Earnings vs Portfolio Size – Microstock Survey 2010

With this look at the results from the 2010 Microstock Survey, I’ll be specifically looking at earnings.  I’ll try to break them down a few different ways so we can learn the about how much we should expect to earn and what realistic goals can be for the future.

Earnings by Portfolio Size

Trying to determine how much you can make with 100 or 5000 files, simply by looking at graphs or comparing stats with others is extremely hard.  So much depends on your image style, which niches you shoot, originality, quality, variety etc.  From the graph it is pretty clear that the earnings are extremely varied.  That said, trends can be seen and it is always interesting to know if one is earing below or above the general trend.

Portfolio vs Earnings - Microstock Income

Click image to zoom

On Average, microstock artists are earning $10.28/image/year or a monthly RPI of $0.87

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Earnings by Exclusivity

After filtering out the responses that had a portfolio size of zero or left the earnings blank, I was left with 522 data points.  Here is a look at how iStock exclusives compare to their non-exclusive counterparts.

Raw Numbers

Non-Exclusives Respondents: 394
Avg Portfolio Size: 1,383
Median Portfolio Size: 505
Avg Earnings: USD 9,265
Median Earnings: USD 2,000

iStock Exclusive Respondents: 128
Avg Portfolio Size: 1,548
Median Portfolio Size: 1,000
Avg Earnings: USD 31,385
Median Earnings: USD 12,405

Gross microstock income exclusive vs non excluxive

Click image to zoom

Wow!  Simply put, I’m amazed. I was expecting non-exclusive photographers to earn more than exclusive photographers, but the graph appears to show quite the opposite.

If there is any consolation for us non-exclusives, it could be that the amount of data points in the higher earnings bracket (exclusive or non) is so small it is hard to draw exact / accurate conclusions. Another explanation could be that many of those who become serious in microstock become exclusive, or that you need to have 250 downloads with a 50% acceptance ratio (500 downloads with a lower acceptance ratio) before you can become exclusive, making the contributer caliber of this segment slightly higher.

I am very happy as a non-exclusive and want to reason away what the graph is showing, but I can’t help but admit that it looks like iStock exclusives are doing less work to receive more income.  The data certainly indicates this to be true.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues over the next few years.

 

 

 

Full Time vs Part Time Microstockers

Perhaps this next comparison is a little redundant but I was curious about it just the same.  I was curious to see how those artists who earn the majority of their income from microstock compare to those who earn less than 50% of their income from microstock.  I once again took out the responses that didn’t include portfolio size or gross income, which is the reason the results vary  from the previous look at full time microstock photographers.

Raw Numbers

Part Time Respondents: 403
Avg Portfolio Size: 1,089
Median Portfolio Size: 512
Avg Earnings: USD 6,774
Median Earnings: USD 2,018

Full Time Respondents: 119
Avg Portfolio Size: 2,851
Median Portfolio Size: 2,100
Avg Earnings: USD 44,667
Median Earnings: USD 20,500

Full time vs part time microstock artists

Click image to zoom

The results are no surprise.  Those who earn the majority of their income from microstock are indeed earning, on average, more from microstock.  An interesting observation however, is that the jump in income appears to come from a higher RPI and not so much from a larger portfolio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts?

So what are your thoughts.  Why are iStockers earning more than us non-exclusives?  Does this paint a dismal or positive picture of the future?

Discuss on the Microstock Forum or post your comments below.

——-

If you want to be notified when the 2011 survey comes out, be sure to sign up for an email.

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.
http://www.simplefoto.com
Posted on July 27th, 2011 in Microstock Survey | tags: , ,
  • Some nice and useful information.. thankx Tyler

  • BTW.. I don’t submit to Istock.. but I am happy being a non exclusive contributor 🙂 🙂

  • The results are in line with my experiences going from non-exclusive to exclusive on iStock. In a way its frustrating having done a lot more work only to earn less money, and now having to re-do a lot of that work to get the images up on iStock. My portfolio size on IS still hasn’t reached the pre-exclusive numbers on some of the other sites such as Shutterstock, but the income overtook pre-exclusive figures pretty quickly after making the switch.

  • Great job, with a thoughtful analysis, but of course there’s a few quibbles:

    general comment on the extrapolated line – the data is too variable to draw a straight line like that – if you included error bars for standaerd deeviations, they’d be enormous. the line implies bigger portfolios bring bigger income, yet the scatterplot of data shows for exclusives, there’s no income increases after portfolios of about 5000. for non, there’s actually a decrease after portfolio size of about 6-7000. also, there are too few data points past 5000 to justify using a linear line. it’s quite likely a curve would better fit the data

    ==== Another explanation could be that many of those who become serious in microstock become exclusive, or that you need to have 250 downloads with a 50% acceptance ratio (500 downloads with a lower acceptance ratio) before you can become exclusive, making the contributer caliber of this segment slightly higher.

    another explanation could be that the exclusive requirements eliminates those with smaller portfolios entirely – this is confirmed by the fact that the median for exclusives is twice that of non.

