2012 Microstock Industry Survey – First Look

The responses have been tabulated and the results for the 5th annual Microstock Survey are ready.  To date there have been 754 respondents, about 40 more than  last year’s survey.  A big thanks for everyone who responded.  It’s great to have such a large sample size to look at.   As I’ve done in previous years, I announced the survey in a large number of places in an attempt to gain as varied of a response as possible.  The survey was announced on the MicrostockGroup Forum, Shutterstock forum, iStock forum, twitter, Facebook, Google+, microstock.ru and through the MicrostockGroup newsletter.

The survey was available in English as well as German and Russian thanks to the translation by Amos Struck of Fotos-verkaufen.de (German) and Alex Ander (Russian).

For referance, here are links to the previous year’s ‘First Look’s’
You can also view all survey related posts in the Microstock Survey category on this blog.

Finally, if you haven’t filled out the survey, you can still do so and your answers will be included in future analysis.  [Survey Link]


I am not a scientist, statistician nor mathemagician.  This survey gives a general idea of the current state of the microstock industry based on 750+ people’s view.  The respondents for this survey are self-chosen after following a link online 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 had images online, but isn’t that want we want to know?  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 2011 and 2010 survey results in many of the answers for comparison.  2011 results are in [square brackets], 2010 results are in (round brackets).

Microstock Artist Profile


Male: 79% [77%] (71%)
21% [23%] (29%)

gender 2012 microstock survey


Average Age: 41.9 [42.7] (40.4)
: 86 [85] (84)
Youngest: 18 [15] (16)

Did you take part in this survey last year?

Yes: 39%
No: 47%
Unsure: 14%

repeat survey responder

How many months have you been involved in microstock?

Average: 50 [44] (36)
Median: 48 [42] (35)
Max: 144 [140] (108)
Minimum: 0 [1] (1)

How many hours a week do you spend on Microtock?

Average: 18.5
Median: 15
Minimum: 0
Maximum: 120

Do you Consider Yourself a Full Time Microstock Artist

Yes: 29%
No: 71%

full time microstock artist

Are you exclusive to iStockPhoto for any type of media?

A similar result to previous years but still, a tiny bit higher exclusive numbers.  It should be noted however that this year I asked if the artist was exclusive for any type of media, allowing them to further break down their response by media type.  In previous years I simply asked if the artist was exclusive or not.

Exclusive: 26% [21%] (24%)
Non-Exclusive: 74% [79%] [76%]

iStock Exclusivity by Media Type

Photo: 21 %
Illustration: 4%
Video: 5%
Audio: 1%

exclusivity by media type

Do you actively submit images to Alamy?

Yes: 31%
No: 69%

submit to alamy

Excluding Alamy do you submit to any macrostock or traditional stock agencies?

Yes: 21%
No: 79%

macrostock submissions


Media Types Submitted:

The numbers are pretty similar to previous years however there is a very clear growth in the number of contributors submitting video.  156 respondents this year are doing so.  For audio, the number of respondents is so small it is hard to justify any hard conclusions.

Photography: 88% [90%] (90%)
Illustration: 30% [27%] (31%)
Video: 21% [15%] (10%)
Audio: 2.7% [5%]  (1%)

media types submitted 2012 microstock survey


Images Online as of Dec 31, 2012

Average: 2,320 [2,191] (1,450)
Median: 1,000 [952] (700)
Minimum: 0
Maximum: 50,000

Images Added to Portfolio in 2012

Average: 658
Median: 300
Minimum: 0
Maximum: 24,000


Illustrations Online as of Dec 31, 2012

Average: 792 [744] (525)
Median: 311 [200] (250)
Minimum: 0
Maximum: 15,250


Video Online as of Dec 31, 2012

Average: 445 [248] (82)
Median: 41 [28] (15)
Minimum: 0
Maximum: 15,000


Audio Online as of Dec 31, 2012

Average: 177 [160] (40)
Median: 36 [25] (58)
Minimum: 1
Maximum: 2,000

Outsourcing / Team Work

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

Yes: 20% [15%]
No: 80% [85%]


Do you outsource any part of your workflow?

Yes: 8% [6%]
No: 92% [94%]


What parts of the workflow are outsourced?

Never Sometimes Always No Answer

Pre Production

51% 28% 13% 8%


70% 14% 8% 8%


19% 48% 25% 8%


25% 30% 37% 8%


47% 21% 24 8%

Microstock Outlook

Do you feel the future of microstock is positive?

Yes: 65% [69%]
No: 35% [31%]

positive future for microstock

Money Talks

Which agency provided the highest RPI?


highest rpi

What percentage of income came from your top grossing site?

Average: 52.3%
Median: 50%

What was your top grossing site?

