Designer Impact in Microstock

Posted on 12/23/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

For almost two years I have been following the sales of 197 of iStockphoto’s top sellers. The tendency has been to think of these people as photographers, but in fact 98 of them, or almost 50%, list their job description as something other than photographer.

Eighty-two are designers or illustrators, 11 list their jobs as “other”, 2 are marketers, 2 are videographers and one is a singer. It is important to recognize that half of the top sellers, and maybe half of all those contributing to microstock sites, do not think of themselves as photographers. While photographers are only interested in licensing rights to their images, many of the designers are customers as well as image sellers.

It is also important to realize that those using microstock sites to locate imagery are not just looking for photographs, but for design elements as well, and the design elements represent a significant portion, maybe as much as 40%, of total sales.

Based on the total number of downloads each of these 197 individuals had at the beginning and end of 2010, I estimate that their combined total downloads in the year are in the range of 4,875,000. This number is probably close to 20% of all the images downloaded from iStock in 2010. (iStockphoto no longer reports the exact number of downloads for each contributor as they did at the beginning of 2009. Instead, they provide the bottom number of a range. Thus, I have been forced to estimate the number of downloads in order to arrive at my conclusions.)

Those with non-photographer job descriptions had approximately 1,975,000 downloads during the year and the photographers had about 3,000,000. The non-photographers have about 219,000 unique images in the collection and have added about 33,500 new images, or 15% of their total, to the collection in 2010. The photographers in this group have over 391,000 images in the iStock collection and approximately 62,000 of them were added in 2010. I estimate that iStock has close to 8 million images from over 90,000 contributors in its collection. Thus, this approximately a fifth of 1% of all iStock image suppliers have contributed over 6% of all the images in the collection, and their images likely represent close to 20% of all the images licensed by iStock in 2010.

There is no way of accurately determining if the ratio of non-photographers to photographers in this group accurately represents the entire iStockphoto community, but it stands to reason that this is the case. This is important for a number of reasons:

  •  A significant portion of the imagery purchased from microstock sites, maybe as much as 40%, is not photographic.
  • Most of those who purchase photography and design are designers. Microstock sites tend to give designers a more comprehensive choice of options than most photography sites that at best include a little bit of design. 
  • Designers and illustrators are buyers as well as sellers.
  • Microstock sites tend to supply a more comprehensive collection of design elements than traditional photography sites and often better satisfy the overall needs of design customers.

It is also interesting that all but 5 of the 197 individuals started contributing images to iStock between 2002 and December 2006. As a result, they have had a lot of years to build their collections. Given the way iStock has structured its business and delivery of search returns, those with the most downloads have tremendous advantage over the new images supplied by those just starting out.

Nevertheless, some late starters have been able to do quite well. Among the 5 late starters is Ron Chapple’s iofoto, which started contributing in 2007 and has had over 100,000 downloads to date. Another late starter that did not even make my list in May 2009 because the company was not among the top 250 contributors is Monkey Business Images. The company first uploaded images in March 2008. By July 1, 2009, Monkey Business had fewer than 53,000 downloads, but one year later it had over 180,000. Today, Monkey Business has over 250,000 downloads and is 19th from the top of iStockcharts list of most successful contributors.

Copyright © 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:  


  • Jon Feingersh Posted Dec 24, 2010
    Jim-- Thanks for the interesting analysis. This is the kind of information an intelligent photographer can use in deciding what kind of imagery to create in our brave new stock world.
    It was fascinating to link to the iStock Contributor Charts. 3 of the top 10 contributors, and 10 of the top 20, now have "anonymous" profiles. Hmmm.....

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