    ==== but I can’t help but admit that it looks like iStock exclusives are doing less work to receive more income. The data certainly indicates this to be true.

    no, the data only shows that exclusives make more money with fewer images. we dont know the work involved. since istock restricts submissions, those folks may work harder on images, or be more selective; other MS like SS accept any number of submissions, so non-exclusives will tend to have larger portfolios. this explanbation also supports your later statment that “the jump in income appears to come from a higher RPI and not so much from a larger portfolio.

    general comment on the extrapolated line – the data is too variable to draw a straight line like that – if you included error bars for standaerd deeviations, they’d be enormous. the line implies bigger portfolios bring bigger income, yet the scatterplot of data shows for exclusives, there’s no income increases after portfolios of about 5000. for non, there’s actually a decrease after portfolio size of about 6-7000. also, there are too few data points past 5000 to justify using a linear line. it’s quite likely a curve would better fit the data

  • Thanks for the thoughts.

    You are right that a straight line isn’t going to be very accurate but I wanted to see the general trend of the data and I think a line shows that. With the lines it is pretty clear to see that one group has a higher RPI than the other.

    I also acknowledge that the number of data points could be larger, but at the same time 600+ data points is getting reasonably significant. It may not be a picture of the entire microstock industry but it IS a good picture of everyone who answered, which is interesting in itself. So you might not be able to conclude that iStock exclusives are all making more, or that your individual portfolio would earn more as an exclusive, but the difference in RPI is so large it is hard to ignore and was quite surprising to me. I think it is safe to say that exclusivity isn’t always a dumb idea. Here is the raw RPI averaged numbers

    non-exclusive monthly RPI: USD 0.53 (482 respondents)
    iStock exclusive monthly RPI: USD 1.63 (142 respondents)
    overall monthly RPI: USD .80 (624 respondents)

  • cobalt

    Hi Tyler,

    thank you for this analysis and all the other interesting articles.

    I do have a few questions:

    – how many of the istock exclusives are full timers?

    And if you compare RPI (irrespective of portfolio size) between full time exclusives and full time non exclusives, what is the result?

    I am asking because I have the impression that most of the istock exclusives I see on the Microstockgroup are high ranking pros. The part time exclusives spend their forum time mostly on istock, at least this is my impression.

    Your numbers are astounding, but I think if being exclusive was that much of an advantage everyone would be exclusive by now, because the microstockscene is well connected and shares income results quite freely. But if you follow comments from those moving in either direction I am not hearing of a general trend like “going exclusive doubled or tripled my income”.

    Overall I assume that those doing stock full time will have a higher RPI because stock photography is their speciality, as opposed to assignment photographers or amateurs (working a different field as a main job).

    • 29% of the iStock exclusives said they spent more than 20 hours a week on microstock
      23% of the non-exclusives said they spent more than 20 hours a week on microstock

      So you are correct, it looks like the iStock exclusive crowd were more serious about their stock, which makes sense as people who just ‘dabble’ in stock wouldn’t bother with (or even know or understand) exclusivity.

      If we use the 20 hrs/week to specify full timers again
      The istock exclusive full timers (65 people) average a monthly RPI of USD 2.04
      The non-exclusive full timers (174 people) average a monthly RPI of USD 0.58

      One iStock exclusive claimed to earn 450,000 on 1,500 images (spending 50hrs/week) … some people have complained about that answer being bogus. If we take that out the average RPI is still USD 1.79, considerably higher than the non-exclusive respondents.

      • Guest

        You predicted the future man. And now Stocksy is here… 🙂

  • iStock certainly favors exclusives in all respects and I have noticed the earnings difference between exclusives and non exclusives with similar quality images on iStock. For this reason I have frequently been tempted to go exclusive with them BUT iStock has on a few occasions been a little less than fair with its contributors (both exclusive and non-exclusive) and some action by Getty, the owner of iStock, has photographers up in arms and some withdrawing their portfolios because of it. When that is considered, no, there is no way I could risk going exclusive with iStock only to find their next set of terms became totally intolorable and have to then move all my work and start over.

  • Larry

    Tyler, interesting reading. You have drawn some very specific conclusions about two classes of contributors, which are believable. But I would like to know if you have compared your income results per photographer to this figure: (Total sales at iStock times average commission) divided by (number of contributors). This figure would be the average gross iStock income by all their contributors. Just guessing, this figure would be very different and much lower. The difference being the fact that the most successful contributors reply to the survey, it is a direct result of the self-selected sample. So, I’m not sure many people reading the results can expect them to apply to their situation. I would hate to have people get discouraged if their income per image is not as stated as average, I don’t think it is average except for your group of 500 folks. People are contributors for a variety of reasons and can be successful if their need is being met even if their income is not as stated. Thanks for the report out and keep up the good work!

