Earnings Breakdown of Full Time Microstockers

Background Info

Last January MicrostockGroup organized a survey for everyone contributing content to the Microstock marketplace.  Here is the First Look of the results from the survey.  You can also find the ‘disclaimer’ in that post if you are interested :).  The survey is still live, and will be for the next few weeks.  If you haven’t contributed  your stats, you still have the chance.  To date there are 606 people who have answered the survey.

Full Time Microstock Artists Analyzed

Of the 606 artists who answered the survey, 150 of these consider their microstock income as their ‘Primary Income’.  A much larger representation than last year’s 76 full time artists, giving us much better data to look at.  In the survey, the question asked if microstock contributed to more than 50% of their total income.  This analysis is going to look at these 150 artists, those I would consider to be ‘full time’ microstockers.  Full time, in this sense has to be used rather loosely as a stay at home mom who has microstock as her only income isn’t working at microstock ‘full time’ yet may have micro as 100% of her income.  Similarly someone who has been laid off from their office job and is job hunting and doing microstock on the side will again earn 100% from microstock yet not technically be working full time in microstock.

Average Time Spent per Week

Average: 27.5 hours
Median: 25 hours
Maximum: 100 hours
Minimum: 1 hour
Number of people who spend more than 20 hours / week: 113 People

When putting the info into a bar graph, it becomes clear that the majority of those who have microstock as their primary income are spending an significant portion on microstock.


hours spent week microstock

Show Me the Money!

The question everyone wants an answer to, how much are full time microstock photographers earning?

Here are the gross earning stats for the 150 ‘full time’ microstockers
Average: $35,487
Median: $15,000
Maximum: $450,000
Minimum: $10

The median is considerably lower than the average which means there are a few microstock artists who are pulling the average up.  How many, and what is the breakdown?  This requires another graph 🙂

gross microstock earnings

I have put all 150 photographers onto this graph.  I have capped the top of the graph at $225,000 as the one artist earning $450,000 was out on his own.  When chopping off the highest earner, the graph follows a pretty smooth, albeit steep, curve.  There is also an interesting jump in earnings at $50,000.  I find this display of earnings quite encouraging actually.  It isn’t one or two artists who are collecting all the money, it is indeed a small group of artists, but a group large enough that anyone should be able to be a part of it with a little talent and focus.

Percentage of Total Income

The survey also asked how much microstock earnings contributed to the respondents total income.  Amongst the full time artists, the results are as follows:

Average: 83%
Median: 90%
Artists earnings 100% of their income from Microstock: 39 (26%)

39 artists earning 100% of their total income from microstock doesn’t sound like a very high number but it represents 6.4% of the total respondents which is quite a few people.  I expect that is a good number of the total full time artists in the entire industry.  Many, if not most artists have at least a little secondary income (from private clients or something else) they diversify their income with.  Speaking from experience however, it is extremely liberating to work entirely within microstock and drop the hassle of clients 🙂

Exclusive or Non-Exclusive

The survey had an over representation of iStock exclusive contributers.  22.94% of the total 606 respondents were exclusive compared to the 14.63% of the total microstock population iStock Charts claims are exclusive.  Within the full time segment, the exclusive representation is higher.  A total of 27% of full time artists were exclusive.

Full Time Microstock Artists Exclusive Status
Exclusive Artists: 27%
Non Exclusive: 73%

istock exclusive

Media Types Submitted

I think there is a lot of interesting data that could be looked at in regards to media types and earnings.  To start us off however, here is a simple look at the media types full time microstockers are submitting

Photography: 122 people
Illustration: 63 people
Video: 29 people
Audio: 6 people

microstock media types

Photography is still by far the most popular media type, however illustration certainly has decent representation.  I expect video and audio will increase over the next few years as artists try to diversify and new artists who specialize in video or audio discover the microstock market.

What Else?

There is no end to data that could be pulled from the survey results.  What are you interested in seeing in regards to full time artists?  What other break down segmentation are you interested in?

[Discuss 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 March 22nd, 2011 in Microstock Survey | tags: , , ,
  • ralfgosch

    come on, you are talking about full time and you add data from people who earn 10 bucks?

    • Yeah, the $10 person possibly misunderstood the question or maybe makes no other money. Given it was a survey though, I couldn’t just pick and choose which data to include and which not to include. We have to look at the overall picture and averages for things to make sense.

  • Man… need to introduce a better time management for my jobs :> Great post

  • Usually for this kind of data analysis you can cut off really unusual data patterns. The 10$ (perhaps the 450.000$) data probably would count there.

    • I have no reason to think the $450,000 is inaccurate. I can think of a number of people who could of hit that number.

      Unless the answer is impossible, like the hours/week spent on microstock being 300, I feel I should include all answers. We can rather ignore the possibly unrealistic answers when we draw our curve lines. It is still good to see they were there. In the case of the $10, there were actually two people who answered that. The lowest 10 earnings were as follows
      There are enough people answering with low numbers that I believe they are correct. None of those amounts are going to support someone for a year financially but they all answered that microstock was their primary source of income. Like I mentioned in the post, there are a number of people groups that could have answered this way. If I agree with the critique though, it would be the part about calling these people ‘full time microstockers’. It may have been more accurate to call this group ‘primary income source microstockers’ or something… The reason I called this group ‘full time microstockers’ was because it is the profile which the actual working full time microstockers fall into, they just have a little company 🙂

  • Thanks for sharing this Tyler. I’m very familiar with that curve, and the mean/median relationship you found.

    Also, great point re: not being able to pick & choose the data — you have to show what you see, not what you want to see.



  • That information is very useful. Thanks so much for taking the time to put it together!

  • Will

    Thanks for the good info. In future surveys it would be very interesting to know the RPI of the different media, video, photo, illustrations etc.

  • I’d be interested in the $/hour of full time microstockers…

    • I think you’d get some pretty crazy results if you plotted that on a graph. You would get the person who is finished investing in micro and is now just living on the residual income and spends 1 hour/week in micro and makes $5000/month ($1250/hour) and the other guy who is still investing his time and money in micro (80 hours/week) and only making $2000/month which is something like $6.25/hour. When looking at residual income it is really challenging to calculate hourly wage as all the work someone puts into their micro portfolio is an investment in future earnings.

      That said, I agree, it would still be interesting to see what the numbers from the survey look like.

  • Sam

    Interesting post, and quite inspiring too, from my perspective as a microstock newbie.

    I do think the lower figures (around the $500 mark) could represent a genuine full time income in some parts of the world – it depends on the local cost of living.

  • I am curious to know the answer (if it was in the survey) of the top three tags and categories (6 answers) for the media submitted.

  • Thank you Tyler,

    Your information is not only free but isso full of useful data for all of us out here trying to make a living in this crazy industry.

    All my best,
    Jonathan Ross

  • Good points on the hourly rate being tough to calculate – I guess I sort of think of it as my total revenue after expenses divided by time spent to date for comparison purposes with other types of things I could be doing. But when you started, etc. would have a huge impact… The thing with all these measures is that they are just hard to compare! The numbers are interesting, but hard to draw hard conclusions from.

  • I would be interested in seeing a cross-correlation of the time spent data vs income data, perhaps a scatter plot. I’m curious as to whether this would show any grouping correlating to more time spent for more income. My suspicion is to the contrary, since the degree of efficiency among individuals should vary widely, given experience, skill level, etc.

    And thank you for posting this valuable info. Gives me lots to think about.

  • Betsy

    Are there illustration folks among the top earners? While photogs are focused on imagery, I have often thought that those simple and highly useful vector graphics (like red ribbons and swirls come to mind) must be a major part of micro sales.

  • Steve Walker

    With the forever battle of pro photographers dismissing micro, I wonder how the macro shooters income would compare to these stats. I am debating going with micro or traditional macro routes and this sheds a little light on income possibilities.

  • bill day

    While not a member of the survey, I can contribute some figures. I started in DT in 10/2011 in 3D images. I spend more than 40 hrs/week at the job. I need to supplement my income with my photography for a few extant clients.
    My earnings are, to date, a grand total of 30 dollars.