The first thing to consider when reviewing the results of the Selling Stock income survey is the degree to which these figures represent the total community of individual stock-image producers.
In May 2007, Selling Stock estimated annual still-image revenues at approximately $1.8 billion, and the industry has probably declined since. Most images were licensed by agencies, though some producers went direct to customer and kept 100% of the licensing fee. Taking both possibilities into account, the average photographer’s share can be estimated in the range of 40% to 55%: $720 million to $1 billion. Thus, $20 million in stock-licensing revenues reported by this survey’s respondents could represent a 2% to 2.5% market sample.
This would mean there were fewer than 11,000 photographers worldwide shooting stock—but that is not correct. Shutterstock alone has images from 122,000 photographers. Given the number of other microstock Web sites and the overlap of contributors among them, it stands to reason that 175,000 and 200,000 photographers make occasional sales of their images.
The apparent conflict between the average stock income of nearly six figures and the total number of photographers suggests two possibilities: Either the total revenue generated from stock-photo sales is much higher than the $1.8 billion estimate, or the revenue earned by Selling Stock survey respondents is much higher than industry averages. Since some of the world’s top producers are among those who responded, it is more likely that the survey represents the most successful stock photographers—not the average.
Those who made no income from stock represented 10% of respondents and less than 7% of reported revenues. Their average gross income was $56,974, much lower than the $91,263 average for those who produced stock. These figures are likely not representative of an average non-stock freelancer, as the sample is a very small part of the total photographic community and does not include the world’s top producers as does the stock-only group of respondents.