iStockphoto Sales History

Posted on 10/9/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The numbers in the chart below are a rough estimate of iStockphoto sales and revenue growth since the company was acquired by Getty Images in early 2006. The figures for the years 2006 and 2007 are reasonably accurate because Getty Images was a public company during this period and reporting a great deal of detail about their operations. After the company went private in early 2008 it became more difficult to accurately estimate downloads and revenue.

In early 2009 we began tracking the sales of some of iStock’s leading photographers which has been useful in calculating trends in gross units licensed and revenue.

iStock Sales     Average PPI
  Downloads Gross Revenue downloaded
2005 4 million $5 to $8 million  
2006 10 million $28 million $2.80
2007 17.55 million $72 million $4.10
2008 25 million $163 million $6.50
2009 25 to 29 million $200 million $6.50

S Since the price per download hasn't changed between 2008 and 2009 the increased revenue would seen to indicate that there is still growth in the number of units licensed. However, the $6.50 average PPI download price is for still photo sales only. The prices for vectors, illustrations, video, audio and the high priced Vetta collection are all higher. Increased sales of these items could explain an overall increase in gross revenue while the number of units licensed is flat or declining.

Among the other reasons for the declines these photographers are experiencing could be:
  • the economy (but according to a recently published Graphic Design USA survey designers (the high end microstock customers) are using microstock more and more in these challenging times to keep their costs down.
  • New iStock photographers could be taking share from those who are more experienced.
  • Other competitors could be taking market share from iStock.
  • There are no new customers.
  • The product has become too expensive for some of the old customers, despite the fact that it still seems cheap to producers.
It is important to recognize that iStock has more than 80,000 contributors. Those on this list are among the ones with the most total downloads historically, but they are only a very small fraction of total suppliers. Some of the ones at the bottom of this list may have sold more images in the past, but for one reason or another have stopped adding to the collection. All have had at least 63,000 total downloads in their iStock careers. There may be a few others with fewer total downloads, but who are adding new work aggressive, and thus will have earning higher than some on this list.

Thompson makes many points in his article are good advice and Yes, a few people earn significant money from microstock. But be realistic as to your earning potential. Also keep in mind that these earning figures do not take into account any productions costs. For some of the top earners production costs are significant. For most photographers it may be better to think of microstock as supplemental income rather than a sole source. Even then the photographer may find it necessary to invest more energy and financial resources than initially anticipated in order to realize a reasonable return.

Copyright © 2009 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:  


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