Size Of Market In 2009

Posted on 4/13/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I believe that worldwide customers pay a combined total of about $1.8 billion for still stock images and illustration annually. There has been virtually no growth in this market in the last few of years. In the fall of 2008 Corbis CEO Gary Shenk estimated that total 2007 revenue for the industry was $2.3 billion and predicted that it will decline to $2.2 billion by 2012.

    (Many will note that this analysis does not take into account the obvious decline in revenue everyone in the industry has seen in the last few months. To begin with, because the first half of 2008 was strong the declines at the end of the year still left some like Alamy with growth [7%] for the year. Even Jupiter’s decline for the year was only 11.6% so the overall effect for the industry through 2008 may have been flat, or a little down. The beginning of 2009 is something else again. At this writing microstock sales seem to be up, but we have no solid numbers for the rest of the industry. However, all photographers licensing images at rights managed or traditional royalty free prices are reporting significant declines in revenue with some saying that February sales were down 30% to 40% compared to February 2008. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that we will see a decline in industry revenue in 2009, and maybe more than Shenk has predicted to occur by 2012.)
I believe Shenk’s figures are based on totaling the revenue generated by all of the companies selling stock photography, but that does not take into account the double counting that occurs in the industry.

    Double Counting

    Virtually, every major image supplier is generating some of its revenue, and in some cases a significant part, from licensing rights to images supplied by other agencies. Even Getty Images receives some portion of its revenue from distributors who represent part of Getty’s collection.

    In these cases the initial licensor of the image records 100% of the revenue on its books and then pays a significant portion of that revenue to the agency that supplied them with the image. This percentage can vary from 20% to 80% of the gross sale price depending on the relationship between the image supplier and image seller. For example, a distributor who licenses rights to one of Getty’s Photodisc images for $200 reports that as gross revenue, but the company also pays maybe 50% of that amount, or $100 back to Getty. Thus the $200 sale has shown up as $300 in total revenue on the combined books of the two companies even though the customer only paid $200.

    (Keep in mind that when I used the words “image supplier” here I am not talking about the actual image producer, but the agency or organization representing that producer. The producer gets another cut of the supplier’s share.)

    In a survey of its member stock agencies in 2003 (Picture Archive Council of America) PACA asked one question that attempted to get at this number. The results indicated that 17% of the gross revenue of the agencies responding came from sub-agents or distributors. However, given the relatively small response rate to this survey, and based on observation of what is happening in the industry, I believe it is entirely possible that the overall figure for the industry worldwide might be quite a bit higher. I also believe the percentage is rising as more and more sales are made by portals and distributors.

    I estimate that at a minimum 20% of the total actually charged customers for the use of imagery is double counted. Thus, if we were able to total the gross revenue that all the distributors and image suppliers in the world report as income each year it might come to an annual figure of $2.16 billion, even though image buyers only paid $1.8 billion to use the images. The double count number could easily be higher.
Thus, Shenk’s figures and mine are very consistent. These figures do not include footage, music, assignment work, rights clearance, poster sales (except for that part of the total revenue paid to use the image), fine art print sales, operating trade shows, database management or any of the other business in which many of the industry’s leading companies are involved. The figures do include news wire service imagery, which for the most part is made available through subscriptions.

About $1.1 billion of the $1.8 billion comes from images that are used for commercial purposes, and $700 million is for editorial uses. The figures below are a rough estimate of the stock photo revenue generated by Getty Images, Corbis, JupiterImages, Superstock, Alamy and the international wire services.

In 2007 Getty, Jupiter and Superstock were public companies and certain breakdowns of their revenue figures were publically available. Corbis, though private, made certain gross numbers available a couple years ago and Alamy, though also private, has been reporting revenue figures quarterly since 2004. In 2008 Getty was purchased by Hellman & Friedman and then taken private. Later H&F also purchased JupiterImage so none of the current revenue figures of either of these companies are available. Corbis has acquired Veer since it last released some numbers and Superstock was acquired by RGB. However, based on the earlier available figures and extrapolating to a certain degree I have concluded that the below listed figures are the approximate revenue in millions that these companies generated in 2008 in the listed categories.

  Getty Corbis Jupiter Superstock Alamy Wires Total
Commercial RM 220 90 15 3 4   332
Commercial RF 221 33 52 2 3   311
Microstock 145 3         148
Subscription     28       28
Breaking News 160 20       175 355
Secondary Editorial 40 65   5 24 75 209

I then reached my $1.8 million figure by using the above numbers as a basis and estimating what the rest of the industry generated in each of the individual categories.

At the end of 2007 when Getty Images was looking for a buyer, (eventually Hellman & Friedman) Goldman Sachs did an in-depth analysis of Getty’s current and future revenue potential. These estimates, made before the economy crashed are interesting in what they reveal about the future potential for Creative Stills and Microstock. The traditional side of the business was expected to decline by 38% in five years while Getty’s microstock portion was expected to be 3.63 times larger.

Getty Images Revenue      
and Estimates (in millions)      
  2007 2008 2012
Creative Stills 560.94 461 348
Editorial 138.34 180 289
iStockphoto 72 122 262
Footage & multimedia 42.88 47 83
Other 43.44 77 159
B2B music   14 46
Total 857.6 901 1187

Note that revenue from editorial imagery is expected to grow over the next four years, particularly revenues from celebrity photographs. However, much of this growth was due to acquisitions around the time the chart was prepared and not a reflection of the true potential growth for the industry. If iStockphoto’s microstock revenue exceeds $262 million by 2012 (which it looks like it should easily do), and the rest of the microstock industry continues to grow at its current pace, total sales of microstock and subscription images will easily exceed $500 million and be the largest segment of the still stock photo business.

