Cost to Create a Website like ShutterStock

The demand for quality and unique images is showing steady growth. And with it, the popularity of stock photo websites is also increasing; there are already more than 30 of them around the world. Shutterstock plans to reach $1.2 billion in revenue by 2027 with a 10% annual growth rate.

It makes sense to build a stock photography website of your own and thereby gain access to a source of constant profit. If the idea appeals to you, we suggest studying the example of your main competitor, which is Shutterstock. It's a famous industry leader whose history dates back to the early years of the 21st century. Today, the resource has at least 620 million in annual income. Great results, right?

But creating a site like Shutterstock is a difficult task, to put it mildly. After all, your opponent has had 15+ years to get things done. On the way to prosperity, the platform's creators had to face and overcome a lot of challenges. So be patient, strategize, and knuckle down to business! And we'll do our best to help you with a few useful tips that you'll find in our new article.

Are you ready? Then let's discuss your chances to replicate Shutterstock's success.

What are Stock Photo Websites?

Any web resource is content-based. And content, in turn, implies not only text but also images. You have to admit, even the most considered article without illustrations looks dull and unconvincing. That's why companies spend so much time looking for quality photographs to improve their resources. This is where the stock photo market comes to the rescue. 

In fact, a photo stock is storage of diverse images and serves as an intermediary between a buyer and a contributor (not necessarily a professional photographer). Conventionally, there are 2 basic options:

  • a macro-stock offering exclusive shots taken by professional photographers. The price per photo is usually quite high;

  • a microstock providing access to images at a lower price. The main trick is that one picture can be bought several times. Any contributor is allowed to post his work here, even ordinary people who are fond of photo and video shooting and have the appropriate abilities.

Sometimes we need to modify the picture to make it look better. And then special photo-editing apps come to the aid. To get all details, follow the link.

We’ll explain to you how to start a stock photo website a little later, and right now let's discuss another topic, no less exciting.

History of the Stock Photo Market

Before the advent of stock photo websites, exclusive images were at a premium and worth their weight in gold; getting them was very difficult and high-priced. Only eminent companies were able to afford such expenses. Just imagine, a unique photo could have cost several thousand dollars!

This couldn't last forever, and the day came when an entrepreneurial young man from Canada decided to create a stock photo website called iStockphoto. It was a simplified version of modern resources of a similar type, and its content was less impressive than that of today's analogs. However, the images were of decent quality and affordable (from $ 25 per piece, which is a good price compared to what it was before).

Since then, many companies no longer needed to establish their own shooting process or buy expensive author photos. Anyone had an opportunity to buy great pictures at no extra cost.

Currently, there are a lot of such sites, and many of them are rather successful. And one of the best is Shutterstock, already mentioned.

And if you also want to join the leaders and start a business in the stock photo industry, we suggest studying the history of your target competitor.

Shutterstock History

The life of the Shutterstock resource began back in 2003 in New York. During its existence, it has achieved a lot. But let's see where it all started out.

Its creator is John Oringer, and by the time of his 39th birthday, he had managed to found several companies of different types. And then he got the idea to build a stock photography website (the future Shutterstock). And he had his reasons!

The fact is that John Oringer was developing a program aimed at blocking pop-up windows in Internet browsers. And he needed a variety of pictures, and in multitude. And there was nowhere to take them. This drove him to real despair.

In those days there were still few photobanks (say, Getty Images), and their pictures were expensive. John Oringer wasn't prepared for the increased custom content costs and therefore began photographing views of New York and other world capitals on his own.

John Oringer posted the shots taken on the specially created Shutterstock website. He soon realized that he could turn it into a new profitable project. He began to promote it to attract more customers. Also, he invited other photographers to cooperate. Success didn't come immediately, but it did come.

Of course, the site has gone through many stages of development. John Oringer had to look for investments, enter into profitable partnerships, and take other similar actions. But the game was worth the candle. 

