Microstock Demand For Travel Photos

Posted on 4/5/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

A rights-managed photographer recently told me that travel photographers must continue to market their work as rights-managed because there is not enough customer demand on microstock sites for travel images to enable photographers to cover their costs and make a profit.

He acknowledged that people who shoot model released business and lifestyle photographs might be able to earn enough to profit from licensing their images as microstock, but argued that it won't work for travel photographers.

I decided to search iStockphoto for some popular locations and see how many times the top ten images from each of these locations had been downloaded. I skipped the illustrations and videos that were in the top ten and concentrated on finding the 10 best selling photographs. The number in column 1 is the number of downloads for the most downloaded image and columns 2 through 10 are for the next most downloaded images. In each case the actual number of downloads is greater than the number listed. So for London the best selling photograph has been downloaded more than 7900 times, but less than 8,000 times. To find the average for each location divide the total figure by 10. Here’s what I found.

  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10   Total
London, UK 7900 6200 3000 2500 2500 2400 2100 2000 1900 1800   32300
Australia 9500 2800 2400 2000 1800 1600 1500 1400 1300 1200   25500
New York 2300 1700 1600 1600 1400 1400 1300 1200 1100 1100   14700
Paris 2200 1900 1500 1300 1300 1300 1300 1200 1100 1000   14100
China 2600 1700 1700 1500 1400 1200 1200 1000 900 900   14100
Los Angeles 1900 1600 1100 1000 1000 1000 900 900 800 800   11000
India 1600 1300 1200 1100 1000 800 800 800 800 700   10100
Washington DC 1100 1000 1000 900 900 900 900 900 800 800   9200
Rome 1300 1300 1100 1000 900 900 900 600 600 600   9200
Tokyo 2900 1300 1200 500 400 400 400 400 400 400   8300
Rio 1400 800 700 700 700 600 500 400 400 400   6600
Singapore 800 700 700 700 500 500 500 300 300 300   5300
Bangkok 1000 700 400 400 400 300 200 200 200 200   4000

Obviously, there are many other images that were licensed many times, but not as many as the number in column 10.
Many of the people who created these images are exclusive with iStock. Currently they are probably earning a royalty of between $5.00 and $8.00 per image licensed. If they are non-exclusive with iStock they will be earning quite a bit less, but the non-exclusives will likely have their images on other microstock sites where they will be generating additional sales.

The major icons of each location were always included in top 10 best sellers. In a few cases there was nothing but major icons. There were some surprises and if you’re planning a photo shoot in any of these locations it is worth taking a look at what has been selling on iStock -- even if you're planning a rights-managed shoot. In a few cases I was surprised by the subjects that made it into the top ten which is another reason for looking at what has been selling before embarking on a shoot.

One of the great advantages that microstock offers is that anyone can tell exactly how well any particular subject has been selling. This creative intelligence is of tremendous value to rights-managed shooter as well as to those who produce images for microstock. In looking at Getty, Corbis, Alamy or the web site of any other traditional distributor there is absolutely no way to tell which images have been licensed or how frequently. The distributors have that information, but they are not sharing it. In the traditional environment it is up to the photographer to guess at what will be the most productive use of his time and effort.

Copyright © 2011 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Ellen Boughn Posted Apr 5, 2011
    It is difficult for a traditional travel photographer to compete in microstock due to the high costs of their travel and the fact that a great deal of the micro travel shots are taken by photographers that live in the location. Travel stock is no longer primarily shot by North American and Western Europeans. Additionally when you live in a location, you have the luxury of shooting only when the conditions are optimum and have no hotel or transportation costs.

  • Gildo nicolo Spadoni Posted Apr 5, 2011
    Just got a big check $24 from Corbis from my travel stock images for jan/feb
    woopee !

  • stephen simpson Posted Apr 11, 2011
    "One of the great advantages that microstock offers is that anyone can tell exactly how well any particular subject has been selling" . . . how exactly can I do this?

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Jun 14, 2011
    Stephen: Probably the best source of information is iStockphoto. Go to the site and search on any subject. Sort by "downloads". The search returns will be organized by the number of times each image has been downloaded with the image most in demand first. Open the preview of any image and the date the image was uploaded to the site and the total number of times it has been downloaded (purchased) will be listed. Actually it will be listed as greater than a round number so if the number given is 200 the actual number will be something between 200 and 300 downloads. If you search for "people" you will discover that the first image has been downloaded more than 20,000 times, but lest than 21,000. Wouldn't you like to own that image? Photographers can get some very useful information by doing this type of research. Two other sites that offer similar information, but many fewer downloads are Fotolia.com and Dreamstime.com.

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