2011 Microstock Industry Survey – First Look

Over 700 people responded to the 2011 Microstock Industry Survey (709 to be exact), beating our previous year’s record by nearly 100 responses (nearly 200 more responses compared to this time last year).   Thanks everyone!  If you haven’t had a chance to fill out the survey, you can do so here.  All responses will be included in future analysis.

The survey is also available in Russian and German, thanks to MerLin (Microstock Submitter)  and Amos (fotos-verkaufen) for that.

This is the ‘first look’ at the survey which simply presents raw data calculations and figures.  In future posts I’ll compare the stats to previous years and analyze the data within itself (earnings vs portfolio size for example).


I am not a scientist, statistician nor mathemagician.  This survey gives a general idea of the current state of the microstock industry based on 700+ people’s view.  The respondents for this survey are self-chosen after following a link online (MicrostockGroup Forum, Microstock.ru Forum, ThePhotoForum, DPChallenge, Shutterstock Forum, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus,  iStock, Facebook stock group, Yahoo Groups, Fotolia (Thread was removed)) or a direct email (from the MicrostockGroup mailing list).  I publicized the survey in as many places as possible to minimize a bias towards any one group of respondents.  There is a healthy profile of respondents from various sites, countries and exclusive / non-exclusive status. 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 forgotten 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 have included the 2010 results in brackets where applicable.

Microstocker Profile


Male: 548 – 77% (372 – 71%)
161 – 23% (152 – 29%)

Where have all the women gone?



Average Age: 42.7 (40.4)
: 85 (84) (looks like Smiling Jack is still at it :), albeit a year older)
Youngest: 15 (16)

Media Types Submitted:

Photography: 636 – 90% (460 – 90%)
Illustration: 192 – 27% (163 – 31%)
Video: 107 – 15% (61 – 10%)
Audio: 18 – 5%  (5 – 1%)

The numbers this year show a very similar profile compared to 2010.  Illustration numbers are slightly down while it looks like there are more people working with video and audio.  This could be due to people experimenting in other media, or simply a slightly different sample group of respondents.  We can look more into this and get an answer in future analysis.

Are you exclusive to iStockPhoto?

Exclusive: 147 – 21% (126 – 24%)
Non-Exclusive: 562 – 79% (398 – 76%)

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

Yes: 170 – 24% (129 – 25%)
No: 539 – 76% (395 – 75%)

Very similar results compared to 2010, which both confirm the accuracy of the survey and the randomness of the participants.  With nearly 200 more respondents, the profile is very similar.

How many images do you have online?

Average: 2191 (1450)
Median: 952 (700)

How many illustrations do you have online?

Average: 744 (525)
Median: 200 (250)

How many videos do you have online?

Average: 248 (82)
Median: 28 (15)

How many audio files do you have online?

Average: 160 (40)
Median: 25 (58)

How many months have you been involved in microstock?

Average: 44 (36)
Median: 42 (35)
Max: 140 (108)
Minimum: 1 (1)


Average microstock income: $17,016 ($13,439)
Median income: $3000 ($3173)

It’s always exciting seeing how the money is doing.  There is a big jump in average income this year.  More analysis to come – but needless to say it is exciting to see 26 people reporting an income of over $100,000 with many many more in the high 5 figure amounts.

Highest reported income: $900,000 ($211,708)
Lowest reported income: $0 ($1)

Did your microstock income increase or decrease in 2011?

Increase: 398 – 56%  (450 – 86%)
Decrease: 169 – 24% (74 – 14%)

It’s been a tough year in microstock for a lot of people.  Quite clearly shown here with only 56% of people reporting an increase in income.

Microstock Agencies Breakdown

What agencies do you submit to?

Where do you generate the most income?

Obviously this is for non-exclusives – but wow, Shutterstock is really grabbing more of the pie here.  In 2010 48% of respondents indicated that Shutterstock was their top grossing site.

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

Last year iStock had 30% of the votes on this question, this year they sit at 15%.  There have been a lot of reports (complaints) on the MicrostockGroup forum (and elsewhere) of falling income for independents (and some exclusives) – this graph appears to confirm that.  Last year Shutterstock got 27% of the votes, this year they were nudged up to 37%.