Today Shutterstock can be proud of the following (something to inspire you to develop a website or application like Shutterstock):

  • over 250 million high-quality pieces of image content;

  • cooperation with 450+ thousand photographers. And the monthly earnings of most of them are between $ 500 and $ 1000. Still further, the most gifted contributors manage to earn 10-15 thousand every month;

  • multiple language support;

  • the leader in the number of clients. 

Now let’s discuss reasons for starting a business on stock photos.

Why You Should Start a Stock Photo Website Business

Shutterstock clone

The above figures speak for themselves and convince better than a hundred words that the online stock photo industry has good earning potential. However, we'd like to give a couple of additional arguments.

Benefits of players in the stock image market

The industry of stock photo sites connects several parties:

  • clients who need high-quality photos;

  • photographers who want to earn extra money from selling images;

  • the owner of the resource who provides his website as a meeting place, which allows the contractor and the customer to find each other.

What do photographers get?

  • an excellent opportunity to get good money using their own talent. Moreover, a Shutterstock clone can serve as both the main and an additional source of income;

  • low entry threshold, because anyone with a quality smartphone camera has a chance to become an image contributor;

  • facilitated customer search process, as the photo bank will do the job instead of you. It's an intermediary between photographers and clients;

  • constant access to the service. The photo supplier is free to work at any time, anywhere in the world;

  • minimum investment, as in most cases the registration of authors is entirely free. All they need is a camera, Internet access, and photo editing software.

What do customers get?

Any company needs high-quality photos from time to time, especially if it has an online representation (which is a prerequisite in the modern world). However, not everyone can have a staff of designers. The solution is to use stock photo websites, which offer:

  • large selection of images;

  • high-quality content;

  • flexible pricing policy;

  • ease of work with the resource.

What do the website owners get?

  • high profits on an ongoing basis;

  • low costs of organizing a business;

  • financial stability. As recent experience has shown, quarantine and pandemic have almost no effect on income from stocks.

How stock photo websites work

Understanding how to make a stock photo website starts with the basics. And above all, you must know how such platforms work.

Photo Contributors Actions

So, you are a photographer and don't mind making money from your pictures. You must choose a suitable photo bank and place your pieces on it. 

Of course, each platform has its own registration rules and requirements for images, but it is quite possible to describe an approximate scheme of the contributor's actions:

  • Photo contributor registration. Of course, a user who wants to sell his photo pieces must register and fill in information about himself. Some websites allow you to register using social networks, others have stricter rules. Let's say Shutterstock requires an author to provide an international document.

  • Contributor check. Making a stock photography website like Shutterstock means taking care of the quality of your resource's content. You can't let anyone post low-quality images. That’s why Shutterstock always reviews candidates’ portfolios. You should do the same.

  • Photo publication. Suppose the author's pieces have been approved by a moderator. Now is the time to start posting them on the site. Usually, the contributor needs to name and describe each image. He should also indicate its category ("Attractions", "Nature", "Art", etc.) and keywords (which is an analog of hashtags).

Customer Actions

Now let's discuss the actions of the buyer of photographs:

  • Check-in. First of all, the user registers. Since he isn't a contributor, it'll be enough to register through the social network. Data about him will be automatically extracted from his account.

  • Subscription. Next, the user chooses a tariff plan, subscribes, and gets access to a certain number of photos to download. Subscription options depend on your business model (as discussed below).

  • Photo search. Now he is free to search for the images he wants.

  • Downloading photos. And the last step involves the ability to download the images found.

how to make a website like Shutterstock

It's impossible to build stock photography websites without a well-thought-out business model in mind. Let's discuss the issue properly.

Shutterstock Business Model

Shutterstock owners make good profits thanks to the following monetization scheme:

  • images on request. Let's say a consumer needs to purchase several photos and after that, he doesn't plan to use the site's services. In such a case, he can buy 5 images (they cost just under $50) or 25 ones (the price is almost $ 180).

  • subscription, which is the best option for companies that regularly need quality photo content. Shutterstock offers several pricing packages, each with the possibility to download a certain number of images per month. The cheapest subscription is about $30 per month, the expensive option reaches almost $200.

