Alamy vs. Microstock

Posted on 7/23/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

On the MicrostockGroup blog there has been a debate as to whether it is better to try to license images through Alamy rather than on microstock sites given that the license fees  and royalty percentages are so much higher.

Here’s some number to consider. Through 2009 Alamy was supplying quarterly sales figures and rather detailed breakdowns of those figures to the public. Based on those numbers Alamy had gross revenue of $22,864,000 in 2009 down from over $31 million in 2008. In 2008 they paid out $20.8 million to contributors and in 2009 they paid out $12.5 million.

In Q4 2008 the average license fee for an RM image was $116. If the image was editorial the average price was $100 and the average for commercial use was $298. Of course the vast majority of sales were for editorial use.

At the end of 2008 they had about 15 million images on the site. Now they have almost 32 million.  In all of 2009 they licensed rights to use less than 200,000 images or a little over 1% of the images in their collection. Considering that a few images were licensed more than once, the number of unique images licensed was probably less than 1%. The number of images licensed in 2008 was about the same, but the average price per license was higher.

While the collection has more than doubled in size, based on conversations with photographers and agencies that have images on Alamy, I don’t think the number of total images licensed per year has risen much, if at all, above 200,000. That means that today on average a photographer would need about 160 images in the collection in order to make 1 sale in the year. Of course some photographers do better than the average and others do worse.

In 2011, on average, every image in the iStockphoto collection was downloaded at least twice. Every image on Shutterstock was downloaded about 2.5 times. On iStockphoto the average royalty per download is about $2.00 although some exclusive contributors earn significantly better than $4.00 due to higher licensing fees. On Shutterstock the average royalty for a subscription download is $0.25 to $0.38. When images are licensed as part of the “Pay As You Go” model, which is becoming increasingly popular, the royalties can approach $2.00 and higher.

Thus, if you have 160 images on Alamy, you make one sale in a year and your royalty share is 60% on average you would earn $69.60 for an editorial sale or $178.80 if it was a commercial sale. There is always hope that you will do better than the averages and your image will be the one that makes that blockbuster sale.

If you have 160 images on iStock, each image is licensed twice in the year and you averaged $2.00 per download your earnings for the year would 320 X $2.00 = $640.00.

If you have 160 images on Shutterstock, each images was licensed 2.5 times as part of a subscription and you receive the lowest royalty or $0.25 your earnings for the year would be 400 X $0.25 = $100.00. But keep in mind that you may receive a higher fee for subscriptions and benefit from some Pay As You Go sales so your total earning for the year from 160 images could be much higher.

These are only averages. Some photographers do much better and other do worse. But clearly, volume does make a difference.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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