considered in the graph).
  3. Just a few dollars behind there is Shutterstock, that performed quite good for me despite my low volume contribution of this year (the Shutterstock subscription model tends to privilege freshen portfolios).  Good performance of the affiliation program (not listed here).
  4. iStockphoto, with a half size portfolio compared with the first 3 agencies, is not so bad. I've already written my opinion about this company and honestly I would not recommend it if you are not planning to be exclusive with them.
  5. The German agency Panthermedia is the surprise of the year, with increasing revenues coming from direct selling and subscriptions and a great list of international distribution partners (i.e. Reflexstock, Mediabakery, GlowImages)
  6. Canstockphoto with some Fotosearch additional selling is going to improve its position.
  7. 123RF is practically at the same level of Canstock with a lower Return  Per Download due to a prevalence of subscriptions.
  8. Bigstock closes this list of the top microstock agencies with a lower performance than I expected after the Shutterstock acquisition.

microsrock earnings jan oct 2010

This is my top list and, of course, for other contributors the relative positions could be different but typically the best one is among iStock, Shutter, Dreams or Fotolia.

Revenue per Download

A note about RPD (revenue per download = “earnings in $” / “number of downloads”):
Panthermedia is on top with 1,76$, then Canstock 1,44$, Dreamstime 1,33$, Fotolia 0,85$.

Return per Image

Talking about RPI (return per image = “earnings in $” / “portfolio size”), there's more than one way to calculate it, I'm using the overall worst case with the portfolio size equal to my entire submitted collection (approved + rejected). The average value for the year considering these top 8 agencies is about 1.5$ per image… not a fabulous figure.

What about the rest of the agencies?

This year I'm still contributing to a total of 25 agencies – here a comprehensive list of microstock agencies – but probably for the future I'm going to reduce this number. Just want to report that I've got some selling at Veer, YayMicro, Pixmac, GraphicLeftovers, DepositPhotos, Photaki and I'm thinking to stop uploading to all the agencies that have low or zero return and a time consuming  “more than one click” submission procedure and trying some new ones… stay tuned.


About Author

I write about the stock photo and microstock industry since 2006 on my several online-magazines. My goal for MyStockPhoto is to teach photographers and stock photographers how to sell more photos and earn money with their photography hobby.


  1. Always interesting report, Roberto!
    I’m thinking about trying Panthermedia and/or Canstockphotos in the next months… I haven’t decided yet!
    Ciao 🙂

    • Roberto Marinello on

      Thanks 🙂 I think these 2 agencies should be in your list.
      Don’t forget to use my referral links eh eh

    • Roberto Marinello on

      Hi Alexander,
      unfortunately this RPI value is yearly based and calculated as follows:
      Total earnings for the 8 agencies in 10 months / number of images submitted from the beginning = 1,25 $ / img.
      RPI Year evaluation = 1,25 *12 / 10 = 1,5

      If you calculate the RPI using the number of online images, you can consider an average of 3 – 4 $ / image for this year.
      Adding all the rest of agencies probably the value is near 5 $.


  2. Why did u rush the year Roberto, seems like ur eager for 2011 to start 😉 Surprising to see Shutterstock only at 3rd and Panthermedia on the list. Shutterstock always seems to come in for me as the highest earner, whether I upload or not. Nice blog, I should do something similar at some point.

    • Roberto Marinello on

      LOL… waiting for the 2011! Since the beginning I’ve seen this kind of behavior for Shutterstock but I’ve really uploaded a very few photos in the last months. Looking forward to seeing your data.

  3. Always interesting to see earnings breakdowns, but to be fair you’re doing percentages of sometimes very small numbers – there’s a lot of room for statistical variation there. Sales on 1 or 2 images at a given agency will completely throw out an assessment of an agency.

    Your recommendation on iStock IMHO is way off the mark. For many exclusivity at iStock is a very sensible option. FWIW my RPI from iStock alone is now significantly higher than on 10 agencies combined previously and growing.

    • Roberto Marinello on

      Hi Holgs, agree with you about my small numbers, it’s a personal experience statistic. iStock… I repeat, if you are planning to be exclusive you can invest your energy there. For a generic microstocker, iStock’s business model is changed and I can say that 15% commission – even with good selling – is a bit oppressive, nor fair enough.
      Thanks for your contrib and all the best Holgs!

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