Stock Photo Business Size: 2010

Posted on 8/26/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In the fall of 2009, I estimated the size of the worldwide market for still images and illustrations at about $1.45 billion. In the last 12 months, overall sales have probably remained about the same, with a few companies seeing sales growth, mostly from taking market share from those that have gone out of business.

It should be noted that this figure is for still image and illustration sales only and does not include revenue from footage, rights clearance, music, assignment photography, data base management or any of the other lines of business in which many of the major image sellers engage.

There have been some important changes in how those sales are divided among various marketing groups. I estimate that due to price increases, gross revenue generated by iStockphoto in 2010 will be between $250 and $300 million. Without giving exact figures, iStock executives had said they expected its 2009 revenue to exceed $200 million. Based on the analysis of sales made by some of iStock’s leading photographers, I do not think there has been much growth in the number of images licensed, but the rise in the average price per image has been significant. This average is up between 500% and 800% since the beginning of 2006—and all microstock sellers continue pushing prices steadily upward.

When Getty Images was about to go private at the end of 2007, Goldman Sachs disclosed that the company’s 2007 creative stills revenue was just under $561 million. Half of it came from rights-managed images, and the other half from traditionally priced royalty-free content, excluding iStockphoto. Goldman Sachs estimated that by 2012, this total would decline to $348 million. This estimate was made before the recession. Based on what has happened to photographer royalties in the last 1.5 years, I believe Getty’s creative stills revenues will drop to $348 this year. Assuming that the split of rights-managed and royalty-free content remains the same, Getty’s gross rights-managed sales will be somewhere around $174 million or less.

In addition to iStockphoto, there are three other major microstock brands—Shutterstock, Fotolia and Dreamstime—and a host of smaller companies. This year’s combined total of all these will easily be $400 million, if not approaching $450 million. 

I estimate that worldwide editorial sales for use in magazines, newspapers and books will be about $450 million. This includes the photo sales of the major wire services. About half of that amount is for books.

Projected 2010 creative stills revenues by licensing model
Licensing model Estimated total sales
Rights-managed $300 million
Traditional royalty-free $300 million
Microstock $400 million
Editorial $450 million
Total $1.45 billion
The table at right shows the breakdown of worldwide sales of stock images. Some may question the rights-managed number, arguing that if Getty’s sales are $174 million, sales of everyone else in the world should be at least equal to that, if not a lot more. Keep in mind that many of the sales Getty makes are of images belonging to other brands, and for many of these other brands Getty is the major source of revenue. What we are counting here is actual revenue received from customers, not all the double counting that takes place when one agency licenses rights on behalf of another agency. Given what is happening in the editorial marketplace, it is also possible that my editorial number is a little high, which could mean that creative stills revenue is somewhat higher.

Still, it is clear that more revenue is being generated by microstock than by either rights-managed or traditional royalty-free sales.

Copyright © 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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