2010 Microstock Industry Survey – First Look

The votes are in and 524 microstock photographers have spoken There are now 628 responses which are all included in further Survey analysis.  Here is the first look at the 2010 microstock industry survey.  First, a big thanks to everyone who completed the survey.  It is great to have so many people take part, making the results more accurate and interesting than ever.  Last year we had just over 400 respondents so it is great to see an increase by over 25%.  Even though I am posting the ‘first look’ now, if you haven’t have a chance to fill in the survey, there is still time.  I’ll include all new responses in future analysis.


I am not a scientist, statistician nor mathemagician.  This survey only gives a general idea of the current state of the microstock industry.  I haven’t put in any controls to make sure I get a ‘random’ sampling of microstock photographers or that the results show the entire picture of the industry. What the results DO show however, is how 524 people feel about the industry and the results they are achieving.  The 524 people are a good mix of pro’s, beginners and everything in between. The results will obviously be biased towards people who are interested and active in microstock photography and leaves out those who have given up or forgot they even had images online, but isn’t that want we want to know anyhow?  We want to know how WE are doing, we who are trying to make this work.  I believe these results tell us.

I posted links to the survey on the MicrostockGroup Forum, Shutterstock and iStock forums, and two other general photography forums.  Links were also shared on twitter, facebook, and a big thanks to the Russian microstockers over at microstock.ru for their forum thread.  I mention all this so it is clear that the respondents are not overly biased towards MicrostockGroup members.  There is a healthy profile of respondents from various sites, countries and exclusive / non-exclusive status.

Now for the results…

The Microstocker Profile


Male: 372

male female microstock

Average Age: 40.4
: 84
Youngest: 16

Media Types Submitted:

Photography: 460
Illustration: 163
Video: 61
Audio: 5

media types submitted - microstock survey 2010

There is still a strong bias towards microstock photographers, with nearly 90% of artists selling photographs.  31% of artist have illustrations and 10% also sell video.  A mere 1% sell microstock audio.

Are you exclusive to iStockPhoto?

Exclusive: 126
Non-Exclusive: 398

exclusive istock - microstock survey 2010

We got a great turn out from the exclusive photographers on iStock.  24% of the respondents (124 artists) were exclusive.  According to the iStock Contributor Charts iStock only has a 14.63% exclusive profile.  The overall results of this survey are slightly biased towards the exclusive iStock photographer.

Is microstock your primary source of income (over 50%)?

Yes: 129 (25%)
No: 395 (75%)

microstock primary source of income

I’m happy to see 125 people making a living from microstock photography.  I’ll use this question to break down analysis in the future.  How much are the part-timers earning?  How are those who rely on microstock for their income doing compared to previous years?

How many images do you have online? (460 photographers)

Average: 1450
Median: 700

How many illustrations do you have online? (163 illustrators)

Average: 525
Median: 250

How many videos do you have online? (61 videograpehrs)

Average: 82
Median: 15

How many audio files do you have online? (5 audio-ographers)

Average: 40
Median: 58

How many months have you been involved in microstock?

Average: 36
Median: 35
Max: 108
Minimum: 1

Microstock Income

Average 2010 microstock income: $13,439 ($2785 higher than 2009)
Median income: $3173

I’ll be breaking down and looking at income a lot in future analysis, but overall it is encouraging to see an increase from 2009.  One popular critique of the earnings amount is people assuming there are 1 or 2 photographers with million dollar incomes that are skewing the results upwards.  To that I’d like to say that Yuri did NOT fill in the survey 🙂  The highest income was only comfortably within the six figure mark.

Highest reported income: $211,708
Lowest reported income: $1

Since the median income is so much lower than the average income, it is obvious that the results are pulled up by a ‘small’ number of successful microstock artists.  The number of artists however isn’t that small though, and I would rather say the average is pulled down by an disproportionately large amount of part time microstockers.  I’ll look more into earnings results in future blog posts.

Did your microstock income increase or decrease in 2010?