Top 5 Answers

Shutterstock: 75%
iStock: 9%
Fotolia: 6%
Other: 5%
Dreamstime: 3%

top income site

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

Yes: 31% [24%] (25%)
No: 69% [76%] (75%)

microstock primary income


How much money did you gross from microstock last year (2012)?

Average microstock income: $20544 [$17,016] ($13,439)
Median income: $4000 [$3000] ($3173)
Minimum: 0
Maximum: $523,000

Did your microstock income increase or decrease in 2012?

Increase: 73% [70%]  (86%)
Decrease: 27% [30%] (14%)

income increase or decrease

On which site did you experience the greatest increase in gross earnings?

Top 5 Answers

Shutterstock: 64%
Other: 7%
Fotolia: 6%
iStock 5%
DepositPhotos: 5%

greatest increase in earnings


On which site did you experience the least increase (or largest decrease) in gross earnings?

Top 5 Answers

iStock: 27%
Dreamstime: 17%
Fotolia: 17%
Unsure: 10%
Shutterstock: 7%

biggest drop in earnings


It is reassuring to see there wasn’t any massive change in the industry the last 12 months.  There appears to be a little shuffling of market share between the top agencies, but overall income for the artist appears steady.  Although no big changes are registered yet, exclusivity is an interesting stat which will certainly be worth watching in the coming years.  It was interesting to see more artists focusing on video and I’m curious to see if this trend will continue.  I’ll break down the stats further in future blog posts, some of which will specifically look at exclusivity, income and media types.

How do you compare?  Which stats do you want broken down further? How could the survey be improved next year?  Let me know in the comments.

[Microstock Forum Discussion of Results]


As a thanks to everyone filling out the survey, I ran a giveaway for a 52″ westcott reflector.  Anyone who filled out the survey could enter once the survey was complete.  I drew a random number and matched it up with the entries

msg survey winnerThe winner was Ori Gutman. Congrats!

Stay Updated

Be sure to sign up to the MicrostockGroup newsletter and stay informed of any major industry changes.  [Sign-up Link]

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 19th, 2013 in Microstock Survey | tags:
  • Max Protsenko

    Thank You, Tyler!
    Great and very interesting results.
    Just thought it will be good to receive own answers after taking part in survey. Some numbers calculated specially for survey and I can’t remember it now :-). It will be interesting to compare my answers with results or my old answers. If it is possible, will be great to see this next year.

    • That is a good idea but would also require me to gather email addresses as part of the data. As it is now, the survey is completely anonymous. Perhaps that could be an option for those who wanted however – I’ll check into it.

      • Max Protsenko

        I even didn’t think about doing this by someone. I only imagine this like automated function.

        • Yes, it would be automated but the email address would still be linked to the answers in the database and render the survey non-confidential.

          • Max Protsenko

            Ok, I think You now about process absolutely better than me. Will not do my presumptions more.
            Thank You Tyler!

      • Jo Ann Snover

        One option that would not require an e-mail address would be to generate a PDF with their entries and let the user save it. A number of sites i use let you save PDFs of what you’ve done, so I assume there’s some toolkit or browser plugin out there to do that (i.e. I don’t know of one but assume there must be)

  • Avinash K Jain

    Thank you Tyler!!! Keep up the Good work!!

  • Great survey Tyler, thanks for your effort in this. I think most of us have been aware for some time that earnings at iStock have been falling and Shutterstock’s increasing, interesting to get an indication of the extent of this with the survey.

  • Dennis Cox

    Great insight, thanks so much for doing this!

  • Dave

    Thanks very much Tyler.
    For this to really be helpful, we need to know how many photographers have how many files with each agency.

    • Yeah, it would certainly be interesting and useful to have every stock site with their upload numbers and income. I haven’t asked agency specific questions because I feel the survey is already quite long and I the extra questions would break the balance of keeping the survey easy to answer. Perhaps one solution would be to give people the choice of answering the ‘extended’ survey or ‘short’ survey

  • Enstoker

    Great job.

  • W. S. Shepard

    Thanks for this quite useful information. You present the data in a quite understandable form.

    I would like to make a suggestion for next year’s survey. I am wondering how “telling” the chart on “highest RPI” really is. Clearly, it shows Shutterstock as the greatest earner per image. Of course, that number includes iStock earners that are obviously non-exclusive. I recently compared my iStock earnings (exclusive) to earnings from someone that had their content on many sites. It turns out that as an exclusive I was making more per image than they were making per image conglomerate on many sites, including ShutterStock. As a result, it would be nice to break out RPI for exclusives and non-exclusives for each site. The anonymous data could simply include the amount earned per site, the number of images on each site, and whether the contributor was exclusive to that site. Then, the RPI chart could actually be two charts, one for exclusive contributors and the other for non-exclusive. Such information would be extremely useful to those considering the advantages or disadvantages of exclusivity.

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