Survey of Microstock Photographers

Posted on 3/25/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Tyler Olson’s recent microstock survey attracted 244 respondents, including 189 male and 55 female photographers. Their total gross 2008 revenue for the 242 who answered that question was $2,438,556, or an average of $10,076.68 per photographer.

When the responses are sorted based on gross revenue, the 60th person from the bottom had an income of $675. The 121st person’s income (the median) was $3,000 and the 181st income was $9,575. The most successful respondent earned $120,000.

Close to 14% of respondents (34 people), said that stock represented over 50% of their income. Total earnings of these 34 were $1,631,621, and the microstock share of that was $1,179,640. On average, these people earned $34,695.20 from microstock. Six of this top 34 are trying to build other revenue sources to reduce their dependence on stock. Counting those who said stock is already their primary source of income, a total of 80 people said they hoped to make stock a primary source of income in the future.

All but 20 of the total respondents supplied information on their total photography and computer expenses in 2008. These came to $947,299, or on average 39% of gross revenue. However, when asked how much they spent specifically on microstock shoots, only 145 provided answers, and their responses totaled $182,995.

One of the most interesting questions was: “On which site did you generate the most income?” The majority—124 respondents—said it was Shutterstock. Only 63 listed iStockphoto as their number one income producer, while 29 named Fotolia and 23 named Dreamstime.

However, when it came to the question of which site delivered the highest return per image, 93 respondents identified iStock, followed by Shutterstock (65), Dreamstime(25) and Fotolia (22). Undoubtedly, the reason for iStock’s number one position is that its editors accept fewer images than is the case on most other sites.

The seven microstock sites to which microstock photographers actively submit their images are, in order of priority: Dreamstime, Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Fotolia, Stockxpert, BigStockPhoto and 123RF.

On average, those who responded spent about 15 hours a week producing microstock photography and preparing it for distribution. The median answer for hours worked per week was roughly 10. Some 7% (17 respondents) had employees or worked with someone else to create their microstock imagery. At the end of 2008, those who responded had a total of 282,162 images online, ranging from 17 to 13,000 and averaging at 1,156 per person. On average, the responding group of microstock contributors had been involved in stock photography for slightly over two years (26.8 months).

Some 12% (29) of survey respondents also had images with traditional agencies, not including Alamy; 32% (78) have images with Alamy. Over 30% of respondents said they had some sort of formal photography training.

Interestingly, only 69% of the respondents viewed the future of microstock photography as positive. While that is a strong percentage, I fully expected it to be much higher, given the steady growth of microstock customers, prices and revenue.

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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