Why is Shutterstock so Expensive?

By Matic Broz, editor-in-chief of Photutorial covering stock media, Adobe, and design. He founded Photutorial while finishing his PhD in computational biosciences.

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Shutterstock is a relatively inexpensive stock photo agency, with royalty-free content starting at $0.22/image. But Shutterstock can also be expensive, meaning high prices per image, for extended licenses, image packages, stock footage, or buying each photo individually. Shutterstock is also much more expensive for teams than for individuals.

Compared to Shutterstock, some stock photo agencies charge significantly more per stock image, such as Getty Images (up to $499/image).

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Where does the money go?

You must understand that Shutterstock is a business, so to keep running it must charge the prices which cover its expenses plus create a profit.

1. Paying contributors

Every piece of content on Shutterstock, including all images, videos, and music, was created by artists. So, people like photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, video editors, and others upload their work to Shutterstock.

When a customer buys their content on Shutterstock, they earn commissions, ranging between 15% and 40%. With that in mind, artists sometimes get only $0.10 per download.

2. Partners

Sometimes, when Shutterstock makes a sale, they pay a commission to their partners, like Photutorial, as compensation for referring the customer. Since our commission doesn’t come from your side, Shutterstock has to pay for it as well.

3. Shutterstock’s expenses

Shutterstock needs to pay its 1,100+ employees, costs for running the website and offices, and a bunch of other expenses.

So, considering who has to be paid, and that the photographer had to buy an expensive camera, drive to a location and actually take the photo, edit the photo in an app that costs money, and then upload it, paying $0.22/image really isn’t a lot.

Why are Shutterstock’s enhanced licenses so expensive?

An enhanced license gives you broader usage of the content, so it’s only fair that the contributor gets paid more. Enhanced licenses are usually purchased for marketing campaigns which bring a lot of revenue to the customers, so paying a small share to the artist is only fair.

In addition, an enhanced license gives you a much higher legal guarantee ($250K) compared to the standard license ($10K). So the higher price goes towards the insurance that your legal issues will be covered.

Here’s a quick comparison between the standard and enhanced licenses of Shutterstock:

Image usageStandardExtended
Web distributionUnlimitedUnlimited
Print500K copiesUnlimited
Package500K copiesUnlimited
Out of home advertising500K impressionsUnlimited
Video production$10K budgetUnlimited
DecorationPersonalPersonal, commercial
Standard license vs Enhanced license at Shutterstock

Why is Shutterstock’s stock footage so expensive?

Stock footage is always more expensive than stock images because it takes longer to produce and involves a lot more planning. Footage usually plays a more significant role in the end-product than images and is used in higher-budget campaigns. All of this adds up to the final price of stock footage.

Some agencies sell stock footage with unlimited downloads for a low monthly subscription, giving creators more creative options. Whether that stock footage offer the same level of quality is up for debate. However, it’s undisputable that those sites offer far smaller collections of videos, usually up to a million clips, compared to Shutterstock’s 24.6 million.

Shutterstock footage pricing:

ClipsMonthlyAnnualAnnual (prepaid)
5$189 ($37.80/video)$99 ($19.80/video)$79 ($15.80/video)
10$359 ($35.90/video)$159 ($15.90/video)$133 ($13.30/video)
20$669 ($33.45/video)$199 ($9.95/video)$167 ($8.35/video)
Flex25$69 ($23.00/video)$49 ($16.33/video)$42 ($14.00/video)
Shutterstock stock footage subscription prices

Why are single downloads so expensive?

Single downloads are more expensive than bulk purchases due to a marketing scheme that promotes spending more. But this approach is not unique to Shutterstock; almost all sellers reward bulk purchases. In addition, certain transactions cost a fixed fee, which represents a high percentage at single purchases compared to bulk buys.

If you want to drive down the price per image, consider buying larger image packs or subscription plan with more monthly downloads. Another way to save is to pick annual or annual prepaid payment options for subscriptions instead of the monthly commitment.

Is there a cheaper alternative to Shutterstock?

Some of cheaper alternatives to Shutterstock include Canstockphoto, Bigstock, and Stockphotosecrets. But these stock photos don’t measure up to Shutterstock in several other aspects, including number of images, image quality and diversity, customer support, additional features, and license usage.

In our experience, you might end up spending more on these cheaper sites despite the lower image price. This can happen for a number of reason, but most commonly:

  • Their royalty-free licenses aren’t as broad as Shutterstock’s, so you might have to buy an extended license, which is far more expensive than Shutterstock.
  • The lowest prices are linked to enormous image plans. For example, Canstockphoto’s cheapest images come when you buy the plan for 7600 monthly downloads–that’s 10-time the Shutterstock’s largest plan. So, if you don’t need that many downloads (that’s 250/day), you’re throwing away your budget.


Considering all factors, Shutterstock is not an expensive stock photo site. In fact, Shutterstock is priced below average among the top 10 best stock photo sites as ranked by our algorithm. However, if it’s too expensive for you, consider cheaper stock photo sites, but be vary that you’re trading other benefits as well.


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