Image Choices For Commercial Buyers

Posted on 2/20/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Many may find the total number of images available worldwide for rights-managed and royalty-free licensing surprising.

It is important to note that this is an estimate based on bits and pieces of available information, but here are some things to consider.

Getty has between 2.3 and 2.5 million images on the creative section of its site. About 1 million of these are royalty-free.

Fotosearch has 4.6 million images. An estimated two-thirds are royalty-free, since Fotosearch represents most of the royalty-free brands.

Alamy has 14.94 million images. As of December 31, 2008 4.6 million were royalty-free and 9.8 million were rights-managed. It is likely that Alamy’s number is pretty close to the total of available traditional royalty-free images.

When talking about royalty-free images, it is also necessary to consider microstock. iStockphoto has 4.37 million images and has added about 1.77 million since the end of 2007. Fotolia has 5.1 million and has added about 2.3 million since the end of 2007. Dreamstime has almost 5 million images, and Shutterstock almost 6 million. A large percentage of these images are on multiple sites, so it is impossible to simply total all these numbers. In some cases, particularly with iStock, a significant number of photographers are exclusive to a single portal.

Thus, my guess is that about 4.6 million unique images are being licensed at traditional royalty-free prices, and at least 7 million are being licensed at microstock prices.

On the rights-managed side—not counting images that only sell for editorial purposes like red carpet, hard news and event coverage—Getty has about 1.2 million images, Corbis has 1 million (counting editorial images that are often used commercially) and Jupiter offers approximately 300,000. Alamy has 9.4 million rights-managed images, but a high percentage of these will only be of interest to editorial users so they may not be competitive with the more commercially oriented images offered as royalty-free.

There are also a few other large companies, such as Masterfile and Mauritius, with commercially oriented images that may not be available through the other large portals. Most of the smaller brands have their images in greatest demand on one of the four outlets listed above. Thus, my guess would be that the industry offers no more that 6 million to 7 million unique rights-managed images that are of a type that might be of interest to commercial customers and are competitive to what is being offered as royalty-free.

Of course, if we count all the editorially oriented images available, there would be tens of millions on all the various sites, but such collections usually include a huge percentage of similars. The days when Getty and Corbis each claimed to have 70 million images on file are long gone. Most of those have either been returned to the photographers and can no longer be found, or are buried in a mine in Pennsylvania. They have not been scanned and are not really available for purchase.

It is interesting that there are probably more images being licensed for commercial purposes at microstock prices than there are rights-managed images. Also, the combined total of all the images being licensed using the royalty-free file-size model (microstock and traditional royalty-free) is almost double the number available for rights-managed licensing.

In addition, production of rights-managed and royalty-free imagery priced at traditional levels has slowed, while the number of microstock images being added to online collections is growing at a very rapid pace. Combined, the five top microstock companies are probably ingesting close to 3 million unique new images a year. On the traditional side, there are probably no more than a combined total of 500,000 new images being accepted annually by all the various brands. About half of these would be royalty-free.

For more information, see Image Supply Continues Rising.

Copyright © 2009 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:  


  • Greg Ceo Posted Feb 20, 2009
    This suggests that microstock will soon be overrun with too many images. What will the result of many, many microstock images be?

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