Using Microstock Data To Determine What Sells

Posted on 6/4/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

One thing microstock has done for all stock photographers is give them access to better statistical data than has ever been available in the traditional industry. Getty Images, because it was a public company, used to provide the industry broad statistical data that was helpful, but that changed when the company went private in early 2008. Now, Alamy is the only traditionally priced company that gives image producers useful information beyond the individual’s personal sales.

Microstock companies, on the other hand, provide a wealth of information, openly available to anyone interested. Microstock site visitors can determine the best-selling images in any subject category, and, in some cases, the number of times each has sold, so the viewer can understand the relative demand for different subjects.

Some argue that this kind of information is unfair to photographers who produce the images in most demand, because others will try to copy their work. This certainly happens. On the other hand, when used properly, such information can help photographers make better use of their time. Understanding the subjects in greatest demand, as well as those for which there is little demand, can be invaluable during preparations to shoot a particular subject.

If a photographer goes to the major microstock sites and checks the availability of the specific subjects he plans to shoot he can determine whether there is actual demand for the subject, and whether there are already so many variations on the theme that it is unlikely that new images will produce much in the way of income. When it seems unlikely that new images of a particular subject will generate income the photographer may decide that his energies are better spent photographing something else, or at the very least, not bothering to keyword and upload such images if they are already shot.

Another useful Web site is iStockcharts. Its information is as valuable to traditional sellers as to those shooting microstock. For example, this Selling Stock story uses iStockcharts data to take a three-month look at the sales of top 150 iStockphoto producers.

iStockcharts also lets users sort statistics by total downloads and provides links to individual contributor information and image portfolio, which can also be ordered by number of downloads to display the best sellers first. This iStockcharts-derived table includes a number of creators among iStock’s top 124 who have seen sales increase in the last three months. Their Web sites and iStock portfolios provide an idea of the subjects currently in greatest demand.

Ordering iStockcharts by the number of downloads in the last 30 days is another way to find photographers whose images are in greatest demand. Examining their portfolios can indicate which images were likely the best sellers. However, keep in mind that just because an image has sold more times than another in its entire life does not mean it was among the top sellers in the last 30 days.

Another useful bit of information that can be found on iStockcharts without going to an individual’s portfolio is the number of images in each contributor’s iStock portfolio. Many microstock proponents say that contributors must have hundreds of images in the collection in order to earn significant money. Others believe that volume does not necessarily rule the day.

Of course, the more images of high-demand subject matter a contributor has, the more he or she is likely to earn. However, it is amazing how few images many of the top sellers have in the iStock collection: 21 of the top 150 sellers have fewer than 1,000 images. All but five of these 21 are illustrators or designers. Among the photographers are those who go by iStock pseudonyms of JSmith, Maliketh, Sandoclr, TommL an Loooby. You can view their portfolios by going to the advanced search section and entering their site names. Overall, it seems that a huge percentage of microstock top sellers are illustrators and graphic designers, and that these individuals can earn more from fewer images than is the case with photographers.

Another 28 contributors among the top 150 sellers have between 1,000 and 2,000 images in the iStock collection. Of these 28, 15 are photographers, including Mammamaart, Kcline, Joshblake, AVTG, jacomstephens, billnoll, kickstand, rzdeb, buzbuzzer, redmal, sportstock, Viorika, NickS, Veni and Konradlew. Photographers interested in knowing what is selling in the microstock environment may find it interesting to check out these collections.

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:  


  • Lee Torrens Posted Jun 4, 2009
    Jim, being the stat maven you are you'd love picNiche -

    You enter a keyword or combination (string) of keywords. It does an analysis on the data at microstock agencies and returns an index value. That value is calculated on the supply and demand of images using that keyword or keyword string.

    If there are relatively few photos with those keywords but they each have a relatively high quantity of sales, the index value will be high. If there are lots of images with those keywords and they've each sold relatively few times, the index value will be low.

    It essentially gives you an instant insight into the opportunity of each keyword or keyword string. It's an extremely valuable tool when researching what to shoot or what keywords might help your images sell.

    There are obvious caveats given all the factors that can influence the stats (age of the photos, quality of the photos, quantity of keywords searched, etc, etc) but if you keep in mind the simple calculation it's doing, it's a great tool for stock photographers, very easy, and actually fun to use!

    You'll love it!


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