Why is Shutterstock So Expensive? Single Purchase Prices Explained

You read everywhere (here too) that Shutterstock is one of the best stock photo agencies around, with great photos that cost very little money. But when you go there with the intention of buying only a few images, paying as you go, the numbers don't match this description. Here's where you wonder: why is Shutterstock so expensive?

Well, the truth is, that Shutterstock has very competitive price points, even for single-image purchases. But as this is not the key to their business model, it's only logical for these not to be their most convenient prices.

Ready to learn more about Shutterstock pricing and maximize your dollars when buying from them? Keep reading!

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Shutterstock Business Model: It's All in the Volume

One thing you need to know about Shutterstock to understand its pricing is that its business model is based on volume sales. What they aim is for customers to get lots of images constantly, at a very low price per unit, making up for the price with the number of sales.

This has been their goal from the start, as they are the company that pioneered in 2003 with stock photo subscriptions that work perfectly for that model: they give you lots of image downloads per month, for a very low flat monthly fee. This is still Shutterstock's star product and the one they enforce and market the most, and logically the one offering the lowers per-image rates.

Shutterstock Pricing 2017 > Why is Shutterstock So Expensive? Single Purchase Prices Explained


Shutterstock Subscriptions: The Lowest-Price Deal

Shutterstock Subscription Pricing 2017 > Why is Shutterstock So Expensive? Single Purchase Prices Explained

Shutterstock's star product was always the high volume subscription: 750 downloads per month at $249 per month, or $199 monthly with an annual plan. This works out at just $0.26/$0.33 per image. Insanely low!

Of course, this deal only serves those who actually need hundreds of photos all the time. They'd spend a lot more buying in traditional stock photo agencies, or even buying on-demand in online image banks.

However, in our current days, Shutterstock has broadened up its offer to include lower volume deals that still work with very low per-image prices:

  • 10 images a month for $49 / or $29 with an annual plan
  • 50 images a month for $125 / or $99 with an annual plan
  • 350 images a month for $199 / or $169 with an annual plan
  • Plus the well-known: 750 images a month for $249 / or $199 with an annual plan

So if you need only a few images, but need them constantly, one of the newer, smaller plans can be a good fit for you and much less expensive.

Learn all about Shutterstock prices here! 

UPDATE 2023: Shutterstock's on-demand offer now includes the Offset collection of 1.2M+ premium quality images! Offset by Shutterstock, the agency's premium-segment subsidiary has now been merged into the main platform. You can buy premium images from the Offset collection by the unit, starting at $249 per image. Discover the Offset collection right here!
Plus, they have introduced subscription plans for Shutterstock Editorial service, although the prices are available upon request.

Shutterstock Single Image Purchase: On-Demand Packs Explained

UPDATE 2023 – CREDIT PACKS: In 2023, Shutterstock is revamping its pricing structure for on-demand purchases, transitioning from image packs to credit packs. We will bring you all the details of the new prices for on-demand (for you to see whether they're expensive or not very soon. So stay tuned!
Unlock a cool exclusive 25% discount on credit packs for 30 credits on Shutterstock! Get up to 30 Images, 1 Standard Video, and 7 Music Tracks.

Subscriptions might be their battle horse, but Shutterstock does not neglect its offer for those buyers looking to get images on demand, paying as they go. For them, they have their image packs.

Shutterstock On Demand Pricing 2017 > Why is Shutterstock So Expensive? Single Purchase Prices Explained

Image packs are prepaid image downloads that you can buy and use whenever you want for one year after the purchase date. No periodic fees, and no extra charges. Pay now, use whenever (up to one year). There are two sizes of packs: 5 images for $49 (cost per image is $9.80), or 25 images for $229 (cost per image is $9.16).

Here too they apply their volume deal, and the more images you buy, the less each of them costs. However, it's obvious the rate is much higher than that of subscriptions and the discount over quantity is much less pronounced.

