Microstock Trends -- February 2012

Posted on 2/10/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (5)

This article provides a selection of stories that will help the reader better understand microstock photography and the state of the market for images at microstock prices at the beginning of 2012. Some of the stories in this list were written as much as two years ago, but provide background on the subject.

Average Return From iStockphoto

First thing everyone wants to know about microstock is how much the average person earns licensing images at these prices. This story provides some statistics. The story also deals with the misconception that in order to have high earnings in microstock it is necessary to have a huge number of images in the collections.

Return Per Image From Microstock

Most photographers considering marketing their images as microstock want to know what they can expect in the way of return-per-image (RPI) from their accepted images. The question is impossible to answer because so many variables are involved. However, by extrapolating from the data we have gathered over more than 2 years on 195 of the top selling iStockphoto photographers we get an interesting picture of the range of possibilities.

iStockphoto 2012: Semi-Annual Analysis

Our semi-annual analysis of iStockphoto sales has once again produced interesting results. As of January 2, 1012 istockcharts was tracking the sales of 38,163 of the more than 100,000 iStock contributors. More than 90% of the images in the iStock collection belong to this group of contributor. Combined these contributors have had a minimum of 114,875,519+ downloads since each started working with iStock. During 2011 alone a minimum of 18,615,558+ images (and probably about 21.5 million) were licensed for use.

Stock Photo Market Size In 2011

Since Getty Images went went private at the end of 2007 and Alamy stopped providing quarterly figures at the end of 2009 it has become very difficult to estimate the size of the stock photo market worldwide. This article is an update of my previous articles and provides an overview of the amount of revenue being generated in each segment of the business today.

2011 Market Size: Additional Information

After reading Stock Photo Market Size In 2011 Tom Zimberoff asked several question that need a more detailed response. This story explains why growing microstock revenue does not mean that a growing number of microstock images are being used.

Stock Photo Market Size: 2010

This story provides estimates of the size of the stock photo market near the end of 2010. Given the paucity of hard data all I can do is estimate based on previous data and a significant number of conversation during the past year with image suppliers and distributors.

4.2 Million Stock Photo Customers Use Dreamstime

The microstock company Dreamstime has announced that it saw consistent strong growth throughout 2011. Since 2007, Dreamstime’s customer base has grown from 350,000 to the more than 4.2 million customers. With this rapid growth, Dreamstime has positioned itself as a supplier of high quality digital images to the second largest community of registered stock image users. (It is believed that Shutterstock has the largest community of image users.)

Average Return From iStockphoto

First thing everyone wants to know about microstock is how much the average person earns licensing images at these prices. This story provides some statistics. The story also deals with the misconception that in order to have high earnings in microstock it is necessary to have a huge number of images in the collections.

Making Photography A Career: Run Your Numbers

Many who enjoy photography and have had some success at licensing rights to their images dream of quitting their "day job" giving up a regular pay check and taking pictures full time. This story offers a few things to think about that apply both to photographers who hope to do commercial assignments and those who want to license rights to stock images.

Numbers To Think About

In a little over a year the number of images represented by the top four microstock sites has increased by 41%. Fotolia has had a 59% increase. The number of people contributing images to Shutterstock has grown by 37% and now totals 313,393. This wouldn't be bad if demand were growing at the same rate, but it's not. Demand seems to be relatively flat and at iStockphoto seems to be declining. How will these numbers affect everyone who produces stock images? Read more.

iStockphotos Photos+

After lowering royalty rates for non-exclusive contributors in January, iStockphoto introduced a new strategy in early May that made it possible for non-exclusive contributors to offer a portion of their images at higher prices. Non-exclusive contributors are now allowed to nominate up to 15% of their total portfolios for inclusion in the Photos+ brand.

iStockphotos Update: Examining Microstock Trends

In 2009 I started to use http://istockcharts.multimedia.de/ to track about 196 of the top 250 sellers on iStockphoto. While figures for the other 54 of the 250 contributors were available, their names were not. Consequently I left them out of my research. iStock has over 100,000 contributors, but it is believed that well over 90% of the images in the collection and well over 90% of the total downloads belong to the 37,085 contributors whose information is available on iStockcharts.

