Microstock Sales: Top iStock Earners

Posted on 10/13/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (10)

Kelly Thompson recently said: "Today, some artists are finding they can make a good living exclusively selling microstock. iStockphoto has many contributors making anywhere from $40,000 to $500,000 a year." Let's examine the earning potential based on the figures of some of iStock's top earners.

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Copyright © 2009 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Gildo nicolo Spadoni Posted Oct 13, 2009
    i got a check fo $3.51 in august and $0.00 for september.
    thank you microstock for making me a rich photographer ( L O L )
    and i have about 1000 images on line too.
    if this keeps up i'm gonna jump out of a basement window head first.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 13, 2009
    Your headlines often make it sound like the Microstock photographer will do WELL. In actuality, even with your numbers, 117 out of 80,000 photographers are even making enough to stop their other jobs. That is 0.2%... almost none!!!

    Tell it like it is... Microstock photographers better also sell shoes!

    You need to quit offering "pie in the sky" headlines for over 99% of all these Micro people.

    Basically all of these photographers would do much better with Rights Managed images... and they also would not feel they are giving their images away.

    As one of the top RM sellers in the world, I get tired of photographers calling me and saying they are going to make money in Rf and Micro, and then calling in two years to say they are QUITTING shooting! It is sad that the career of "Photographer" is taking such a beating from people who just give their images away. I teach seminars and write books to try to help, but 99% of people who sell stock in Micro are going to ALWAYS need another job to support themselves!

    Orlando, Florida

  • Jon Feingersh Posted Oct 13, 2009
    If any of my successful photographer friends and I had the gross annual earnings of all but the very first entry on the chart, we would slit our throats. Even the first entry is worrisome if one wants to make a good living in stock photography.

    I suppose it's sour grapes to say how foolish it is for anyone to think they can make a living in micro-- either now or in the future.

    There are three results of all the effort being put into micro: customers getting images for cheap (whether it's warranted or not), images becoming more and more devalued, and photo agencies making the greater share of profit from photographers' imagery.

    All one can hope for is a further stratification of clients, with those who realize how much time, effort, and money goes into top-value-added productions being willing to pay the cost for top-value stock imagery.

    Jon Feingersh

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 13, 2009
    Again, I agree with Jon. Beginning photographers, take heed from Jon & me and other successful photographers.

    YOU ARE ALMOST CERTAIN TO NOT BE ABLE TO MAKE A LIVING WITH MICROSTOCK... PERIOD. Don't listen to one freak guy who does well they say... listen to the facts. You can not afford to produce stock and sell it at Micro prices. Next year you will be selling cars.

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

  • Jack Seto Posted Oct 14, 2009
    I also noticed that some of these top earners are also inspectors (editor) for istock. Maybe that explains the great number of images they have online :-)


  • Morgan David de lossy Posted Oct 14, 2009
    I love Bill's comments!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Strangely, my last RM Corbis statements were quit up. (back to pre-crisis figures)

    And I nearly haven't been shooting for them in more than a year. All these micro-stock talks got me worried, I should'nt have been.

    Shooting RM gives you time to shoot great images without counting figures and stats all day long.
    You can spend hours on a single image and still make a good living.
    My oldest RM images still sell...

    But still... I don't know if I get the guts to go back on shooting a lot of RM.
    I suppose I'm still worried about these micro-stock stats...

    Morgan David de Lossy

    PS: sorry for my bad english.

  • Don Klumpp Posted Oct 14, 2009
    Jim, micro-stock doesn't need a cheerleader. It needs someone to show the pratfalls of a business model that devalues photography while ignoring the cost of producing images...rent, model fees, cameras, lenses, computers, insurance,utilities, post production, keywording and salaries all have a cost. Are micro producers making a net revenue or only existing on their cash flow? It seems they will always be chasing their proverbial tails.

    Don Klumpp

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 14, 2009
    Did you hear that, Jim??? No cheerleading for Micro stock. Just tell people who are considering it what the facts are ---what they can expect to have it cost in real dollars for producing images that they practically give away! Explain there is little or no money left even with many sales (if you want to call them sales-- I prefer giveaways).

    That is the type of article you need to write and stop the "glowing" headlines of riches ahead.

    If you want to quote me, or talk to me as we have done many times, feel free to call...

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

  • Peter Bennett Posted Oct 14, 2009
    Microstock is essentially a pyramid scheme, those who got in early had a chance of making good money, but now with the huge volume of images out there, it’s a fool’s game. To say it is a good entry way for new photographers is completely wrong as well. First off, rising productions costs make it an untenable situation, big earners have always needed large staffs to churn out the assembly line on of new images that are constantly needed. How does a new photographer learn anything about their craft that way, they are simply producing widgets.

    If I ask myself what my body of work would have looked like if I had started out that way, I can safely say that everything I love about my craft would never have been experienced and nothing would be worthy of hanging on my wall.

    Entering photography via micro is like entering the retail business by getting a job at Wal-Mart. You wouldn't learn much about the retail business, you would only be learning how Wal-Mart conducts it’s business, which is not a pretty picture, and neither is Micro.

    Peter Bennett
    Ambient Images Inc.
    P: 310-312-6640

    Specializing in New York and California images

  • Tim Mcguire Posted Oct 15, 2009
    Without the production expenses (all of them) and overhead figures, gross revenues mean next to nothing.

    Tim McGuire
    EVOstock Founder and Administrator
    www.EVOstock.com, a virtual stock image collective for pro photographers and visual artists.
    EVOlve or go extinct!

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