  • corporate packages. Large companies sometimes find it beneficial to conclude an exclusive contract with Shutterstock.

Of course, part of the money should be given to image contributors (they receive a certain number of cents for each downloaded photo). But Shutterstock owners still have a lot left to thrive.

You couldn't help but hear about Instagram, right? Wanna create a similar resource? Our tips will help you get it done.

By the by, don't rely only on the above methods of monetizing a project. If you do want to succeed, consider a few more additional options:

  • advertising, which is a great way to make your website or application like Shutterstock more profitable.

  • assistance in the promotion of a certain contributor. If someone wants to make his pieces more popular and visible to users, offer him some kind of mutually beneficial cooperation;

  • additional paid features. In other words, it’s the well-known Freemium model. In the case of a Shutterstock clone, additional paid features might include premium categories of photos (such as exclusive, hard-to-reach pictures).

Extra monetization tips

Don't rush to raise photo content prices. Sure, the idea is tempting, but not always far-sighted. Such a pricing policy will lower your chances of acquiring users. The only exceptions are the following cases:

  • you managed to create a stock photo website with unique features;

  • you're going to cooperate with world-famous photographers;

  • you have a tight-knit marketing program.

In all other cases, stick to the golden mean.

How to Make a Website like Shutterstock 

You've ventured upon a difficult project. Competing with Shutterstock is far from an easy task. Before proceeding to solve it, you need to analyze your opponent and understand what features this resource entices users with. In addition, you should take into account the mistakes Shutterstock might have made along the way to success. After all, you should launch a product that is superior to Shutterstock... or at least equal to it.

Okay, less talking, more action. The main stock photography website development steps include:

  • Market research. You need a detailed plan to make a website like Shutterstock. And an effective plan should be based on the latest reliable data. To obtain relevant market information, we recommend ordering professional research.

  • Content. Now it's time to decide how you get the initial content. Subsequently, you’ll have a chance to attract independent photographers and other contributors, but starting a project with blank pages is unwise, right? So find some basic photo content. By the way, why not take the initial pictures yourself, following in sympathy with John Oringer?

  • Making a list of features. Next, you need to draw a list of required features. It is important to take your time and pay attention to all the details. A little later, we’ll tell you what to focus on in the first place.

  • Hiring a team of experts. Shutterstock is a tricky example to follow. You need to find and hire good professionals who know how to create a stock photo website and have the appropriate experience. They'll help you bypass potential pitfalls and get a top-grade product. And when it comes to your participation, there are a few things to consider:

    • scalability of the project. Sometimes it’s better to start small, but with the future evolvement of the platform in mind;

    • modern, intuitive design. And we're talking not only about a visually appealing interface but also about the usability of your resource;

    • testing of the finished product, which is an obligatory final stage of any digital project. QA experts are required to verify that the website is working properly and smoothly.

  • Marketing. To ensure the success of your project, you’ll also have to take care of marketing activities. Your task is to make your platform recognizable and popular among potential users. Experienced marketers will be able to work out an effective promotion strategy.

Do you want to create a website like Shutterstock with great features? Then we'll move on to the next important discussion topic.

Must-Have Features for Stock Photo Websites

Earlier in the article, we described the scheme of user actions, the list of corresponding features logically flows from there. But we want to re-list what you should consider when developing functionality, just to clarify the issue and make things straight.


In the case of a consumer in need of quality content, the focus should be on a user-friendly search engine. Finding the desired photo mustn't take a lot of time and effort.

Let Shutterstock’s search feature be your example. No extra actions and steps are required, everything is extremely simple and clear. The Shutterstock user can easily get the welcome result.

create a stock photo website


The contributor needs features, which will help him post his pieces, get paid, and track his earnings. You can also offer the possibility of additional promotion of his page (say, if the photographer wants to become recognizable in addition to making money). And you'll be able to better monetize your Shutterstock clone.

stock photo websites


In addition, you need to create a set of features designed to manage the platform (payments, users, statistics, etc.).

business in the stock photo industry

Let's summarize?