Other Microstock Distributors Pick Up Sales As iStock Prices Rise

There are strong indications that iStock's introduction of higher priced brands has resulted in the company licensing fewer images. In addition many of its customers seem to be turning away from iStock and goint to other microstock sites to purchase the images they need. One non-exclusive photographer with many best selling recreation images on both iStock and Shutterstock reports that his images on Shutterstock are now outselling those on iStock by 3 to 1 while a year ago the reverse was true. Other photographers confirm this trend.

iStock Launches Vetta Video

iStockphoto has announced the launch of its premium-quality Vetta video collection with clip prices that range from 55 to 150 credits (credit prices vary from $0.99 to $1.54 depending on the size of the credit package purchased). Currently there are over 300,000 video clips on iStock, but only a few thousand of the best are in the Vetta collection. However, it is expected that the Vetta collection will grow rapidly. Approximately 5,000 videographers have contributed clips to iStock.

iStock Listens To Videographers

In early March Selling-Stock reported that many of iStockphoto's most experienced videographers were very upset with the proposed royalty share for iStock new Vetta collection. At least 25 of the most productive contributors with a combined total of about 45,000 clips decided not to participate in Vetta. Most concluded they were likely to earn more if their clips were licensed at the lower Exclusive prices because they would continue to receive a higher royalty rate. It is also expected that clips available at the lower Exclusive prices will sell more frequently than those at the higher Vetta prices. Illustrators who produce Vector art were faced with the same problem.

iStockphoto July 2010

The following material was compiled from iStockcharts.multimedia.de and shows the sales of 198 of iStockphoto’s top contributors in the 14 months between May 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010. (I’ll use the word “contributor” instead of “photographer” because a significant number or the top sellers are illustrators or graphic designers selling illustration, not photography).

Microstock Income Potential – 2010 Figures

This chart is designed to give the reader an understanding of the number of times images belonging to some of the top microstock photographers at iStockphoto are licensed in a given year and what that can mean in terms of gross revenue.

iStock Price Increases

iStockphoto has introduced its new round of price increases for 2011. For those in the macro world (RM and traditional RF) who like to argue that it is impossible to make money selling images on a microstock site it may be time to take another look at what iStock is doing.

Exclusive Representation For Microstock Photographers

2011 may be the year when the stock photo industry returns to the idea of exclusive representation -- specifically, being exclusive with a microstock agency. For many year the widely held belief has been that the way to maximize returns was to get your images represented by many distributors. Now, iStockphoto’s has developed an exclusive strategy that may bring about a change in this way of thinking. While there are several downsides for image producers to the iStock strategy, the upsides may more that compensate for the difficulties.

iStock First To Market With Localized Search

iStockphoto has been working on a way to use language and country data to deliver more locally relevant results since last year. On Monday, the Getty Images-owned microstock leader delivered on this promise. The company also launched a new editorial product offering.

iStockphoto: Calculating Based On Number Of Credits vs. Value Disadvantages Some Contributors

I asked iStockphoto’s COO Kelly Thompson for clarification about why they chose to base the “redeemed credits” on the number of credits downloaded rather than the value of the credits?

Microstock Plateau: July 2010

A 14-month review of data from the leading microstock supports the theory of the fastest-growing industry segment having reached a plateau, with flat unit sales and revenue growth resulting from price increases. The top 198 iStock contributors currently have a combined total of 567,324 images, or about 5.2% of the total collection. In the past six months the collection of this group has grown by an average of more than 10% per contributor with a total of 52,449 images added. Images belonging to these contributors represent 29% of total downloads in the last 14 months.

iStockphoto First Quarter 2010

In January we published an analysis of the units licensed in 2009 by a group of iStockphoto’s most successful contributors and asked the question "Has Microstock Reached a Plateau?"  The first quarter 2010 results seem to confirm this is the case. As a baseline, on June 1, 2009 we did a count of the total number of images licensed in May 2009 by a group of 196 out of the 250 top selling iStock contributors. (Information on some of the top 250 was not available.) There were 442,533 images licensed by this group in that month. Average monthly sales were up only 5% by the end of 2009, but they were down 1% to only 3.9% by the end of March 2010. See the full analysis and the implications for the future.

Top iStockphoto Contributors: 2009 Sales

This chart provides information for 198 of the leading contributors to iStockphoto. It shows the total number of downloads each photographer had as of May 1, 2009 and the minimum and maximum number of downloads the photographer had on December 31, 2009. We were unable to report exact figures for the period May through December because iStockphoto changed its reporting policy in June to only supply a greater than number that indicated the downloads were in a certain range. Using this data and interpolating for the first four missing months in the data we were able to make an estimate of the number of downloads each photographer had in 2009.

iStockphoto Celebrates Five Years Of Delivering Stock Video

iStockphoto is celebrating completion of its fifth year in the stock video business.
Reduced advertising budgets and the explosive demand for online video content have allowed the stock video industry to evolve at a highly accelerated pace. iStockphoto’s video library contains nearly 400,000 files from more than 6,500 videographers. These videographers are adding roughly 2,500 files per week.

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 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.  


  • Jose Gomez Moreno Posted Apr 8, 2012

  • landwehrle@gmail.com landwehrle@gmail.com landwehrle@gmail.com Posted Apr 11, 2012

  • John Gannon Posted May 17, 2012

  • Tong Jiang Posted May 17, 2012

  • Tom Dean Posted May 25, 2012

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff