iStockphoto 2012: Semi-Annual Analysis

Our semi-annual analysis of iStockphoto sales has once again produced interesting results. As of January 2, 1012 istockcharts was tracking the sales of 38,163 of the more than 100,000 iStock contributors. More than 90% of the images in the iStock collection belong to this group of contributor. Combined these contributors have had a minimum of 114,875,519+ downloads since each started working with iStock. During 2011 alone a minimum of 18,615,558+ images (and probably about 21.5 million) were licensed for use.

In order to determine the actual number of images licensed (downloaded) we need to account for the plus (+) factor. iStock provides statistic on the number of downloads of each contributor, but rounds the number they make public to the nearest lower whole number. For example a contributor’s downloads may be listed at 10,000+. The actual number is somewhere between 10,000 and 10,999. When the number hits 11,000 it will be shown as 11,000+. The actual number of downloads is somewhere between the lowest and highest number in the range.

To estimate total images downloaded in 2011 we have taken the middle number in the range and multiplied it by the number of contributors in each group. This gives us an estimated total downloads of 21,503,353 for 2011.



Total Downloads




over 1 million




between 100,000 and 1 million




between 10,000 and 99,999




between 1,000 and 9,999




between 100 and 999




between 10 and 99



Average possible increase above

base istockcharts number listed


Total listed on istockcharts


Estimated total 2011 downloads


These 38,163 contributors added about 1,817,217 images to the collection in 2011 and grew the collection by about 25% to a combined total of 9,224,159 images. (This number is in excess of 90% of the total iStockphoto collection.)

We have also tracked 195 of the leading contributors for almost three years. Of the total images in the collection 705,290 or about 7% belong to these 195 contributors. These contributors added 95,099 images in 2010 and 96,450 in 2011 and grew their collections by 37% in the last two years. They also have had 29,604,000+ downloads during their iStock careers which represent about 25% of all iStock sales.

The numbers indicate that the vast majority of contributors whose numbers are not tracked by istockcharts have placed very few images on the site. Well over 60,000 contributors have placed less than one million images on the site, or maybe an average of about 15 images each. Very few of these ever sell. In fact 6,635 of the contributors tracked by istockcharts have had fewer than 10 downloads.

Declining Sales

The last time iStockphoto publicly reported its sales figures was in 2007 when they said they had 17.55 million downloads and gross revenue of $72 million. We believe they had about 25 million downloads in 2008 and generated approximately $163 million in revenue that year. Since then the number of units licensed have been declining, but revenue has continued to rise due to price increases.

We believe the company’s gross revenue in 2011 was about $350 million. Dividing that by our estimated total downloads of 21.5 million the average license fee for an image was in the range of $16.25. The 5771 exclusive contributors (about 5% of total contributors) have been the main beneficiaries of the price increases. The prices for Exclusive, Exclusive+, Vetta and The Agency Collection (TAC) images are higher than for non-exclusive images; the royalty share is higher and the exclusive images are given preference in the search return order.

Even with these advantages many exclusive contributors are seeing declining unit sales. Of the 195 leading sellers 30 probably had more downloads in 2011 than in 2010 (check the second chart).  Another 25 had about the same number of downloads and 140 had fewer downloads in 2011 than in 2010.

195 Top Producers

For comparative information on 195 of the top producers go to A small fee is charged to access this information. The list shows how contributor positions on the istockcharts list have changed since May 2009 when we started tracking data.
We also provide data on the minimum and possible maximum number of downloads of each contributor in 2010 and 2011 as well as the number of images each added to the collection in those years. It is important to recognize that the images of this small group of 195 contributors represent at least 25% of all the images that have been downloaded from iStockphoto in its history.

About The Author:

Jim Pickerell has been involved in the stock photography business for almost fifty years as a photographer, Macro agency owner, and newsletter editor for the last 20 years. He has lived through the industry changes and is often able to supply useful perspective to those new to the business. Jim publishes, a subscription service and where readers pay to read individual stories. To receive a FREE email every Saturday that includes summaries of the new stories posted the previous week click here, and then click Subscribe to confirm.
Posted on January 6th, 2012 in Editorial | tags:
  • Thanks for the information. It can seem a bit daunting, since I have recently become a contributor. However, to know the numbers is a great help in order to know the hard work ahead of me.
    Thank you!