Stock Photo Revenue Trends Survey Results

Posted on 9/21/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (7)

One-hundred thirty-seven photographers from 27 countries responded to our Stock Photo Revenue Trends  survey. Forty-seven percent of the respondents were from North America and 14% from the UK. The rest were spread rather evenly among other countries.

I had hoped for a larger response, particularly from the microstock community, but I believe the data we received gives a fair picture of industry trends.

In terms of annual stock photo revenue generated be each photographer in 2015 the responses break down as follows:

18% <$3,000
20.5% $3,000 to $10,000
15% $10,000 to $20,000
20.5% $20,000 to $40,000
11% $40,000 to $80,000
15% >$80,000

Thus, 38.5 of the respondents earn less than $10,000 a year from stock photography licensing; another 35.5% earn between $10,000 and $40,000 annually and 26% earn over $40,000. Considering the cost of image production, anyone living in North American or Western Europe would certainly need to earn more than $40,000 annually for stock photography to be any more than a sideline business.

But, by themselves, these numbers certainly give a distorted picture of how successful today’s stock photographers really are. If we had a better cross section of all stock photo contributors, I feel confident that in excess of 70% would be in the $0 to $10,000 group; something in the range of 20% would be in the $10,001 to $40,000 group, with the majority on the low end and less than 1% would be in the over $80,000 group.

It would be interesting if AdobeStock, Shutterstock or Alamy were to ask the same questions of their contributors. Photographers might respond better to surveys done by these organizations than they did to mine. But, I suspect these organizations have very little interest in the percentage of their suppliers who earn enough from their stock photography production to have viable businesses.  

Four percent of the respondents to my survey sell direct through their own website and do not use stock agencies to distribute their work. These contributors gave no indication of the size of their collections. The breakdowns of the image collection sizes of the other 96% of contributors are as follows:

12% <1,000 images
26% 1,000 to 3,000 images
37% 3,000 to 10,000 images
21% Over 10,000 images

These numbers are for unique images in the photographer’s collection. For many, if not most, the same images can be found on multiple sites. Thus, sales from a single site do not necessarily represent the bulk of a photographer’s stock income.

Another indication that this group of respondents is not representative of the entire universe of stock photo contributors is that 22% of the respondents license their work as Rights Managed. Another 31% license their work as Royalty Free and 47% license their work as both RM and RF. Thus, at least 78% of the respondents, license some of their images as Royalty Free.

I believe that less than 1% of the images licensed worldwide in 2015 were Rights Managed. Considering the number or amateur and part-time photographers licensing work through microstock sites, much less than 22% of those licensing rights are using the Rights Managed licensing model.

Revenue Growth/Decline

Fifty-nine percent (59%) of the respondents saw revenue declines between 2010 and 2015.  Twenty-five percent had greater than 50% declines in total revenue, even though most were adding new images to their collections throughout this period. About 20% of this 50% group have stopped producing new images. (Of all the respondents to the survey, 13% have stopped producing new stock images because the potential return is not great enough to justify the time and expense involved.)

Of the remaining 41% who saw revenue increases in the 2010 to 2015 period, over half had increases of over 50%. In the 2013 to 2015 the percentage of respondents who saw declines rose slightly to 61%, but the percentage who had increases of over 50% was now down to 32%. Overall, for those who continued to see revenue increases during the 2013 to 2015 period the increases were smaller than they had been for the 6-year period as a whole.

It seems pretty clear that after the worldwide recession of 2008 some recovery occurred in the 2010 through 2012 period, but there has been an overall, if slight, decline since 2013.

Respondents – Years In Business

The following is a breakdown of respondents in terms of the years they have been producing and licensing stock photography. Only 2 (about 1%) of the respondents have been in the business for less than 2 years.

1% < 2 years
18% 2 to 6 years
27% 7 to 10 years
20% 11 to 20 years
18% 21 to 30 years
16% >30 years

Drilling down a little deeper into the various revenue groups -- $0 to $10,000; $10,001 to $40,000 and above $40,000 -- we gain some additional insights.

0 to $10,000


Thirty-eight percent of survey respondents are in this group. Most had seen a decrease is revenue in the 2013 to 2015 period compared to their experience over 6 years. Twenty-two percent saw greater than 40% declines. However, 3% had over 50% increases in revenue in the two years.
One had over 10,000 images in the market, but saw less than $10,000 in gross revenue in 2015 even though he had more than 50% growth in revenue between 2013 and 2015. He licenses his images through Macro agencies as RM and has been in the business between 11 and 20 years.