I think we can divide the market for still stock imagery into six segments: Commercial RM, Commercial RF, Microstock, Subscription, Breaking News and Secondary Editorial. The RM, RF, Microstock and Subscription sections are obvious, but I have broken editorial into “Breaking News” and “Secondary Editorial Use”. The Secondary uses are for long lead time publications, specialist niche publications, and books. For these uses the images needed are more feature oriented and illustrate points that have no direct tie to any breaking news. Gary Shenk, CEO of Corbis, has estimated that the Secondary Use segment of the market is larger than the breaking news segment.

The charts below show the approximate revenue I believe the Majors plus a21, Alamy and the wire services generate from each of these segments. Some of these numbers are extrapolations based on the publicly available numbers and many are my best guess of how the business breaks out.

  Total Majors % Major
  Market Share Share
Commercial RM $425 $332 78%
Commercial RF $350 $311 88%
Microstock $265 $148 56%
Subscription $60 $28 47%
Breaking News $359 $355 99%
Secondary Editorial $341 $209 69%
  $1,800 $1,383  

Note that 77% of all industry revenue was generated by five major companies plus the wire service. Many might say that the combined gross revenue of the hundreds of other companies licensing rights to stock photography must have been more than $417 million, but keep in mind that a good portion of the revenue of these other companies also appears on the books of the majors (see the double counting explanation). A couple hundred or more of the mid-level agencies and production companies earn a significant portion of their revenue from sales made by the major companies.

It is also interesting to note that the combined total for Microstock and Subscription sales almost equals total traditional RF sales and will certainly exceed them by the end or 2009.

According to the PACA survey a few years ago about 28% of U.S. agency revenue comes from editorial uses and the remainder from commercial uses. In Europe the reverse was true when CEPIC did a survey of its members several years age. CEPIC found that 63% of all revenue comes from editorial uses and the rest from commercial uses.

The following charts are an attempt to estimate current revenue for commercial and editorial uses by region. In general, the overall revenue breakdown by region is 41% for the Americas, 49% for Europe the Middle East and the Arab world and 10% for Asia/Pacific. The chart below breaks down the gross revenues (in millions of dollars) for the various regions:

  Commercial Rev. Editorial Rev. Total Revenue
Americas $546 $192 $738
EMEA $423 $459 $882
Asia/Pacific $126 $54 $180

Within each region my estimated breakdowns are as follows:

    Commercial Rev. Editorial Rev. Total Revenue
  U.S. $453 $160 $613
  Canada $49 $17 $66
  C & S America $44 $15 $59
  UK & Ireland $113 $124 $239
  Europe $283 $307 $590
  Middle East $25 $28 $53
  Japan $75 $24 $99
  Australia $25 $12 $37
  Rest of Asia $25 $18 $47

Images Licensed

In 2008 Getty probably licensed rights to less than 500,000 images for commercial uses (that’s not unique images because some sold many times). The revenue generated from these sales was about $225 million according the Goldman Sachs analysis of the Getty Images business at the end of 2007. (Goldman Sachs expected Getty’s sales of “Creative Stills” including both rights-managed and royalty-free to be about $460 million. See chart.) Getty’s revenue for rights-managed and royalty-free should have been about equal.

My bet is that all the other sellers in the world put together licensed about the same number for commercial use as Getty so let’s say there were 1 million rights managed images sold for commercial use. At the end of 2006 when they last broke out the number for the average price for a rights managed image Getty said it was about $500. Since then I believe Getty's average price has dropped significantly, but the only publically available figure is Alamy’s which was $308 in the last quarter of 2008 (Getty’s figure was probably somewhat higher than Alamy’s).

There were about twice as many royalty free images licensed at an average of $193 to $240 per image so let’s say 2 million RF, most for commercial use. Thus, maybe a total of 3 million RM and RF images (Creative Stills using Getty terminology). According to my calculation over 50 million microstock and subscription images were licensed in 2008 (25 million from iStockphoto alone).

That means that the rights managed segment of the business represents about 2%, maybe 3% of the total images licensed. And this segment of the business is declining in size.

Hard News, Editorial Features, Books

I estimate that about one-third of the total editorial numbers ($700 million) are for news pictures, one-third for editorial features and one-third for books. However, in some regions, book use makes up a larger percentage of editorial use; in others, a greater percentage is attributed to newspapers and magazines.

Next we need to look at the large editorial suppliers such as Associated Press, European Picture Association (EPA), Reuters, Bloomberg, Agence France Presse (AFP), Newscom, etc. A large percentage of the images these companies supply are produced to fulfill subscriptions, and thus it might be argued are more like assignments than stock. Nevertheless, I have chosen to lump their photo revenue into the stock category. Some of these companies are publicly owned, but in those cases their picture licensing revenue is a small part of their total revenue and not broken out in their reporting. Thus, it has been necessary to make an estimate of this revenue based on conversations with senior people in this segment of the industry. I estimate the combined gross revenue of all these editorial sellers to be approximately $250 million.

Individual Photographers Selling Directly

What about all the photographers who are licensing rights to images from their personal stock files direct to customers? I believe that the Internet has made it so much easier for customers to find an image they can use in large databases and quickly complete the transaction that the number of direct stock sales from photographer to customer has dropped dramatically from what it was 10 to 15 years ago. While there are certainly some sales of this type I believe they currently represent a very small portion of total industry revenue and are covered in my $848 figure.

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, 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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