Buy Stock Photos: Credits vs. Subscriptions

So you have discovered the benefits in using cheap, Royalty Free stock photos for your business. You understood how Royalty Free images work, and now you are looking to buy stock photos. You had a look at the Top 5 Stock Photo Agencies (and if you didn't, you should) and you probably noticed there are two main options to buy images at most of them: with credits –or image packs– or with a stock photo subscription.

And this is where more questions come up. What are credits? What is a subscription? Which one is best for me?

Fortunately, Stock Photo Expert is here to answer these questions and guide you in the process of deciding which buying model serves best to your interests and budget, and which agency to choose to buy cheap stock photos in your chosen model.

Credits & Image Packs – Buy Stock Photos On Demand

A lot of stock agencies, including the top 5 ones in the market, enable customers to buy images on demand, this is, one by one and paying as you go.

But with very few exceptions, they don't just price their images in USD or other currency and charge you for each photo you buy. No. As Royalty Free images are so cheap, these agencies built their business on the base of a minimum purchase requirement. That is, that they demand you to spend at least a minimum amount in advance. And the way they do this is with company credits, and sometimes with image packs.

How Do Credits Work?

Company credits are a fictional currency invented by stock agencies. But it is not a universal currency, each company sets up their own prices for their credits.

What are credits for? Simple: agencies price their images in credits, and then sell you credit packages that you can use to pay for the photos. The smallest credit pack is the minimum purchase required, and often you can buy more than one image with it.

In general lines, all companies offer discounts for larger volume of downloads. And this applies to credits as well. The larger the credit pack you buy, the less each credit will cost you. And therefore, the lower the price of each image.

What About Image Packs?

Some companies don't work with the credit-based model, and they use image packs instead. This system is pretty much identical, except that it works with images priced in USD or other real currencies, making it more straight-forward.

These agencies do not price their images individually in any way. But they set up a minimum purchase too, in the form of an image pack: a preset number of downloads that you must pay upfront, and every time you download an image, it is reduced from your account.

Image packs also come in various sizes, and individual photo price goes down in larger packs, just as with credits.

What if I Want to Buy Images One by One, and in Plain USD?

There aren't really that many companies offering this in the stock photo market. But there are some nice exceptions.

Among the top 5 stock photo suppliers, Adobe Stock is one giving you exactly this: they price their images in USD, individually, and you can simply buy them one by one, paying just the amount of your total purchase. Of course their photos are priced slightly higher than at the other credit-based agencies, but the lack of a minimum purchase requirement and the added value in Adobe Stock's integration with Creative Cloud applications makes it a very good deal.

Are Credits or Image Packs a Good Option for Me?

On-demand buying in this systems have a lot of clear benefits to buy Royalty Free images. The most obvious one is that it gives you greater control on when and how to spend money in images.

These packs often have a long life span (of one year and, in the case of iStock, indefinitely), so you can stock your account with as many credits or image downloads as you want, and then use them whenever you need them.

You can also manage how much to spend: if you can and want, you can invest a greater amount upfront, and save in the long run by paying less for every image. Or you can make a small purchase and keep more in your pocket.

The convenience of this system depends mostly on your particular needs and budget. If you only want to test the waters, or if you require just one or two photos for a single project, then buying with credits or image packs makes sense. No need for greater investment if you don't have a use for the extra images.

If you need a larger number of photos, but you need them every now and then, with no defined dates, then on-demand model may also be a smart choice for you. As credits and downloads are valid for one year or longer, you will have plenty of time to use your images and make sure you don't miss out in your investment. Explore the Best Agencies to Buy Photos on Demand!

However, if you need a lot of images constantly, this system is not the most suitable. Of course you can still go for it if you like to have control on your every expense and you don't like long-term commitments with companies, but for large volume of images on-demand is not the cheapest option.

Stock Photo Subscriptions: Saving with Large Volume Purchases

Most successful stock photo agencies include stock photo subscription services in their offer. Shutterstock was the pioneer in using this selling model over a decade ago, and its benefits made it so popular that soon it replicated across the market. Our Top 5 Stock Photo Agencies are amongst the best stock photo subscription sites.

Stock photo subscriptions give you a fixed (and large) number of downloads for a determined period of time –today the minimum subscription commitment is commonly of one month–, for a fixed, periodical rate. In plain English, you get a certain number of downloads every month, and you are billed a fixed amount monthly.

The core value in an image subscription service is how it reduces image price, taking it down to less than a quarter of a USD per download. Like this, they are the perfect solution for anyone needing lots of images constantly, but not having the budget to spend thousands of dollars buying them individually.

With a subscription plan, you get a monthly download limit and a fixed price per month. Most popular subscription is for 750 photos monthly, and ranges between $199 and $250 per month at most agencies. Depending on the company you will find options for less images (some even have low-volume offers for just 10 downloads a month), and cheaper prices for longer commitment – you can hire a plan for up to one year and save up to 30%.

Should I get a Stock Photo Subscription?

If you are keen on committing to periodic payments to a company, this is certainly a great way to get Royalty Free images for commercial use, cheap. Very cheap. Of course, it makes sense if you need a lot of images all the time, because subscription downloads commonly expire from month to month. If you haven't used at least most of your downloads, you simply lose them at the end of the month.

Stock photo subscriptions don't enable you to control your expenses and when to download at the same level on-demand does, but they give you the cheapest possible prices for stock images in the market.

Again, it all depends on your needs. If you require hundreds of new images constantly, and you don't want to break the bank to get them, then a stock photo subscription is ideal for you. Discover the Best Agencies to Buy Stock Photo Subscriptions!

Buy Images with the Model that Better Suits your Needs

Stock photo market has options for pretty much every image needs and every budget. You just have to know where to look. For a start, these two main buying models –on demand with credits or image packs, and stock photo subscriptions– ensure you can buy stock photos cheap and spending only what you want to spend.

Have you decided which system you will use? Then go ahead and start downloading great images for your designs!

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