iStockphoto vs. Shutterstock

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Difference between iStockphoto and Shutterstock

Online stock photo libraries have truly made it easier to obtain high quality photographs without having to know the first thing about handling a camera. Useful for anyone who simply wants to dress up a website or change their desktop wallpaper, stock photography sites such as Istockphoto and Shutterstock are essential for graphic designers as well. Let's see what makes these two so special.



iStockphoto is a site that offers royalty free photographs online. Images are priced at 1 to 150 “credits”, and there are a variety of sizes and images to choose from.

Shutterstock offers a huge variety of stock photographic images as well, via a website that provides royalty-free images via subscription. Browsing the image library is offered at no cost, and you can then license and download the images that you like by way of a few different subscription methods.


iStockphoto was started by Bruce Livingstone in 2000, who set about creating a photographic library that utilized “credits”. The company was acquired by Getty Images in 2006, and video footage services were introduced the same year. The company also launched a premium collection of photographs called Vetta, which was made available exclusively to photographers only, and Istockaudio, which gave contributors a platform in which they could sell sounds and even musical compositions.

Shutterstock was established by Jon Oringer in 2003, and the company adopted a subscription-based model that contrasted with iStockphoto’s credit-based model. The company also launched an on-demand subscription program in 2008, and Shutterstock actually offered video before iStockphoto. The company later acquired a credit-based stock photo service called Bigstockphoto in 2009.


At present, iStock has a much more diverse line than Shutterstock, comprised of illustrations, Flash animations, and logos added to the photo and video lineup. In the years from 2007 to 2009, Shutterstock’s earnings leveled off much quicker than iStock, where earnings increase with the size of the portfolio. iStock also shows more potential than Shutterstock, having made a stronger showing in 2009 than its competitor.

On the other hand, in 2011 Shutterstock charges $0.33 per download via subscription, with the average return per download coming in at $0.51–significantly lower than the $1.55 you get with iStock. With the high volume sales at Shutterstock however, the sum total is going to be few dollars higher than with iStock.

Similarities and Differences


  • Offers royalty free photographs online
  • Images are priced at 1 to 150 “credits”
  • Variety of sizes and images to choose from
  • Has a much more diverse line than Shutterstock
  • Launched a premium collection of photographs called Vetta


  • Offers a huge variety of stock photographic images
  • Provides royalty-free images via subscription
  • Browsing the image library is free
  • Licensing and downloading is available via a few different subscription methods
  • Acquired credit-based stock photo service Bigstockphoto in 2009
  • Offered video before iStockphoto


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