MicroStock Agencies For Contributors

Searching for Microstock in Google will bring up some reference to the 'Big 6'. This relates to the six top earners among the Microstock Agencies, in reality there is a biggish four with three or four others offering a reasonable return.

Our recommendation to new contributors would be to try a maximum of six as there can be a significant amount effort in preparing images for uploading (particularly for vector contributors) and each agency has its own quirks and demands.

Fotolia operates both a subscription and a standard pay per download model, the majority of sales are of the more lucrative pay per download type. Fotolia has no initial acceptance criteria, each image is judged on its own merits.
There is an total and partial exclusivity option, which offers increasing percentages over nonexclusive. The partial exclusive option means that individual images can be marked exclusive while the rest are left open to be posted to other agencies.

Dreamstime is similar to Fotolia with a subscription and a standard pay per download model, it also has no initial acceptance criteria.
At Dreamstime you are either totally exclusive or nonexclusive. The level of sales is similar to Fotolia. The amount of images that may be uploaded in anyone day is dependant on your acceptance to upload ratio, the more images accepted the more can be uploaded.

Istock is very much geared around its exclusive contributors, in that nonexclusive have a limited daily upload criteria and are reported to be penalised in the search engine. However we have no direct experience of this . Istock is well established and gives a very good return to its exclusive contributors. It has an acceptance criteria of 3 initially approved photographs.

This site is smaller than the previous agencies but does pay a flat 50% commission and is not subscription based. It does not have an initial acceptance criteria, but does stipulate that all accepted photographs must stay on the site a minimum of 90 days. This is important if you should intend to go exclusive with another agency.

A similar level site to Bigstock with a 50% commission rate, it does also have subscription sales, which pay a flat $0.36 per download. This site has probably one of the simplest upload procedures (when you start uploading a lot of images this becomes important).

This site gives a steady return, but the majority of sales are subscription based without the volume produced on Shutterstock. There is a initial acceptance criteria.

This agency will probably give the best and quickest returns to a new contributor. (But non US citizens see below)
It operates on a primarily subscription based model (e.g. 25 images a day for a fixed sum).
This means a very low return per sale (initially $0.25), but a much higher volume than the other sites, as buyers will often download images that they do not currently need simply to fulfil there subscription limits .
An initial upload of 10 images is required, 7 of which must be accepted, after which there is no upload limit. Shutterstock has no exclusivity option

Updated 27/07/2009

Shutterstock (which is based in the USA) is currently interpreting US tax law as meaning that it must withhold 30% of all income from royalties earned by foreign citizens on images sold to US customers.

There is a list of countries who have a reciprocal tax agreement with the USA which will reduce or completely avoid this tariff. A US tax form is provided and must be filled in to take advantage of any such tax treaty.
However, if you live in a country with no tax treaty with the USA there is no way to avoid the full 30% tariff that will be levied on any sales within the US.