Stock Photo Market Statistics

Posted on 3/29/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

I’m regularly asked for information about the size of the market. This story contains a quick summary of some of the important industry statistics as well as links to related stories where I expand on these numbers.

Market Size

At the end of 2011, I estimated the size of the market for still photos and illustrations at $1.445 billion. This figure does not include video and footage sales. In 2008 and early 2009 as a result of the recession the market overall experienced about a 20% decline from its previous level. The increased availability of imagery at much lower price points also had an effect. In the last three years revenue has remained relatively flat at the new level. My estimates for each segment of the market are as follows:

Imagery Use Revenue
Commercial RM $205
Commercial RF $175
Microstock $425
Commercial Subscription $75
Editorial News & Internet $300
Editorial Books $265
         Total $1,445

As to market share for various parts of the world I think the relative proportional shares are much the same as they were in 2008. Here’s how I think that might break down now.

  Commercial Editorial Total Percent
Americas $438 $154 $592 41%
Europe and Middle East $340 $368 $708 49%
Asia Pacific $102 $43 $145 10%
$880 $565 $1,445  

Recent information indicates that suppliers in all segments of the market may be seeing the beginnings of some growth. In particular, based on new information I believe the combined microstock and commercial subscription segments of the market (not counting video) may now be in the range of $575 million which would raise the overall market to something in the range of $1.52 billion.

For more details see:

In 2007 Goldman Sacks estimated that Creative Stills (RM and traditional RF) sales would decline from $561 million to $348 million by 2012. This was before the recession. In 2007 Getty’s gross editorial sales were $138 million and projected to go to $289 million by 2012.

Getty Images Revenue and Estimates (in millions)
2007 2008 2012
Creative Stills $560.94 $461.00 $348.00
Editorial $138.34 $180.00 $289.00
iStockphoto $72.00 $122.00 $262.00
Footage & multimedia $42.88 $47.00 $83.00
Other $43.44 $77.00 $159.00
B2B music $14.00 $46.00
Total $857.60 $901.00 $1,187.00

For more details see:


Consider the following number of images in microstock collections as of 9/5/2011.

  7/30/2010 9/5/2011
Shutterstock 11,332,581 16,000,000+
Fotolia 9,056,403 14,400,000+
Dreamstime 8,556,710 11,000,000+
iStockphoto 6,837,000 9,000,000 +
  35,782,694 50,400,000+

In a little over a year these four sites have increased the number of images they represent by 41%. Granted, in many cases the same images may appear on all of these sites so the real growth in unique images may not be quite so large. But the percent growth on Shutterstock alone is 41% and the growth on Fotolia is 59%!

Where do all these microstock image creators come from? A year ago Shutterstock had 230,299 image contributors. Today they have 316,393, a 37% increase in contributors. Based on my estimates of Shutterstock’s total annual downloaded, I would estimate that each contributor receives about 2.2 downloads annually per image on file. A few get a lot more. Many get a lot less. Shutterstock says photographers can earn from $0.25 to $28.00 per download – but the vast majority of sales are much closer to the $0.25 than the other number.

Dreamstime has 120,000 contributing photographers and iStockphoto 110,000. Something in the range of 6,000 of iStock photographers are exclusive with iStock. Most of the rest probably have their images on several sites. I estimate that there are at least 375,000 unique individuals worldwide contributing images to one or more stock photo sites. This includes the RM and traditional RF sites. And the number is growing rapidly. Where do all these images come from?

Another thing to keep in mind is that 30% of the top 100 best selling artists on iStock photo list themselves as illustrators of designers. A large percentage of the suppliers of images on mirostock sites are also microstock customers. If they become dissatisfied with one site they may move their purchasing activities to another site.

For more details see:

IStock Revenue For 6 Years.

  Downolads Revenue
2005 4 million  
2006 10 million  
2007 17.25 million $72 million
2008 25 million $163 million
2010 23 million $300 million
2011 21.5 million $350 million

In September 2010 I estimated that total gross revenue generated from the sale of microstock images in 2010 will be between $400 and $500 million—let’s say $450 million. There may be 25 million unique images being licensed as microstock, because most images are represented on multiple sites. This would mean that the average annual income per image would be about $18. Assuming the photographer gets 20%, he would earn about $3.60 per image on file.

The gross 2010 revenue from the licensing of creative rights-managed images in the Getty Images collection is unlikely to reach $174 million, probably falling short by quite a bit. (These calculations do not consider editorial images.) On average, 35%—or $60.9 million—will be paid out in royalties to photographers. Getty has about 2 million creative rights-managed images, which would mean photographers are averaging $30 per image on file. But this is Getty, the world’s number one licensor of rights-managed imagery. What about all the photographers not represented by Getty?
At Alamy, 2009 gross sales were just under $23 million and probably have not increased much in 2010. The company currently has more than 20 million images in its collectionm including both rights-managed and royalty-free imagery. The average per image is just a little over $1, and photographers receive 60% of that. Of the 20 million images, Alamy licenses rights to less than 200,000 in a year, so the vast majority of images actually earn nothing.
For more information see:

Number of Images Licensed

I estimate that in 2011 worldwide there will be between 1 million and 1.5 million images licensed as RM; around 3 million at traditional RF prices and over 100 million at microstock prices. In 2007 I estimated that around 3% of the images were licensed as RM. Today that percentage is between 1% and 1.5% of all images licensed and declining. Microstock prices in 2007 were significantly lower than they are today.