Increase: 450 (86%)
Decrease: 74 (14%)

microstock income increase

Microstock Agencies Breakdown

What agencies do you submit to?

agencies submitted to

It is hard to differentiate between the colors, but the sites go from left to right and correspond to the list going from top to bottom. The site in the fifth position which is a dash, is StockXpert which was mistakingly added to the survey (carried over from 2009), then later removed.

Only one comment initially, I am surprised iStock is so much lower than Dreamstime, Fotolia or Shutterstock.  This question was only answered by non-exclusive artists, so technically there is 126 more artists from the survey that are submitting to iStock.  In regards to non-exclusive artists though, the iStock number is surprisingly low.

On which site did you generate the most income?

top income site

Which site gave you the highest return per image (RPI)?

microstock rpi

I find it interesting that Shutterstock provides the highest income for nearly 50% of artists, yet iStock has the highest RPI.  This is likely due to artists being able to upload a lot more images on Shutterstock, but makes me ask a lot of ‘what if’ questions.

More To Come

There you have it, the first look at the 2010 results.  I’m looking forward to breaking down the results further, into exclusive / non exclusive artists, full time / part time artists, videographers vs photographers earnings etc.

If there is any breakdown you are interested in seeing in future blog posts, let me know in the comments below.

[Discuss this post in 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 February 1st, 2011 in Microstock Survey | tags: , , , , , , ,
  • There wasn´t a question regarding RPD?

  • No, I didn’t ask anything about Return per Download. I am not sure how many people calculate it. I know I don’t.

  • Actually I do, and this is one of the factors against what I measure the value of sticking with a microstock agency. I don’t want to work with companies where my monthly RPD is lower than $0.50. Currently all companies I submit now have higher monthly average RPD than $0.54 and it’s raising all the time. Several agencies have it even over $1 or $2. Encouraging to see that. 🙂

    • I agree it is important to keep the RPD up, but overall earnings is what makes this industry profitable for the photographer. No matter how you look at it $0.50, $1.00 or $.10 they are all ridiculously low for licensing an image. Would you be willing to sell your images on a site if you received only $.30 average RPD yet earned you a total of 10x what your other sites earned?

  • Cindy

    Tyler that was a lot of work and very interesting. Appreciate your efforts!

  • That’s the point, Tyler. All highselling sites have monthly average RPD over $0.50 for me and I don’t see any point of starting to submit my work on newcomer agencies, which offer lower RPD. There’s already plenty of stocksites on the net. That’s why I’m interested in calculating RPD.
    But you are right about low prices. They are to low. Submitters will get tired of it quickly. I hope it will change in coming years.

  • Thanks for the time in putting this together. Eye opening, to say the least.

  • Chris

    I don’t understand why so many people contribute to Dreamstime (#2 on the list) but their return per image and the overall income from that site is sooo small. I am not too familiar with Dreamstime. What would you speculate is the reason for that?

    • This survey doesn’t really compare sites against each other. The only questions that compares sites at all is the questions referring to best RPI site and most overall income site. So we can know which site is the best for the most people but that doesn’t tell us which site is #2 for people. If you wanted to know how Dreamstime compares to the other sites you would be best to look at the MicrostockGroup monthly earnings poll found here .
      Dreamstime has so many submitters for two reasons I believe. They have a very fair commission structure and ranking system (images increase in price as they get downloaded more), and more importantly, they have good sales. On the monthly earnings poll, Dreamstime currently sites in third place.

  • Lots of interesting data. Really like your surveys, thanks. many ways to interpret the data. also says a lot about the user-base for MSG, which is arguably the pool from the which the sample was drawn (even though I know you posted link to the survey in the iStock forum, and presumably other agency forums).

  • I think the results show more about the general microstock industry than they say about the user-base for MSG. It is true, there were lots of respondent from MicrostockGroup, but the number of respondents from the other sources was quite significant and makes for a very rounded result.

  • Patrick Guenette

    Would be interesting to see the Highest and lowest Illustrator income in those stats, average and median?

    If you have it already calculated, but I think it may be interesting to the Illustrators of this website :p


  • Rita Robinson

    Tyler: Thank you so much for the informative information. I’m sure it took a great deal of time to put together. — Rita