Top 5 Industry Leaders

Posted on 1/15/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

I was recently asked to name the 5 biggest companies in the stock photo industry and the percentage of total industry turnover they represent.

Based on statistics from 2011 that were released in late 2012, I published a story in early 2013 that estimated the gross industry revenue worldwide for still photos and illustrations at about $1.524 billion. Add about another $400 million for stock footage and you get in the neighborhood of $2 billion.

There has been very little change in the overall market size in the last two years. Some companies have seen growth while others have seen decline, or gone out of business.

What may surprise many are the names of the top 5 and how the list has changed in the last few years. In 2008 I listed the top 5 in order as: Getty Images, Corbis, JupiterImages, Associated Press and Amana. (See here.)

Today the top 5 include:

  Still photos Footage Total
Getty $815 $75 $890
Shutterstock $210 $15 $225
Corbis $150 $30 $180
Fotolia $87   $87
Dreamstime $50   $50
  $1312 $120 $1432
* The figures are in millions of dollars.

The Getty numbers are based on reports from Moody’s and information supplied by debt investors.

The figures for Shutterstock are based on the company’s third quarter report and their estimate for the year.

The Corbis numbers are based on data supplied in 2006, comments by CEO, Gary Shenk at the end of 2008, and reports from many Corbis contributors about how sales have been going in the last few years.
It should also be noted that Corbis has a big "rights clearance" division that should be counted separately from image licensing.
The gross revenue for Fotolia comes from a Moody’s report in December.

The figure for Dreamstime is an estimate based on reports from many photographers on how that company ranks relative to Fotolia and the rest of the suppliers in the microstock industry. This figure could be low.

Rise of Microstock

One of the most interesting things about this list is that three of the top five distributors are exclusively engaged in the licensing of images at microstock prices. About 60% of Shutterstock’s revenue comes from Subscriptions that entitle the purchaser to up to 25 images a day. The bulk of the rest of their revenue comes images licensed on a per-image basis at fees that range from about $9.00 to $15.00. Keeping in mind that about $300 million of Getty’s revenue comes from iStock and their Thinkstock subscription service, over $750 million of the industry’s total revenue comes from microstock and subscription sales.

In addition, in order to hang onto their customers and compete with microstock Getty and Corbis have been forced, over the last few years, to dramatically cut their prices for RM and traditionally priced RF images. Often it is possible for Getty’s good customers to license Rights Managed images for fees that are less than those charged by many microstock distributors.

The microstock business has been growing at a significant rate in the last few years. Customers are using more images, but they are able to get the images they need for much less than what they had to pay a few years ago. Consequently, the gross revenue generated by the industry is certainly not going up and may be on track to decline.

Some microstock companies are raising prices, but as they do they are being undercut by small startups still offering low prices and by subscription offerings that license images for around $2.00 per image downloaded.

Can The Industry Be So Small?

Some will argue that given the huge number of agencies and libraries engaged in the licensing of stock images (the Global Stock Image Market Research Group identified 2439 organizations) certainly the top 5 couldn’t generate 75% of all the revenue. The combined sales of all the rest must be more than $500 million.

A huge percentage of the images licensed by Getty and Corbis are supplied by many of the smaller agencies and libraries. Getty and Corbis keep up to 80% of the fee paid and remit the rest to the smaller supplier. That supplier then shares what it received with the actual image creator.

There are other smaller distributors that offer a higher royalty shares, but in most cases the gross turnover for these companies is much lower than the big 5. And many of these small distributors represent images that they get from even smaller distributors, not directly from the creator. Consequently, their can often be two or three cuts of the same unit sale and portions of that revenue appear on all the company’s books as part of their turnover.

If it were possible to total the reported gross revenue of all the companies engaged in the licensing of stock photos it would certainly be much higher than $2 billion. But there would be significant double counting of much of that money. No one has any hard data on what this gross figure might be. All we can do is make educated guesses.

Copyright © 2014 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:  


  • Sean Prior Posted Jan 15, 2014
    I think if you do some more research you will find that you may be underestimating the market. There is hard data! Dig deeper and you may find it!

  • Tim McGuire Posted Jan 18, 2014
    I'd wonder how many more (or less) images are licensed per year to generate the estimated revenues in 2013 vs # of images licensed in 2008 or before and how those numbers break down as average revenue /image licensed. It would also be interesting to know what that amounted to as far as revenue to creator vs distributor/agency.

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