2009 Microstock Survey – Full Time Microstock Earnings Analyzed

The year is almost over, so while we gear up for another industry survey, I thought I’d take a final look at some of last years results.

Previously when looking at the survey results, I had grouped everyone together.  This time, I wanted to isolate the full time microstock artists – those who are earning the majority of their income (over 50%) from microstock.  How much are those artists really earning, and what is the potential for you to do the same?  It seems the long tail of microstock is present in any grouping of artists, with a select few artists pocketing massive income while the rest pick up the change.  The question is however, how far up the tail do you have to climb to achieve a respectable income.

Survey Information

As a briefer, the 2009 Microstock Survey had 413 respondents.  76 of those people stated they made the majority (over 50%) of their income from microstock.  These results are focusing on those 76 people.

Gross 2009 Microstock Earnings for Full Time Microstock Artists

This first graph is a simple counting of artists within the various earnings brackets.  We can see, for example, that 11 artists earned over $20,000 but less than $30,000.  We can also see that a total of 14 artists earned less than $4,000.  We can only guess how they manage to live off this amount, but one explanation could be that the photographer has a spouse who earns the majority of the finances to support their household, or the photographer lives in a country with low cost of living ($8000/year) and has very few expenses.  The majority of the artists are earning between $10,000 and $50,000/year.  At 50%-100% of their income, these amounts are respectable in general terms of what an average photographer can expect to earn in most western countries.

Gross Microstock Earnings - 2009

Below I have simplified the results even further.  I have broken the photographers into two groups, those who earn over $25,000 and those who earn less.  In Jim Pickerell’s recent ebook “Secrets to Building a Successful Photography Career” he lists the average US photography salary as $43,000.  The average gross income of the 73 surveyed microstock artists is $29,000.   To be clear, Jim’s number is net income, or salary of the photographer while the microstock survey reveals gross income.  It is not unrealistic however, to believe that microstock photographers earning over half their income from microstock can have $43,000 in net income.

Microstock Income - over / under 25000

The Future of Microstock

Is the outlook of these artists more positive than the general microstock population?  It appears to be exactly the same.  In the original results 74% of artists considered microstock to have a positive future.  Here is the results from this group of microstockers

Positive Future for Microstock


Taking a look at exclusive artists: of the 413 respondents 19% said they were iStock exclusive.  Looking at the full time respondants we have a slightly higher percentage claiming exclusivity.  A surprising 30% of full time photographers who responded to the survey were exclusive.  It will be interesting to watch this statistic in the future as agencies compete for the attention of the top microstockers and agencies adjust their strategy in regards to their photographer’s contract.

iStock Exclusive Microstock Photographers

Media Types Sold

I constantly refer to microstock artists as microstock photographers.  Perhaps not surprising when over 90% of microstock artists are photographers.  Other media types are gaining popularity however.  The graph below shows the breakdown.  Video has especially been growing in popularity the last year or two.  For 2009, 16 of the 73 respondents confirmed selling video.  In a recent interview with 9 stock industry leaders, stock video was a hot topic.  This is going to be an interesting market to watch in the future.

Microstock Survey - Media Types Sold


The $29,000 average gross income isn’t anything too impressive, but just like the large number of artists bringing the average down, there is also a number of artists bring the average up.  The average should be a very attainable amount.  I think however, I should let you decide whether the overall results show a positive or negative picture of the industry.  Depending on what you want out of microstock, what your financial needs are, and the ease at which you can create content, microstock could be highly attractive or a waste of time.  Feel free to give you thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion on the forum.

About The Author:

Tyler Olson works as a microstock photographer who also runs the MicrostockGroup forum and blog. Being so closely involved in the microstock community as a submitter, forum moderator and blogger, Tyler is able to keep updated in the constantly changing microstock marketplace.
Posted on December 20th, 2010 in Microstock Survey | tags: , , ,