Images in Collection

Of those who earned between $0 and $10,000 twenty-five percent had fewer than 1,000 images in their collections. Half or those had less than 500 images. Another 51% had fewer than 3,000 images in collection and the remaining 24% had more than 3,000 image including one with more than 10,000 images.

One surprising thing was that only 22% of this group had been producing stock for fewer than 6 years and 14% had been producing stock for more than 30 years. We expected a higher percentage of the low earners to be newbies in the business.

RM or RF

25% of this group license their work as RM only. The other 75% either license all of their work at RF or some images as RF and others as RM. Only 31% license images as RF only.

$10,000 to $40,000


Thirty-three percent of survey respondents are in this group. Sixty-one percent had seen a decrease is revenue in 2015 compared to 2013. 11% saw an increase of 30% or more and the other 28% saw flat sales of increases of less than 30%.

Images in Collection

Two of this group (4%) sell direct; 9% have less than 1,000 mages in their collections; 15% have 1,000 to 3,000 images; 50% have between 3,000 and 10,000 images and 22% have over 10,000 images in their collections.

RM or RF

One-third of these contributors license their work as Rights Managed, but an additional 45% license some of their work as RM and some as RF. An additional 22% use only Royalty Free licensing meaning that at lease two-thirds of the contributors in this earning category license at least some of their images as RF.

Of this group 15% have been in producing and licensing stock photography for between 2 to 6 years and the majority of these were earned under $20,000 in 2015. Forty-six percent of this group have been in the business for more than 20 years.

$40,000 Or More


Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents are in this group. 50% of these contributors saw a growth in revenue in 2015 compared to 2013 and 25% of the total group saw revenue growth of over 50%. For many who saw declines, those declines were less when compared to 2013 than when compared to 2010.

Images in Collection

Fifty-five percent of this group have more than 10,000 images in their collections and an additional 35% have between 3,000 and 10,000 images in their collections.

Six percent sell direct and don’t use an agent. A different 6% have given up producing stock.

RM or RF

One of the most surprising things about the top sellers is that only 6% license their work exclusively as Rights Managed. 45% have images in both Rights Managed and Royalty Free collections and the other 49% only license their work as RF.

All the RF sellers earning more than $40,000 have been selling stock for less than 10 years. In addition, 75% of the RF sellers who have been in the stock photo business for less than 10 years earned in excess of $80,000 in 2015.

One earning over $80,000 in gross revenue saw between 40% and 50% growth in revenue between 2010 and 2015, but that declined to between 20% and 30% when 2015 revenue is compared to 2013 revenue. This person licenses image as both RM and RF and has been licensing stock for more than 21 years.

For the original survey announcement go to this link.

Copyright © 2016 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:  


  • Michael Runkel Posted Sep 21, 2016
    I would have loved the question to which agencies the participating photographers were contributing to!

  • Anne Rippy Posted Sep 23, 2016
    How do you interpret "gross revenue"? Since many stock photographers I've known through the years quote the agency's original sale price rather than the amount they received since it sounds more impressive, I'm curious which amount the respondents to your survey quoted.

  • Tibor Bognar Posted Sep 24, 2016
    I was also wondering about Anne's question, it would obviously make a huge difference when interpreting the results!

  • michael swiet Posted Sep 24, 2016
    I gotta assume gross revenue is our cut we take home but now I'm wondering too - another thing I wonder about is how fast are these numbers changing without Corbis and with Macro prices dropping fast

  • Peter Dazeley Posted Sep 26, 2016
    It seems to me, with the big stock agencies selling their killer images, with high production values, for cents, it is pretty obvious where this is all going to end for the creators.

  • Tibor Bognar Posted Sep 26, 2016
    Peter: It will end in the poorhouse! If you are young or middle aged, sell your photo gear and learn a new trade fast! I'm a little too old to do this myself, so I try to hang on as long as I can, but it's painfully clear that every year everything can get only worse.

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Oct 4, 2016
    Forgive me for taking so long to answer these comments. My intent was for respondents to report the actual amount of money they received in their pocket, not some amount that their agency received from a customer. (If a sub-distributor made the sale they wouldn’t even know what the customer paid because their agency doesn’t report that figure.)

    The question was phrased as follows: “Considering only stock photo revenue, which of the following categories did your total 2015 revenue fall into? (The figure should be in U.S. dollars.)”

    Given the way I asked the question, and the way the reader interprets “your,” the question might have been answered either way. I have no way of knowing what the respondent was thinking.

    I do have to wonder about photographers who think it is more important to focus on how much people paid to use their pictures, rather than how much money they actually have to spend.

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