Old sayings get to be old sayings for a reason: most of the axioms that stick around have some truth to them, and “you get what you pay for” is no exception. But in the world of cheap stock photography, there are some big exceptions to this rule. The biggest stock photo vendors are able to sell cheap images that are still very high quality, and some smaller niche companies might have to charge a lot more for lower quality imagery. To understand why this axiom isn’t always true for stock photos, and help explain why sometimes even the very cheap images you find on big vendors are very high quality, we will take a quick look at stock photo economics.
Microstock Photos Are Sold in Bulk
The big microstock agencies, from Shutterstock to Depositphotos, can sell cheap stock photos for such a low price because they sell each image so many times. An artist sells the rights to a specific image to a stock photo company, who then resells the rights to that image to hundreds of different buyers. In this way, some of the best commercial photographs in the world are available at very low prices. Not because they are low quality, but because stock photos are sold in bulk.
Just Because an Image is More Expensive Doesn’t Mean It’s “Better”
Deciding what’s “better” or “worse: in the world of stock photos is tricky in the first place, since photography is a very subjective art form. But when you are thinking about what’s better for you, think about what you will be using your stock photos for. In most cases, the images you can find in big vendors for a low price will be able to meet your needs. So why would it be “better” to pay more to a different agency? Smaller companies often charge more because they aren’t able to move images in the same bulk quantities, not because the images are inherently any “better.”
Stick With Professional, Cheap Images
As long as the cheap imagery you are buying is professional, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about. Each major stock photo company filters out low-quality imagery before it ever gets to your eyes, and still offers great prices on the imagery they do sell. Don’t scrape the bottom of the barrel and reach for amateur photography: even if it is cheaper, it won’t make your business or brand look good. But as long as you are sticking with professional images, there are a lot of cheap options out there that aren’t necessarily any worse than a higher priced alternative.