Stock Photo Production: Eastern Europe, Asia Dominate

Posted on 3/13/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Thanks to information supplied by concerning Shutterstock contributors and information from regarding the average 2014 monthly salary from 162 countries, it is possible to get a better understanding of why more than 60% of the images in the Shutterstock collection are provided by Eastern European and Asian creators.

Given current image licensing fees, Eastern European and many Asian creators have a huge economic advantages given the low costs of living in their countries compared to creators in North America and Western Europe. Consequently, it seems likely that creators from low cost-of-living areas of the world will produce a growing share of future stock images.

I began my analysis by looking at the countries identified by as having contributors who had supplied more than 999 images to the 119,000,000 Shutterstock collection. Out of Shutterstock’s 164,900 contributors only 14,373 had supplied that many images and combined they have 91,700,000 images or 87.1% of the total.  

Of the 14,373 contributors, Shutterstock does not supply country of residence information for 3,671 or 25.54%. If we assume that contributors with no country listed represent the same portion of the 91,700,000 images as they represent of total contributors, then the number of images remaining is 68,316,500. Contributors from countries that have fewer than 10 contributors with over 999 images represent 6,892,832 total images leaving a total of 61,423,668 images in the four collections we are examining.

Breakdown As Follows

The chart below makes it easy to see why so much of the production comes from Eastern Europe and Asia. Given the much lower cost-of-living in most of these countries it is easier for photographers and illustrators to earn a decent living from stock photo production than is the case for those in the Western world.

  Total Images Average Average
  Countries   Monthly Annual
      Income Income
U.S. and Canada 2 5,347,317 $3,017 $36,204
Eastern Europe, Former Soviet Union 12 23,805,922 $429 $5,148
Asia 15 13,168,293 $1,458 $17,496
European Union, other Western Europe Countries 28 19,102,136 $2,034 $24,408

Most North American photographers trying to earn a living and support a family from photography need to earn $35,000 to $40,000 annually. In Eastern Europe that average is a little over $5,000 and in many countries it is less than that. In Eastern Europe $2,000 to $3,000 a year can be a significant supplement to some other source of income and it is worth spending a significant amount of time trying to produce more images that might grow their revenue.

Of course, a few with larger collections may earn more than these numbers, but when numbers this low are still considered reasonable earning there is more of an incentive to give stock photography a try, and stick with it.

In North America, and to a lesser degree in Western Europe, $2,000 to $3,000 is such a minor portion of income that a producer cannot justify spending much time producing stock images on speculation.

In addition to time, there are production costs. In all likelihood the cost of models, clothes, props, location rentals, assistants, retouching, etc. are all much less expensive in Eastern Europe than in the U.S.

It is important to also note that the analysis was from 2014. Given the strengthening of the U.S. dollar in the past year creators in countries outside the U.S. probably have an even greater advantage compared to U.S. producers.

Country-By-Country Breakdown

  Images Average Contributors
United States 4,377,154 3,259 665
Canada 970,163 2,774 172
Total 5,347,317 6,033 837
Russia Federatlon 8,341,695 686 1,552
Ukraine 9,920,419 358 1,412
Belarus 1,472,245 502 274
Serbia 1,376,406 507 201
Armenia 43,176 313 13
Azerbaijan 390,782 525 50
Bosnia and Herzegovina 242,969 562 9
Georgia 305,633 299 11
Kyrgyzstan 698,464 614 57
Macedonia 58,606 387 16
Moldova 267,767 244 60
Turkey 687,760 756 105
Total 23,805,922 5,753 3,760
Thailand 7,960,642 503 1,823
Japan 865,518 2,782 136
Malaysia 525,715 980 111
Australia 730,411 3,781 98
China 601,006 731 107
Hong Kong 204,734 2,496 26
India 555,686 452 79
Indonesia 510,015 304 99
New Zealand 155,829 2,693 22
Pakistan 206,334 239 21
Philippines 79,182 331 21
Singapore 179,401 2,759 18
South Korea 153,384 2,174 24
Taiwan 301,905 1,307 40
Vietnam 138,531 335 25
Total 13,168,293 21,867 2,650
Poland 2,408,190 906 312
United Kingdom 2,086,978 2,961 278
Germany 1,862,617 2,852 366
Romania 1,857,136 487 179
Spain 1,602,637 1,635 243
Italy 1,427,617 2,118 307
Czech Republic 1,080,557 1,020 227
Croatia 156,430 870 37
Andorra 55,469 2,731 176
Austria 132,468 2,457 39
Bulgaria 274,896 507 74
Denmark 92,034 3,270 25
Estonia 559,800 915 56
Finland 143,699 2,924 31
France 768,989 2,762 108
Greece 250,349 953 40
Hungary 380,166 668 79
Ireland 484,950 2,991 14
Latvia 961,101 713 94
Lithuania 331,800 701 62
Netherlands 426,883 2,938 104
Norway 78,706 4,215 14
Portugal 391,937 1,082 53
Slovakia 245,825 948 55
Slovenia 130,891 1,276 32
Sweden 365,574 3,181 46
Switzerland 182,952 6,302 35
Belgium 361,485 2,565 30
Total 19,102,136 56,948 3,116

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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