Stock Photo Market Size In 2011

Posted on 11/7/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Since Getty Images went went private at the end of 2007 and Alamy stopped providing quarterly figures at the end of 2009 it has become very difficult to estimate the size of the stock photo market worldwide. Now, I must rely to a great extent on anecdotal information from image creators, stock agencies and distributors and extrapolate from the trends they report. On the microstock side of the business trends are a little clearer. Through iStockcharts, and occasional releases by iStockphoto, I believe it is possible to draw some fairly accurate conclusions about what is happening from a revenue point of view at that company. By comparing that information with sales reports of individual contributors on various blogs it is possible to draw some conclusion about the microstock industry as a whole.

In 2008 I had been estimating for several years that worldwide stock photo revenue for still images and illustration was about $1.8 billion annually. (This figure does not include video or any of the other non-image licensing activities in which many of the major companies in the industry are involved.) When the recession hit there was a dramatic decline in revenue in all sectors of the market. I estimated that revenue was down at least 20% by the end of 2009 bringing the estimated size of the market to about $1.45 billion. While the market has stabilized at that level I don’t think there has been any significant improvement since that time.

Some companies, particularly in the microstock sector have been seeing growth, but in the traditional licensing arena there has been continued consolidation as smaller companies are bought out by larger ones and a number of companies have gone out of business. Most of the surviving companies have learned how to live on less revenue by cutting costs. All in all, I believe the gains that microstock has seen have been offset by loses in the traditional market.

While microstock revenue has grown in the last couple of years, it has been mostly due to price increases and not due the an increased number of images licensed. In fact, I believe iStockphoto has seen a decline of 10% to 15% in the number of images licensed annually over the last couple of years, but revenue continues to grow due to much greater price increases. I estimate that for 2011 the combined revenue of all the microstock and subscription sales companies will be in the range of $500 million.

Meanwhile average prices for traditional RF and RM licenses have been declining as the companies using these licensing models fight to compete with microstock and maintain their customer base. The steadily improving quality and variety of the microstock collections have made it much easier for customers to find the imagery they need in these collections and at these price points.

I estimate that in 2011 there will be between 1 million and 1.5 million images licensed as RM worldwide; 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.

While the market for images grew dramatically between 2005 and 2009 due to the Internet and the introduction of microstock, I believe that by the end of 2009 the overall  number of images licensed reached a plateau and was relatively stable in 2010 and 2011. I expect that plateau to continue. Some argue that imagery is being used in more and more ways and overall demand is still growing. That may be true, but I believe the increased demand is being fulfilled by free imagery and imagery that those who might be potential customers create themselves, and not by imagery they are willing to pay anything to use.

The following is roughly the way I think the revenue breaks down based on type of use.

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, but now we are dealing with lower overall numbers. 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  

Also See: 2011 Market Size: Additional Information

Copyright © 2011 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:  


  • Tong Jiang Posted May 17, 2012

  • Tong Jiang Posted May 17, 2012

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