Industry Growth: 1992 - 2016

Posted on 9/19/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Recently, I was asked for my thoughts on stock photo industry revenue growth between 1992 and 2016 with particular attention to the intermediate 8 year periods leading up to 2000 and 2008. I was also asked to make an estimate of the number of professional photographers in the world for the same years. I’ll deal with revenue growth first and the professional photographers later.

Overall, I think there has been very little real growth. However, with the possible exception of Getty Images, I don’t think anyone has the data to really know.

The big problem in determining industry revenue in 1992 and the earlier following years (even into 2000) was that there were no dominant agencies. All the agencies were privately held and no one reported their statistics. I did some surveys and extrapolated from the limited data I was able to collect, but getting a picture of the entire industry was very difficult. The information available was from a very small percentage of the total market. The rest of the market was dark.

In addition, there has always been a huge amount of double counting of revenue.
    (An agency licenses the work supplied to it by another agency, pays the parent agency a percentage of the revenue received from the customer, and both agencies count what they have received as gross revenue.)
For those interested in looking back I have attached a list of links to stories from 2000 to 2016 which give a general understanding of where I think the market was at any particular time.

By 2000 Getty began taking over more and more of the market. After they went public they released quarterly figures and it was possible to get a better understanding. iStock started supplying its photographers with a lot of data and after Getty acquire them I began tracking those figures. Finally, Shutterstock went public and we began getting data from them. Combined these companies also started to take over more and more of the total market and it became easier to extrapolate to what the whole market might be.

While there has certainly been a significant increase in use of images in the last 20 years, I think there has been very little real growth in the revenue generated. The average price per image used has fallen faster than any growth in usage of licensed images.
    (Many point to the explosion in use of images on the Internet. But, a significant part of that growth is in User Generated Images where no money changes hands, or in unauthorized use of images grabbed from other websites without compensating the creator in any way.)
At best, I would guess that the overall growth in revenue has been less than the cost-of-living growth in the last 20 years.

Professional Photographers

This question is even more interesting. First I define “professional photographers” as people who are trying to earn a living from the pictures they produce. “Amateur photographers” produce pictures as a sideline or hobby. The revenue earned is a supplement to some other means of support. The amateur would like to earn as much as possible from his/her efforts, but for most the amount earned is really unimportant. The amateur is willing to spend much more time and money producing images than they will ever earn from licensing. In addition, amateurs often produce better images than professionals. This is not only because of luck and being at the right place at the right time, but because they are willing to spend so much more non-paid time and effort than any professional can justify.

Thus, we cannot separate amateurs from professionals in terms of “image quality,” only in terms revenue earned and the profitability of their efforts in terms of a business.

In 1992 virtually all stock images were produced by professionals. Some specialized image like scientific images or medical images were produced by people who earned their living in these fields and did photography on the side. However, for the most part it was very difficult for an amateur to get his or her images into a market channel where potential image buyers would be able to find the images, or even know that they existed.

Thus, in 1992 whatever the total worldwide stock photo market was, the revenue came almost entirely from images produced by “professional” photographers.

By the year 2000 all this began to change. It because easier and easier for amateurs to participate. The first amateurs to participate were people who earned their living as graphic designers and illustrators. They discovered they could earn additional money from secondary uses of the materials they created for their customers. The Internet gave them the opportunity to show their work to potential users around the world. Many picked up additional revenue as a result.

Today, I estimate that over 99% of the images that are being licensed as stock are produced by “amateurs” – people who do not earn enough from photography, on an annual basis, to support themselves.
    (I’ll put one caveat to this 99% percent number. A huge and increasing percentages of the images being licensed are being produced by people who live and work in low cost-of-living countries. Some of these people may be able to live comfortably on much less than it would cost a photographer in the U.S. or Western Europe. Thus, it is possible they may be supporting themselves with their photography.)
In addition, a huge number of photographers who used to be able to earn their living from the images they produced (both stock and assignments) have, of necessity, been forced to find other means to earn at least some of their living.  

Unfortunately, there are no hard numbers that I have been able to find as to how this trend is developing. We don’t know how many were earning a living from stock photography 20 years ago or how many are doing so today. We do know, anecdotally, of a significant number of photographers who were in their 30s and 40s twenty years ago that have been forced to go into other lines of work to support themselves. Today, for them photography is at best a sideline, if they are engaged in it at all.

Global Market Size For Stock Images

Microstock Market Size

Eleven-Year Trends for RM and RF Sales

Survey Results: Global Stock Image Revenue

Decline In Licensing Fees At Getty

Getty Images 2011 Revenue: Creative Stills Declines

Stock Photo Market Statistics

Stock Photo Market Trends in 2011

Stock Photo Market Size In 2011

Stock Photo Business Size: 2010

Stock Photo Market Size, Worldwide

2010 Photographer Income Survey Results: Down

Useful Stock Photo Statistics And Trend Information

Stock Photo Business Gets Smaller

2008 Income Survey: Averages and Top Producers

Size Of Market In 2009

Getty Historic Numbers 2002 Thru 2007

Market Size Revenue Analysis

2006 Stock Income Survey Results

Stock Photo Market Size

2003 Stock Photographer Survey Results

Stock Industry Statistics

2000 Stock Photographer Profits Survey

Copyright © 2016 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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