So, the main features of a website or application like Shutterstock include:

  • User registration (both consumers and contributors have to sign-up);

  • Account pages with information about users. The contributor profile should include, among other things, his portfolio with examples of work;

  • Multilevel catalog, divided according to various criteria;

  • Search with filters and a sorting system (so a user can specify in which sections to search for images and sort the results by newness or popularity);

  • A reliable, well-secured payment system so that consumers can buy photos and contributors get their money;

  • Shopping cart, needed to add selected images (if the user wants to buy a few pictures, he won't have to deal with each of them separately);

  • The ability to manage the content of the site by the administration;

  • Photographer’s earnings calculation module.

We've sorted out the basic functionality, now we need to discuss the cost to create a proficient website like Shutterstock.

The Cost to Develop a Website like ShutterStock

The more complex the project and the more famous the company you hire to build your website, the higher the development cost. We propose to consider the price of a product with a minimum of features (the so-called MVP model).

start a stock photo website business

To start a business in the stock photo industry and implement the above MVP model, you need to devote at least half-year. In monetary terms, it'll cost you about $ 30K or more (according to the prices of IT companies from Eastern Europe, specialists from the USA and Western Europe have higher rates).

How to reduce the cost of stock photography website development?

  • Choose an experienced developer company, but not the most famous one. Paying just for name and reputation isn’t the smartest thing on a tight budget;

  • Start with the MVP model (as we recommended above). In the future, you can always add new features and improve your project. And at the start, analyze what options your resource cannot do without;

  • Use ready-made solutions instead of creating a website from scratch. The experts will help you decide on the right development strategy.

Extra Secrets of Creating a Site like Shutterstock

We'd like to offer a couple more tips to help you create a website similar to Shutterstock:

  • Choosing a specific niche. Sometimes it's helpful to focus on a specific niche instead of selling any kind of image content. How about celebrity photos or rare historical pictures? Your target audience will be narrower and smaller in number, but the task of reaching it'll be much easier.

  • Mobile app. Most photo banks have mobile apps, including Shutterstock (called Shutterstock Contributor). You shouldn't lag behind the market leaders. Best of all is to create an application like Shutterstock Contributor too, it'll allow users to buy, upload, and download the images even on the go.

  • Combined content. Do you want to increase your chances of getting users interested in your service? Then we advise you to support both photo and video content.

  • Multilingual interface. If you plan to conquer the markets of other countries, take care of multilingual support.

  • A large amount of content. The more images you offer, the better. Users should have plenty to choose from!

  • AI elements. If your search engine is based on artificial intelligence, results will be more accurate and users are going to be happier.

Other successful stock image market players

ShutterStock is by no means your only competition. You should also pay attention to the following players of the online stock photo industry:

  • AllTheFreeStock is an interesting project by SEO expert Seijo George. The site works on the principle of an aggregator and brings together different photo stocks. Thanks to it, the user gets access to pictures from different resources in one place; 

  • Pexels is another good option, free and with a solid base of images (40+ thousand high-quality ones). Remarkably, these pics are licensed under Creative Commons Zero, which allows them to be used commercially;

  • Don't forget to pay attention to pikwizard too. The resource has a powerful database, which is being constantly updated with new images;

  • Stockvault was developed by experienced designers and photographers. The goal was to provide users with access to excellent quality photo content. Today there are 130+ thousand images in the database: the founders of Stockvault have a lot to be proud of!

  • Last but not least is Unsplash, which has wonderful thematic selections.


Rumor has it, the authors on Shutterstock have recently been rather unhappy with their earnings, which are getting smaller as the photo fees have been decreasing since the quarantine. Perhaps you'll be able to poach some of them, what do you think? You just have to build a stock photography website of your own… with a little help from us, of course. Our experts are competent and experienced and thoroughly understand development issues.

Are you ready to start a stock photo website business? Let's proceed to discuss your project.


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