For more details see:

Royalty Shares

In most cases the selling distributor retains 50% to 80% of the gross amount paid by the customer. If the image is licensed as RM the selling distributor’s share is usually 50% to 60% of the gross amount paid. For RF images the selling distributor’s share of the gross fee paid is most commonly 80% and sometimes 70%.

Increasingly, the contributor’s primary agency makes a high percentage of sales through distributors who consolidate the work of many agencies. These primary agencies are often referred to as “image partners.” At least 200 of the brands, representing about half the total images in the Creative collection of, are “image partner” brands. Alamy distributes the work of 570 agencies.

In these cases the creator’s share is a percentage of what the prime agency receives. Thus, if the gross license fee paid by the customer was $100 the prime agency will receive between $20 and $50 from the selling distributor and the image creator will receive between 20% and 50% of those numbers. It is not uncommon for the creator to receive $4 from a $100 sale to a customer of an RF image. Even when the image is licensed as RM the creator may receive significantly less than $20 for a $100 gross sale.

For more details see:

Return per Image At Getty

September 2007

Average RPI
Year Rights Managed Royalty Free Combined RM & RF
2003 $775.29 $652.58 $732.87
2004 $673.54 $634.63 $659.25
2005 $413.19 $558.02 $464.13
2006 $332.83 $319.73 $327.00
2007 $270.37 $332.98 $298.59
Number of Images
Year RM RF Combined RM & RF
2003 346,091 189,523 535,614
2004 434,346 252,161 686,507
2005 751,495 404,016 1,155,51
2006 973,933 787,281 1,767,214
2007 1,174,692 964,227 2,138,919

In November 2003 I began tracking Getty Images return-per-image by dividing the total number of RM and RF images into the total revenue generated in the previous four quarters. I was able to track these figures through 2007 during the period when Getty was a public company and reporting its figures quarterly. Based on sales figures reported by photographers, I have every reason to believe that Gettys RPI has continued to decline over the last four years.

While Getty’s gross revenue from still image licensing grew by about 50% during the period outlined in the chart it did not grow nearly as fast as the number of images added to the collection. As a result image suppliers have found that they have to produce more and more images each year just to stay even.

Today, Getty has 4,772,920 images in its Creative Collection. If the gross revenue generated by the collection is $348 million as Goldman Sacks predicted the average gross annual revenue generated for an image in the collection would be $72.91.

For more details see:

Asian Market

Sandeep Mahewari estimates the size of the Indian market in 2010 at about $14 million and projects that sales will reach $20 million by the end of 2011. He says that in 2006 the entire market for stock in India generated only about $5 million.

Moving to China Daphne Fu estimates that the market for Commercial Images was about $30 million in 2010. This is up from an estimated $20 in 2006

There over 100,000 advertising companies in China and over 200,000 companies engaged in publishing. It is also estimated that there are 30 million small and medium companies that need pictures from time to time.   For Panorama the average price for an RM license is about $150, down from $183 a couple years ago. For an RF license the average is about $250 down from $300.

Daniel Kang estimates the market for stock images in Korea at $36 million a year with $30 million of that for traditional stock and $6 million for Microstock. In Korea 70% of the market is for overseas content and 30% for content that is locally produced.

Mr. Yoshimoto estimated that in 2010 total revenue for all companies licensing rights to stock images in Japan was in the range of $100 to $125 million.

For more details see:

Newspaper Revenue

(April 6, 2011) - In newspaper publishing revenue in 2010 was $40.726 billion, but had declined 35.9 percent from 2000 to 2010 and is projected to decline another 18.8 percent by 2016. Between 2010 and 2016  it is projected that 1,078 establishments will close.

Photo finishing was a $1.603 billion market in 2010. It declined 69.1 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is projected to decline another 39.1 percent by 2016 with 2359 establishment projected to close between 2010 and 2016. Over the last ten years almost 60 percent of Photofinishers have closed spelling tough times for previous industry leaders Kodak and Fuji Film.

Video Postproduction was a $4.276 billion business in 2010 down 24.9 percent from where it was in 2000 and it is expected to decline another 10.7 percent by 2016. In 2010 there were 1,789 establishment and 676 of those are expected to close by 2016.

Of the 10 chosen industries that are dying, Wired Telecommunication Carriers is by far the largest, at $154.0 billion in turnover. While this number may sound sizeable, it’s considerably smaller than the $341.8 billion at the end of 2000. Since then, this industry has declined in every year, and it is now close to 55 percent smaller than it was at its peak; with an additional decline of 37.1 percent expected in the next six years.

For more details see:

Customer Buying Behavior

2010 Graphic Design USA Survey
Designers are being asked to do more with less and microstock sites are used by 67% of respondents. This number is up from 21% in 2005. In addition 60% use subscription sites. The volume of use has increased dramatically with 54% of respondents using stock imagery more than 20 times a year. This is nearly triple the number who used stock imagery that frequently a decade ago. Even more stunning 20% reported that they used stock more than 100 times in the year.

