At the recent CEPIC conference in Malta, Bruce Livingstone, CEO of iStockphoto said the company currently represents 60,000 artists and about 4,000 of them are exclusive. He also pointed out that gross sales in 2007 were $72 million and 30% of that, or about $21 million, was paid out to contributors. Last year, the average price per image downloaded was $4.10, but the price varies depending on the size of the file. Non-exclusive photographers get 20% of the sales price and exclusive photographers get 40%, so the exclusive photographer would receive approximate $1.64 per image downloaded.
Lise Gagne is iStock's No. 1 producing photographer and has 5673 images in the file, thus averaging about 126 sales per image. At least one of her images has been licensed over 6,000 times. She began uploading images in April 2003 and since then, has had 717,394 downloads -- and counting. It is rumored that last year she earned over $500,000, or about 2.4% of the total paid out by iStock. There are three or four iStock photographers who probably earn about half that much.
About 200 iStock photographers have had more than 25,000 downloads, and for many, particularly the top sellers, this has occurred over a period of two to three years. This group represents a little over 3.5/10ths of 1% of the total photographers and illustrators represented by iStock. The median contributor in this group has sold about 45,000 images.
If we assume that the average 2007 sales for the top 199 (not counting Lise) was about 30,000 and that all of them were exclusive (mostly true), then the top 200 contributors would have been paid a little over $10 million in 2007, representing almost 50% of the total revenue collected.
Livingstone also said that 80% of the revenue was generated by 20% of the contributors.
That means that a total of about $16.8 million was paid out to 12,000 contributors, or subtracting the 200, $6.8 million was paid out to 11,800 contributors for an average of $576 per contributor. The other $4.2 million was divided among 48,000 contributors for an average of $87.50 each annually.
Yes, a few of iStock's image creators make great money, but 99% do not.
To be fair, a huge percentage of photographers who have RM images with various agencies don't make much annually, either. I estimate that of all the photographers who have images with RM agencies, less than 5% earn more than $5,000 a year.