North American And Western Europe Production Declining

Posted on 4/14/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Who is producing the majority of stock images that get used?

Based on Shutterstock’s 2014 and 2015 financial reports about 37% of the company’s gross revenue came from North America, 35% from Europe and 28% from the rest of the world. When Getty was reporting quarterly numbers back in 2007 they said revenue in the Americas (North and South) was about 47%; in Europe and the Middle East about 44% and 9% from Asia Pacific.

Given these numbers it seems reasonable to assume that since North America and Western Europe seem to be where most stock images are used that is probably where most are produced. Back in the 90s and early 00s that may have been the case, but no longer. Here are Shutterstock’s figures for 2014 in millions of dollars receive and paid out.

  Gross Percent Paid Percent
  Sales Sales Creators Royalty
North America $121,896,000 37.2% $10,487,000 12.6%
Europe $115,245,000 35.1%
$59,323,000 70.9%
Rest of the World $90,830,000 27.7% $13,697,000 16.4%
  $327,971,000   $83,605,000  

In 2015 Shutterstock published a Contributor Earnings Report based on revenue generated in 2014. The percentage of revenue received by the contributors varies quite a bit from the revenue taken in. It is also worth noting that according to this report on 25% of the $328 million gross revenue was paid out despite consistent claims that they are paying out about 28% to 30%. Shutterstock plans to publish a 2016 Contributor Earnings Report soon.

While over one-third of the revenue paid for images used came from North American customers only 12.6% of the royalty revenue paid to contributors went to those living and working in North America. (The percentage of images used may have been even less. Presumably, the North American customers are, on average, paying more per image used than those in other parts of the world.)

Before European Union photographers start cheering they should keep in mind that “Europe” includes both the EU and Eastern Europe. The Eastern countries including -- The Russian Federation, Ukraine, Serbia, and Belarus -- are also part of Europe. It is in these countries that a huge percentage of the images are being created.

Based on the figures where the contributor’s country is identified 4,172 contributors who have over 1,000 images in the Shutterstock collection come from these 4 countries. The 28 countries of the European Union only have a combined total of 3,195 contributors with over 1,000 images. Thus, 4 countries in Eastern Europe represent 57% of all European contributors.

United States and Canada combined only have 903 contributors with more than 1,000 images in the Shutterstock collection.

If we add to Eastern Europe 4 other low cost-of-living countries that are part of the EU, but located next to the Eastern European countries – Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania – the 8 countries combined produce 63% of all the images in Shutterstock’s European collection. The average annual income of these 8 countries is $6,692.

Now, from an image production standpoint we have the following numbers of images in the collection by region:

  Total Number Average Percent
  Images Per Contributors Images Per Total
  Region   Contributor Images
North America 5,799,731 903 6,423 7.3%
Western Europe 16,858,123 2,743 6,146 21.3%
Eastern Europe 28,098,538 4,623 6,078 35.5%
Rest of the World 28,372,573 4,292 6,611 35.9%
  79,128,965 12,561 only had a country of residence listed for 71% of the contributors with over 1,000 images in the Shutterstock collection. We assume the country breakdown of the other 29% of contributors, and all those with fewer than 1,000 images is about the same as for the 71%.

It is interesting to note that the average number of images per contributor breaks out about the same in each region. Thus, in each part of the world there are about the same percentage of contributors with collections over 100,000, about the same with collections of 10,000 to 100,000, and about the same with smaller collections.

When looking at the 4,172 contributors from the 4 non-EU countries in Eastern Europe 531 joined Shutterstock in 2016; 898 in 2015; 451 in 2014 and 421 in 2013. Thus, over half of these top contributors have joined Shutterstock since 2012.

Why Aren’t More Western Photographers Producing For Shutterstock?

It is easy to see why among stock photo suppliers there is greater participation from Eastern Europe and lower cost-of-living countries in the rest of the world than from North America and Western Europe.

The average annual disposable salary (after tax) according to for the 8 Eastern European countries is $6,692. Presumably, production costs such as general overhead, model fees, sets, props, transportation, etc. are also lower.

Thus, a few thousand dollars a year can be an important income stream for creators in Eastern Europe and many of the ROTW countries. On the other hand, a few thousand dollars a year for most image creators in North America or Western Europe will barely cover expenses. Little or no profit.

According to the average annual disposable salary (after tax) in North America is $36,194. The average in 13 of the highest income countries in the EU is $34,277, but the average for 11 other lower income EU countries is only $12,893. When we get to the 8 Eastern European countries the average is $6,692. A dollar earned from a picture sale in North America or Western Europe goes a lot farther in Eastern Europe than it does for photographers living in NA or WE.

For the agencies it makes no difference where the pictures come from as long as they meet the  needs of the customers. Evidently Western buyers and more than happy with the images Russian and Ukrainian photographers are producing. The Eastern European photographers will probably accept lower prices and continue to produce a lot longer than U.S. photographers. However, it is worth noting that even Russian and Ukrainian photographers are complaining about low prices.

Copyright © 2017 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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