Is Microstock Diluting RF and RM Revenue?

Posted on 7/26/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

There is no good way to estimate how many RF or RM sales are being lost because the customers are buying microstock instead. There are indications that Getty's RF sales in 2006 were declining about 10,000 units a quarter or 40,000 for the year. However, this is hard to confirm because Getty acquired Stockbyte last year and that acquisition should have boosted the total number of RF units sold. If 40,000 units were lost at an average price of $250, that would be $10 million.

Of course, Getty might not be the only company losing RF sales as a result of people buying images from iStockphoto; it might be much worse. Also there are indications that iStock only represents about one-quarter to at most one-third of total microstock sales, so one has to consider the impact sales by all the other microstock companies might have on the market.

It is interesting that 40,000 sales only represent about four-tenths of 1% of iStock's total sales for the year. Thus, more than 99% of the iStock customers could be new to the industry. And this is probably true for all microstock suppliers. These customers have probably never purchased an image from one of the traditional sellers and never will -traditional prices are too expensive for them. However, it is clear from these figures that less than 1% of iStock's downloads could have a major impact on traditional sales. Consider what happens if 2% or 3% of all microstock downloads were made by customers who would formerly have purchased their images from traditional sources. If it ever gets to 5%, at current microstock prices, traditional RF will no longer exist.

It is also important to recognize that the microstock agencies are correct when they say the vast majority of their customers are new to the market and have never purchased an image from a traditional source. Virtually all the microstock sales have no impact on the traditional market. The trick is to figure out how to keep those traditional buyers who are consuming four-tenths of 1% of the total microstock images licensed from getting their images at microstock prices.

Also, as of the beginning of 2007, Getty stopped supplying the average price per image licensed in its quarterly report to investors. Thus, in future, it will be impossible to calculate the number of images licensed by Getty in a given quarter and will be even harder to determine trends.

Copyright © 2007 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:  


  • Tim Mcguire Posted Jul 27, 2007

    It seems we all heard these same type of statistics when RF came about... the line about how most RF customers were new to image licensing because now they could afford it. It may be true that most microstock customers are new to image licensing but just as with RF, as the variety and quality of Microstock pictures available gets better the more higher end users will try it out. If they get what they need they will keep coming back.

    From a fulltime independent photographers point of view do you think it would be possible to bring in over $100,000 in gross revenue from a microstock distribution? Could a professional write a business plan that would allow them to make a comfortable living and sustainable business out of microstock licensing and distribution? The only reason I ask is because I think it would be impossible and therefore I see microstock as a purely an amateur endeavor rather than something a professional business person would take part in.

    When I say professional I mean someone who does photography fulltime and expects to be able to pay himself a decent wage that allows him to pay his home mortgage, have a car, send his kids to college, have decent health care coverage, take a vacation every year, and save for retirement. And on top of all that to run a profitable and sustainable business along with all the expenses involved with running a legitimate business.

    Do you think it's do-able?

    Of course it's do-able as a sideline or something extra in addition to other photographic endeavors such as assignments. But it seems to me that if one could make a sustainable and profitable revenue stream beyond just creating short-term / sporadic cash flow out of microstock distribution and licensing then one should be able to do it fulltime and make it a professional endeavor.

    But if that can't be done then all those people who start out distributing their work via microstocks thinking it is a path to becoming a professional (as it seems Getty would like to have them believe) ... those people, are simply undermining that which they aspire to be.

    Isn't that right? I'd love to hear your comments on my slightly sarcastic outlook above.


    Tim McGuire

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