What you need to keep in mind is you're paying for a number of benefits besides the quality of the photo and the flexibility of the license. With on-demand image packs, you can:

  • Control exactly how and when to spend money
  • Avoid long-term payment commitments
  • Decide when to use your downloads – very useful if you're not sure when you'll need images

Another point to highlight is these prices are still incredibly cheap compared to those of traditional stock photography agencies, Rights Managed licensed photos and custom photo shoots.

See all Shutterstock Prices and Plans here. 

Another important point is that all these images come with a Standard license from Shutterstock, which is Royalty-Free, so you only pay once and get to use the image forever, including in commercial projects, with very few restrictions. This makes Shutterstock images a lot safer legally for marketing and advertising than many other options. Remember that using images without a valid license is a copyright infringement and can cause you many legal and financial problems.

Bonus: Shutterstock image packs and subscriptions now include access to download AI-generated images that you can create yourself with Shutterstock Generate, their own AI image generator. These AI images are a lot safer than those made with other tools because this app is trained solely with authorized Shutterstock content.

If you're looking to buy images by the unit or have more options for on-demand buying, you can check these great alternatives to Shutterstock, or simply read our list of agencies to buy photos on demand!  

But if what you really want is Shutterstock photos, read ahead, we have a little tip for you!

wwww.shutterstock.com editor

Expert Hack to Buy Few Images on Shutterstock

As we said before, Shutterstock has subscription plans that you can hire both months to months, or annually. And you can cancel them anytime you want.

For a while, they include low-volume plans for 10 or 50 images per month, at only $49 and $125 monthly, respectively.

The hack is kind of evident: if you want to buy just a few photos but don't want to pay them on-demand rates, you can simply hire a low-volume subscription for one month, and cancel it whenever you want. This will let you get more images at a much lower price.

Of course, you need to remember these downloads have an expiration date at the end of the current month of your plan, so you must use them all up before then. If you don't really know if you'll use your photos before the end of the month, this little trick may not be so useful to you.

Stock Footage at Shutterstock
For those looking to buy stock footage, the best option is with the new Shutterstock Video Subscriptions! Starting at just $159 for 10 videos a month, these plans let you download content in HD and 4K for under $9 the piece, that's one of the lowest rates in the industry!

Get a 15% discount on your choice of Shutterstock Video Subscriptions, which start at $159 a month for 10 video downloads. Subscriptions let you get ...

Shutterstock: Not Expensive At All

Now you have a better grasp of how Shutterstock prices work, and especially when you compare their prices to those of their competitors and other alternatives in the market, you can easily see Shutterstock is not as expensive as you might have thought from seeing their image pack prices.

It is in fact one of the best offers in the stock photo market and one of the main reasons for their success and popularity. If you add that they have over 100 million images to choose from, it only gets better.

Sign up for free at Shutterstock to start downloading great stock photos cheaply. And if you really want to maximize your budget, don't forget to redeem our Shutterstock Coupon Code with up to 15% off on your purchase!

Amos Struck
Amos Struck

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

  1. Only people who claim Shutterstock is “the best stock photo agencies around, with great photos that cost very little money.” Those are the type of people with high income jobs and can afford it (corporate companies, lawyers and the list goes on and on)

  2. Even so this big article, Shutterstock still is too expensive I anticipate I only going to use their images in case of extreme desperation

    • Hi Andte, it all depends on your needs. Most of our readers love the variety of Shutterstock and their superb search. There are most certainly much cheaper stock agencies out there. I recommend checking their database before you sign-up to anything to see if they have the images you need.

  3. No matter what tricks you’re using, selling a 10-15 seconds footage for 70+ bucks is EXPENSIVE.
    Let’s admit – they’re just a bunch of cheap bastards hiding their cheapness behind high prices…

    • Hi Miroslav, I think their prices are reasonable. But I also recommend to check with “cheaper stock footage agencies” if their license is really “Royalty Free”. It usually isn’t, it is a one “project usage”. So I recommend to compare them in detail beforehand.

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