Microstock API Overview

Imagine you are a micro stock photograph. Also imagine your are not working exclusively for one agency but contributing to the top 5: iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia and let’s say… Stockexpert.

Here is where the problem begins: each agency has its own rules, interfaces, submitting channels (HTTP, FTP etc.). Obviously, as the microstock marked is growing, there is a need for additional services and software both for and contributors and buyers.

I also have a couple nice ideas in this area, so  I’ve done a short research on existing microstock API (Application Programming Interface).


Istockphoto is the leading microstock agency and is known for its uncommon upload process. The agency offers an API based on XML-RPC protocol, which includes download, upload, search and statistics functionality. Requesting API Key is not simple and it sounds like you need to apply for it with a serious business plan.


According to the discussion on Shutterstock forums, there is no API on horizon right now. As a result, some desperate members are developing statistics plugins like Shutterstockbar for Firefox, which simply parses the HTML code of your Shutterstock profile. Of course, such findings are welcomed by community but not supported by Shutterstock administration.


At first view the only thing the Dreamstime offers is its referral program. At the end of the referral page, however, you can find a vague description of an “API/XML feeds” available for registered users only. I’ve failed to find any detailed open documentation on the functionality but I believe you can get some Dreamstime content or even search on it using feed technologies like RSS or Atom.  On the other hand, we also have here a discussion of a suitable Firefox plugin, not welcomed by administration (as usual).


This agency leaves a solid impression: first search brought me to the correspondent google group with links to official introduction, documentation and terms of use for Fotolia API. The API itself is based on XML-RPC protocol and divided on several logical parts, depending on business case: Partner API, Business API, Developer API and Reseller API. Compared to competors, everything looks very professional and has a great potential for further development of the Fotolia community.


According to the official information “API provides functionality to upload, search, display, purchase, and download Stockxpert images straight from the partner’s site”.  It is implemented via simple HTTP GET/POST requests transferring serialized data using Javascript Object Notation (JSON) or in XML. Due to the simplicity of implementation this API  has its own limits (e.g. it is not clear for me whether it is possible to use it outside HTML forms). Anyway it is partially documented (better than nothing) and the examples show us that even with the limited functionality you can achive very nice results.


In general, the existing APIs (except of Fotolia) leaving an immature impression. A cold or sometimes even negative attitude to the problem by leading agencies  is also a bit discouraging. In the next posts I’ll try to figure out what are the major reasons for that. And of course I am going to drill down into the most perspective APIs in my sandbox to gain more practical experience on the subject.

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