When talking about microstock, most traditional stock photographers like to say, “You can never make money selling pictures for $1.00!” The data from Selling Stock’s recent survey and other available industry information tends to explode that myth.
In any industry, there will always be a Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Tom Grill, Yuri Arcurs or Lise Gagne. While we should celebrate their accomplishments, most people need to be careful in judging what is possible based on the success of market leaders.
One of the Selling Stock survey’s 20 responding microstock shooters reported uncharacteristically high revenues; his numbers were excluded when calculating averages. The combined gross photography income of the remaining 19 microstock shooters was $590,695. Their total stock income was $480,458. While 13 earned almost all of their income from microstock, 6 only attributed a very small fraction of their total stock income to microstock.
There were four microstock photographers with gross revenues of more than $70,000; four had sales of less than $2,000; and the remaining 12 fell between these figures. The average microstock income was $25,287. However, this figure is higher than 38% of non-microstock shooters earned.
Other interesting figures come from iStockphoto. Photographer Duncan Walker publishes a running total of photographers who have achieved diamond status and have had more than 25,000 iStock downloads: there are 267 to date. The median photographer in this group has just over 50,000 downloads, and Lise Gagne has over 754,000. (Walker’s Web site is worth examining. Not only is it possible to see each photographer’s total downloads, there are also links to individual portfolios that show the types of images in demand and the number of downloads for each.)
Getty Images’ public records for 2006 and 2007 suggest that iStock has had more than 52 million downloads since 2005. Over 18.2 million of the 52 million downloads were of images belonging to these 267 photographers.
Today’s average microstock licensing fee is $4 to $5—not $1. While still not great by traditional stock standards, the volume makes up for the low price for some photographers.
Many microstock photographers are not doing nearly as well as iStock’s 267 diamond-level contributors. There are several hundred who have significant numbers of downloads—between a few thousand and 25,000—but the vast majority are not making many sales at all.
iStock represents the work of over 60,000 photographers, with an average portfolio of 60 images. Almost 58,000 have had a combined total of less than 34 million downloads since the beginning of 2005, averaging 570 downloads each. Well above 95% of iStock photographers are probably not earning very much—and in most cases, photographers are not doing as well with other microstock portals as with iStock.