Ninety-five percent of the 1,139 designers responding to the survey use Royalty Free stock in their work, and this was up from 64% in 1990. Seventy-one percent said they use stock images for Internet projects and 83% use them for print.

Only 41% of respondents use Rights Managed images and 37% use both Rights Managed and Royalty Free. Sixty-seven percent of designers spend more total dollars on royalty free images than on rights managed,

For more details see:

2011 Graphic Design USA Survey
Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) has released some of the results from its 25th annual survey of graphic designers to determine their use of stock imagery. A total of 1,008 readers responded to the survey with 96 percent saying they use stock imagery in their work and 60 percent using it at least 20 times a year. Both represent new highs for the survey.

However, 81% of respondents said they actually spend more of their total budgets purchasing royalty free imagery than rights managed; another 13% said the amount spent on both licensing models is about the same. Only 6% said they spend more purchasing rights managed images than they spend on royalty free.
    Designers use multiple stock sites
    •      Use only one – 11%
    •      Use 2-3 – 47%
    •      Use 4-9 – 31%
    •      Use 10 or more – 11%
    Top 5 categories of images used most often
    •      People
    •      Business/industry
    •      Lifestyle
    •      Abstracts/backgrounds/concepts
    •      Food and Beverage

For more details see:

Cutcaster Survey

In a Cutcaster survey over one-quarter (25.3%) of the respondents were in the book, magazine and newspaper publishing business. The Cutcaster data indicated that a majority of these publishers purchase images 50 or more times per year and pay on average $101 to $250 per images. In a few cases they pay more, but seldom less.

For more details see:

What Can Photographers Earm

According to PayScale ( August 2010 data, staff photographers should consider themselves lucky if they break $40,000 some time in their forties, after having 20 or so years of experience. PayScale estimates that commercial photographers working in the United States earn $30,429 to $55,975 and still photographers—$26,275 to $49,280. currently puts ( the median expected salary for a typical U.S. photographer at $54,474. The top 25% of the field may exceed $63,000 per annum.
U.S. Department of Labor Statistics told a similar story in 2008: Median annual wages of salaried photographers ( were $29,440, with the top 10% of photographers reporting over $62,000 in income. Two years ago, the Government calculated a total of 152,000 photographer jobs, with more than half self-employed. Contrary to popular belief, the Department of Labor says that at the end of the day, freelancers tend to earn less than staffers due to the high cost of doing business.

Business Planning For Photographers

As a business planning exercise, I urge every photographer to look at their total stock revenue for 2005 and divide that number by the total number of images licensed in that year. Then compare that number with revenue and images licensed in 2010. Revenue may be going up and total number of images licensed may be going up because the photographer has been producing more aggressively, but what is important is to be aware of is the average return-per-image-licensed (transactions) and the trends.

The charts below illustrate how distributors are able to retain their operating revenue and profit margin when they are forced to reduce prices. They do this by lowering the photographer royalty share. It also shows how unprofitable the business can become for the photographer as his royalty declines.

Average Distributor Photographer     Percent
License Fee Royalty Royalty Distributor Photographer Photog Rev.
For Image Percentage Percentage Share Share Decline
$150.00 50% 50% $75.00 $75.00  
$125.00 60% 40% $75.00 $50.00 33%
$115.40 65% 35% $75.01 $40.39 19%
$107.20 70% 30% $75.04 $32.16 20%
$93.75 80% 20% $75.00 $18.75 41%
$88.25 85% 15% $75.01 $13.24 29%
$450.00 50% 50% $225.00 $225.00  
$375.00 60% 40% $225.00 $150.00 33%
$346.00 65% 35% $224.90 $121.10 19%
$321.50 70% 30% $225.05 $96.45 20%
$281.25 80% 20% $225.00 $56.25 41%
$264.70 85% 15% $225.00 $39.70 29%

For more details see:

Photographer Royalties

I have figures from a Getty Images' photographer for whom Getty licensed over 1,000 RM and RF images in the first six months of 2010. This photographer has been told that he is among Getty’s top 50 earners. The average gross sale price for RM licenses was $343.24 and he received about 35% for an average or $119.90 per image. Only 3% of the RM sales were for prices over $1,000 and none of them were for more than $3,000.

The average gross sale price for his RF images was $166.86 and the average the photographer received was $38.12. However he had almost 2.5 times the number of RF licenses as he had RM. Consequently, he earned close to the same amount for his RF sales as for those that were RM due to the higher volume of sales of the RF product, and despite the lower royalty share.

Thus, if this photographer’s numbers are representative, and we believe they are, the average prices Getty charges for uses have dropped by about 1/3 in two-and-a-half years.

For more details see:

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, 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:  


  • Jose Gomez Moreno Posted Apr 8, 2012

  • Jose Gomez Moreno Posted Apr 8, 2012

  • Jose Gomez Moreno Posted Apr 8, 2012

  • Stephan Bleek Posted May 24, 2012

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