Traditional Sellers Report Declining Share of Sales

Posted on 5/21/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

RM and traditional RF sellers are only addressing 10% to 15% of the total market for stock images. Some readers asked how I arrived at that number.

First, this is the percent of images licensed, not revenue. That 10% to 15% of images used represents about 90% of current revenue. The other 85% of images used is responsible for only 8% to 10% of revenue. However, there are strong indications the revenue relationships are about to change dramatically - and not in favor of RM and traditional RF sellers.

Sellers need to pay more attention to the number of potential customers and the various types of new uses that didn't exist five to 10 years ago, and less on how to get higher dollars for each individual sale.

Public numbers of Getty Images are important factors in arriving at the above conclusions. Last year, Getty licensed just under 500,000 Commercial RM images and about 1 million RF. (These numbers were achieved by dividing average price-per-image-licensed into total revenue.)I believe Getty's single image sales represent about 50% of total single images licensed worldwide, not counting subscription and wire services sales, particularly since their numbers include licenses made of image partner images. Thus, sales worldwide would be about 1M commercial images and 2M traditional RF.

Editorial images licensed are harder to determine.

Many editorial images are licensed through subscriptions. An accurate number for the total subscription images downloaded or actually used doesn't exist. Thus, I determined to leave subscription revenue out of my calculations and focus on single image sales. Subscription revenue would include AP, Reuters, much of Getty's editorial revenue, Jupiter's $29 million in 2007, Shutterstock and other smaller subscription sellers. I estimate total 2007 editorial subscription sales at $300 million, most of that editorial wire service sales.

That leaves about $400 million generated from single-images editorial sales. I'm guessing that the average price for one of these licenses is $125. If that number is high, more editorial images are being licensed. In arriving at this number, I've taken into account that Alamy's average editorial license for the last four quarters was between $126 and $133, and it licensed over 100,000 editorial uses. Thus, 3.2 million editorial images were licensed not counting subscriptions.

2007 Estimates  



RM - Commercial


1 mil

RM - Editorial


3.2 mil

Aver price $125




1 mil

2 mil

Micro - iStock

17.55 mil


Micro - Industry


35 mil

For microstock, the publicly available numbers from iStock are useful. In 2007, the company had 17.55 million downloads and gross revenue of $72 million.

I estimate iStock had only about half the worldwide microstock sales; the total for all the other brands combined equaling iStock's. Shutterstock pays photographers based on downloads, and photographers report that Shutterstock downloads are not far from the numbers at iStock, although revenue is lower because Shutterstock pays less. Based on this logic, I conclude there were approximately 35 million microstock downloads in 2007. After totaling the industry category numbers in the chart above, I get 41.5 million total images licensed, 35 million or 84% of which were microstock.

In addition, the number of microstock images downloaded is going up significantly, while images licensed at traditional prices are declining. (Consider the Goldman Sachs projections.) That pushes microstock toward 90% of total units licensed. It probably won't be long before the percentage goes even higher.

How Low Can Traditional Sales Go?

Based on iStock's 17.55 million downloads divided into 72 million gives an average $4.10 per download. iStock introduced an approximate 30% price increase at the beginning of 2008, raising the average price to about $5.30. It is estimated to have $122 million in 2008 sales, raising its total number of sales to 23 million. Traditional sales are expected to decline.

For Getty, gross revenue for RM, RR and traditional RF (Creative Stills) is expected to be down about $100 million in 2008 and by 2012 ,Creative Stills is estimated to be 38% below 2007 levels. Thus, if Creative Stills sales were 10% to 15% of total sales in 2007, it will be much lower than that in future years.

Copyright © 2008 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:  


  • Tim Mcguire Posted May 22, 2008
    The overall revenue for the industry is going down and down, and that part of the shinking "pie" left to photographers is getting divided into smaller and smaller pieces.

    Getting a smaller and smaller piece of a shrinking pie is not a good place to be.

    The "pie" is especially shrinking when you consider the increase in number of licenses(volume)being made. Volume of images being licensed has grown amazingly and yet revenues are shrinking or are stagnant.

    If in fact, microstock is diluting and / or cannibalizing the more traditional image licensing models which it seems is true, what is the future of microstock? Will it eat itself? Will it lead to the next lower priced version of RF licensing?

    With the continuing over-supply of images, what will the next cheaper form of RF licensing be? Isn't microstock just cheaper RF licensing?

    At some point it seems the diluting would stop for RM image licensing because it offers something RF / Microstock doesn't. It remains to be seen as to whether or not there will still be a viable market for photographers to continue creating pictures for any form of RM licensing.

    I just wonder what will come after microstock. Can it go any lower? Remember traditional RF prices went up for a while and then came microstock.

    It seems to me RF & microstock in the longterm are a losing proposition, two steps in the downward spiral. Selling more (or the same) for less without a corresponding lowering of expenses seems to be a sure path on the spiral to the bottom.

  • Bill Brooks Posted May 22, 2008
    The delivery of RF images will become like TV programming. RF images will be paid for through advertising attached to the image as in network programming, or through a monthly fee as in cable TV delivery. Perhaps professional stock photographers should look to renting their entire RF collection to a stock photo library in return for a flat monthly fee.

    RM survival depends on a guarantee of some degree of image exclusivity. With too many images in the marketplace, image producers copying each other, and the impossible expensive task of enforcing copyright on the internet, exclusivity of RM images cannot be guaranteed by anyone. The only way for a client to guarantee image exclusivity temporarily, will be for that client to hire a photographer, art direct the shoot themselves, and keep all rights to the image. This is not stock photography, and RM will disappear.

    Stock photography has had a good run, but the party is over. It's closing time. Drink up gentlemen. Professional stock photographers should ramp up other aspects of their photography business.

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