Outsourcing / Team Work

Do you outsource any part of your workflow?

This is the first year I’ve asked this question. 40 people (6%) of the respondents outsource some part of their workflow, I’m guessing this number will only grow in the future.  Outsource specific analysis of the stats will be the subject of a future blog post.

Do you have full or part time employee’s (or work as part of a team or with a partner)?

Microstock Outlook

It appears the majority of people still have a positive outlook on the industry.  69% of the respondents feel the future is positive, with 63% of photographers saying they plan on submitting more content next year compared to previous years.

Do you feel the future of microstock is positive?

Do you plan to submit more or less photos this year compared to last year?


Stay Tuned

There have certainly been some changes and shuffling of market share in the last year but overall I’d say things still look positive and I’m excited about 2012.  I’m also excited to do more in-depth analysis of the stats – Keep in touch with RSS, Twitter, or join the mailing list so you don’t miss out.

If you have any specific analysis you think would be interesting, let me know in the comments below.


ColorChecker Passport Giveaway

As a thanks to everyone who filled out the survey, MicrostockGroup is giving away a ColorCheck Passport to one of the respondents who indicated they wanted to be entered (210 people did so).  WolframAlpha was used to generate a random number…

193 corresponded to Ken Hunter, congrats! … that said, he hasn’t responded to my ‘you won’ email yet – I’ll give him another week or so before picking someone else.  If you’re out there Ken, let me know your mailing address. Update Update:  Ken has been found 🙂 here’s his portfolio on Alamy,The ColorCheck Passport has been ordered and delivered.  Hope you can make good use of it Ken.

[Survey Discussion on the Microstock 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 10th, 2012 in Microstock Survey | tags:
  • This is such a valuable set of statistics. Thanks for all of the hard work. All of our nearly 40 reviewers and editing staff in two countries really enjoyed reading this. There is a lot of incredible data here to mine.

  • Gemmy

    Great work, Thank you for sharing interesting information..!

  • Luis Santos

    Great job Tyler! Seems like many iStock exclusives decided not to show their highest earner (60 of 147) and also in terms of RPI (105 of 147), are we talking about Getty, Alamy or other? thanks

    • I’m not quite sure what your question in Luis, but in case this might answer it… iStock exclusives weren’t shown the ‘Where do you generate the most income?’ question and ‘Which site gave you the highest return per image (RPI)?’ question.

  • Thx for sharing the results Tyler. Good read, with some surprising outcomes like Shutterstock’s high popularity among contributors. Indeed one of the best agencies on the market now.

  • Luis Santos

    exactly, make sense!

  • Well done MicroStockGroup! Very cool to see this info!

  • Fascinating data! I was surprised to see the number of women in microstock drop by that much. I wonder if the amount of the drop is statistically significant (too bad I forget everything I learned in my college stats class or maybe I could figure it out myself).

  • Nice work, Tyler. Thanks for doing this!

  • Excellent work. I believe next year will be a massive shift in exclusivity towards the non exclusive. Valuable set of statistics and hope people take notice at the agencies to see where the future might be headed.

  • Fotomine

    Thanks to Microstock Group for making this possible and to everyone who participated. I particularly found the stats on where people contribute and return per image most interesting.

  • Morphart

    Thanks ! Great job again on this, always interesting to see this information!

  • Betty

    I’m late to this, but thanks for the great stats on selling microstock. I just uploaded my first images to one of the sites: maybe by next year I’ll be skewing the earnings up! 🙂

  • Ola

    I cant see the most important pie, dollars per agency. Do you have the data?

  • ken

    Great info….thank you a lot

  • Jeff

    Do we know who has the average higher reported income, iStock exclusives or independents?

  • Excellent report, thanks for sharing these valuable insights again.

    Would love to see report on istock exclusive, though, as other have mentioned. I bet the figures will be radically different, since people with exclusive lincense get much more boost both in revenue and exposure.

  • Excellent article, great job and, in addition to the main use microstock (fotolia, shutter, 123, dreamstime, istock, deposit and canstock) I’m making my personal site stock:
    Carbonini Marco Photo Store

    soon add the ability to enter sales and affiliate system