Subscription or Pay-as-You-Go: Which Stock Photo Plan is Best for You?

As you know, you are bombarded with stock photo plan options as you are search for your next service. Often providers will give you the option between buying a subscription plan or a credit (pay-as-you-go) plan.

Unless you’ve done the math, you might not know which is best for you and your business. We’ll start this post by offering a few benefits of each plan and end with an overview to help you decide which type of stock photo plan is best for your organization.

Pros and Cons to Subscription Plans

It may be obvious but it bears reviewing. Stock photo subscription plans are often better for businesses and companies that require a large number of stock photos consistently. Because you usually gain access to hundreds of stock photo downloads each month with a subscription plan, you end up paying a low price per individual photo. This can get as cheap as $0.36 or $0.33 per photo. For organizations with a large stock photo need, a subscription plan is the cost-effective answer.

Some negatives to subscription stock photo plans include download limits. Many plans only give you a certain number of downloads each month. While this might be upwards of 750 downloads, if your organization is using that many or even more, you may hit a limit that prevents you from downloading more images that month.

Another con about subscription plans is the price if you’re not using all the allotted photo downloads. While it is true that subscription plans can cost as little as $0.36 per image or less, the true price depends on how many images you actually download that month.

Calculation Example
For example, say you pay $250 per month for 750 images. If in April you download all 750 images you only pay $0.33 per image. But if you only download 250 images in May, your price per image ends up costing you $1 per image. When deciding to sign up for a subscription stock photo plan, this basic math can show you pretty clearly whether it is worth it for your business.

Pros and Cons of Pay-as-You Go Plans


  • At the other spectrum, you have pay-as-you go plans which offer you more flexibility with less financial commitment. While these plans do cost more per image, if you’re not going to use the bulk amount of photos that comes with a subscription plan, it will end up costing you a lot less. The first pro then for a pay-as-you go plan is that it allows you to use stock photos as you need them without obligation.
  • Another pro to a pay-as-you-go plan is that it will cost you a lot less than a subscription plan if you’re not using many photos. Although the per-image price may be higher, the total price will cost you much less if you’re only using a few photos each week or month.


  • One negative of the pay-as-you-go plan can end up costing you a lot of money if you’re not vigilant. If your stock photo usage jumps and you don’t adjust to a subscription plan, your costs might surprise you. For example, if you are on a pay-as-you go plan where images cost you $2 each say you downloaded 75 in April for a total cost of $150. If you needed to download 200 in May, that would end up costing you $400 which is a lot more money than the subscription plan in our example above.
  • While pay-as-you go plans can cost you a lot less on a small-time basis, if your stock photo usage jumps it ends up costing you.


Determining Which Stock Photo Plan Serves You

1When you start looking for a stock photo plan, you need to start by estimating how many photos you plan on using. Let’s start by looking at daily usage. Are you in need of a certain number of stock photos per day? 1? 5? 10? 50? If you’re in need of daily access to stock photos, a subscription plan might be better for you.

2 Once you’ve determined your daily usage multiply it by 5 or however many days per week you work. Then multiply that by 4 and you’ll have determined your average monthly stock photo usage. For example, if you use 5 stock photos per day 5 days per week, you need about 100 stock photos each month. Or if you use about 1 stock photo per day 5 days per week, you’ll only need 20 stock photos each month.

3Now that you know about how many stock photos you expect to use each month, start browsing the different plans. Different providers provide different kinds of subscription packages and usually a subscription package that fits your needs will be more cost effective than a pay-as-you-go plan unless you don’t need many stock photos each month.

How did you determine what type of stock photo plan to use for your business? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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