Image Oversupply: The Real Number

Posted on 6/2/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

What does the competition look like in terms of the number of images available online? A year ago, ImageShack had 20 billion images, and Facebook had about 15 billion. In February 2010, Facebook was reportedly adding more than 2.5 billion photos each month. News Corp.’s Photobucket currently has more than 8.2 billion photos, and Yahoo!-owned Flickr is in fourth place with over 3.4 billion.

About 135 million of Flickr-hosted images are available for free use under Creative Commons licenses. Of this number, use of approximately 35 million is restricted to non-commercial uses, leaving only 100 million that are available for unlimited free uses.

Despite these numbers, most professional photographers are not overly concerned about these image sources, because most of the images available on photo-sharing sites have been shot by amateurs and are, for the most part, of only personal interest to a given site user’s family and friends. In addition, the lack of useful keywords makes it very difficult for a potential buyer to find anything useful.

In fact, the very volume tends to work against trying to find anything on photo-sharing sites, because it takes so much time sifting through inappropriate images to locate one that is potentially useful.

On the other hand, the millions of images on professionally oriented sites are an area of concern. These images have been keyworded, model-released and mostly edited for duplicates and substandard technical quality.

For example, the four major microstock agencies reported these inventories in May 2010:

  • Dreamstime – 8,556,710;
  • Fotolia – 9,056,403;
  • iStockphoto – 6,837,000; and
  • Shutterstock – 11,332,581.

In many cases, the same images are on all four microstock sites, so a total of these numbers is not an accurate indicator of the overall image quantity, but 20 million unique images is a reasonable estimate.

Also interesting is that there are 230,299 photographers and graphic artists contributing to Shutterstock alone. There are likely more than 300,000 photographers constantly adding images to these four sites.

In the case of iStock, about 8% of the images in the collection belong to the top 200 producers of more than 80,000. The images from these 200 generated more than 27% of total revenue in the first quarter of 2010.

What about the rest of the market? The inventories—some reported and some estimated—of the larger collections total to more than 130 million images, including:

  • Alamy – 18,960,000;
  • AP – 6,000,000;
  • Bloomberg – 290,000;
  • Corbis – 4,000,000 (est. 1,000,000 creative and 3,000,000 editorial);
  • DPA – 7,500,000;
  • Getty Images – 8,500,000 (est. 2,500,000 creative and 6,000,000 editorial);
  • Microstock – 20,000,000;
  • Newscom – 40,000,000+; and
  • Reuters – 25,000,000.

All the smaller collections not also distributed by one or more of these large distributors must also be considered. That number is hard to estimate, but an additional 30 million to 50 million unique images is probably in the ballpark.

An interesting historical sidelight is that back in the early 2000s, after Getty and Corbis had made a series of major acquisitions, both companies claimed they had 70 million images each in their collections. The major difference is that at that time these were mostly film-based images, not scanned, and in many cases, not very tightly edited. The only way to locate an image among these 140 million images was through laborious manual research. The vast majority of these images were never scanned, and it would be impossible to find most of them today—only a very small percentage is available digitally today.

In contrast, the 130+ million images itemized above are digital files available in online databases for immediate research, download and use by potential customers.

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:  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Jun 2, 2010
    I believe you a counting some images twice, if not more. Newscom has images from Getty and Reuters, for example. Getty also represent Bloomberg, and Corbis has or used to have Reuters content.
    Furthermore, a lot of microstock site use number of images as a calling card in order to attract buyers looking for choice. Are they numbers correct ? Also, as you say, most images are the same on these microstock site. It has been estimated that it is in the magnitude of 90%, thus highly reducing the total number.
    Finally, what is the point ? That there is already too many images and that we should quit ? Or not enough? Can we ever estimate the amount of images needed. Just on the internet, it must be billions, if not more. isn't the issue here that these 130 million images are offered to the same reduced market ?

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