The emergence of market-based instruments (MBIs) in the field of ecosystem services has been spectacular but still lacks a clear conceptualization. Terms are overused and abused in discourses, and contrasted policy instruments are referred to as market-oriented albeit with few characteristics in common. Realities on the ground differ substantially from attractive yet misleading propositions supported by public and private discourses. Both advocates and opponents to these approaches thus propose arguments poorly relying on facts and fueling confusion. Payments for environmental services (PES) have flourished and constitute the emblematic and perfect example of a policy instrument that proves more complex and polymorphous than usually acknowledged. Born from the promises of spontaneous agreements between beneficiaries and providers of services for their mutual interest, it has been viewed by most analysts as a popular MBI. We challenge this view by confronting 73 peer-reviewed articles to a typology of MBIs.