  • mark

    interesting but the numbers are very skewed……

    let’s take some guesses about the millions of small fry swimming around in the stock photo waters…..

    my guess is 50% of the people who have submitted images to stock photo websites have NEVER met the minimum payout amount.

    i would say two thirds of ALL images have never had a sale….

    these are purely guesses would be interesting if you could get actual data….on the small fry people…….

  • Steve

    I think that it is a valid comment that newbie exclusive iStockers have a forum outlet already at iStock, so they’re going to be less inclined to visit this forum. Where by this is probably the main forum outlet for non-exclusives.
    Tyler, to weed out this bias, could you compare say the top 40 exclusives with the top 40 non-exclusives in terms of annual income? Comparing RPI, avg and medium earnings with these 2 groups would be good to see, and if nothing else, help independents feel better about it all 😉

  • oldsalt19

    I hate to say this, but most of your data does not make a lot of sense. Firstly, the median (midpoint in a set of numbers) and the average (arithmetic mean) should be somewhat close to each other if you are working with a population with any sort of normal distribution. A Median Earnings: USD 2,000 and Avg Earnings: USD 9,265 means that your data is so skewed that your conclusions are not meaningful. Photographers who claim to have about 1000 images on line with an annual income of almost a half million dollars per year from these images can distort the real situation considerably, regardless of my disbelief. You need to calculate an average deviation for your results and throw out data (both average and median) that are disqualified by not being within the standard deviation set. This will leave you with a body of at least believable results with which you may be able to extract your conclusions.

    • The median will never be close to the average for microstock photographers income. The income breakdown is on a long tail curve, not a bell curve. If we have 10 microstockers, their incomes would look like (1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 3, 10, 20, 40, 100) The median of that range is 1.5, the avg is 7.8). I acknowledge that there are probably some bogus numbers in the survey but the overall majority are valid. I also think it is dangerous to start picking out certain answers saying they simply can’t be true, simply because they don’t fall along a certain curve.

      Take a look at PhotoDune’s top selling authors. http://photodune.net/author/top_authors. Everyone with 1000 plus sales has 7000+ images.. some 19,000 images, then comes solarseven with 246 images and just as many sales. Would his stats look out of place if he was answering the poll? Or take a look at the iStock charts and sort by downloads. http://istockcharts.multimedia.de/ Most people with top sales have thousands (4,000-16,000) of files, Yet the artist in 16th spot, out of 38,000 members has only 774 files. Just becomes someone doesn’t fall on the curve doesn’t mean they answered the survey with bogus numbers.

  • Does this concern ALL kinds of stock-photography? because if it does, I beat the avg exclusive by five lightyears, in earnings.

    If its only micro, well then its to be expected, with all the Vettas and other collections, they should earn much more, or else, whats the point?

  • stefan

    The only way to stay competative for microstock agencies is to have more exclusive contributors who get a fair return. If the costumers find the same picture on different sites (like it is right now), they choose the cheapest one. That leads to the lowprice battle that we see today. BUT this is not going to work for the future because high quality pictures are expensive to produce. The producers risk of not getting his investment back rises every day. I would never ever take the risk of a high end production for the microstock market and I guess even Yuri gets his wakeup call these days. (And he gets camerastuff and lighting gear for free… ) To establish his own stockagency is not a result of greed but a nessesary step to keep his company running (having a staff of around 30-40 people).
    Right now the lowprice battle goes on and will as long as the really good shooters in the business drop out because it does not pay off anymore. Quality and sells will drop. It will be very interesting to see what happens next but right now we see more and more better contitions for exclusive content. There has to be a breakeven in the close future when it becomes defenitly better paying to stick exclusivly to one agency than to spread ones pictures across all agencys. And then the agency with the best conditions for the producers (us 🙂 will win. Maybe we will see a split – a “trash” foto segment that will be very cheap and a premium segment with higher prices and quality content (still microstock). 2/3 of all microstock content today is trash. I wonder why the agencys pay to host and manage this non selling amateur ballast. Why keep a picture in stock that did not sell at least 10 times in 2 years???
    Maybe we will observe a exclusive-nomadism – be exclusive to an agency for 1-2 years and then change 🙂 and go to the next one – exklusive again of course.
    Maybe Yuri comes up with: Come ( ONLY exclusive) all you tired and poor but good stockshooters. Here at my All-Stock-agency I pay fair prices for all segments (except trash 😉 be loved and paid well. And let s watch the greedy bloodsuckers die slowly and painfully while we all make business. If he would be able to get the 30 best selling micro-shooters and the mayority of the quality micro deliverers the (micro)stockworld would change in an amount we can hardly imagine today… Hey yuri, why not? I ll be the first to sign up!!!

    stefan

    • Alejandro

      You predicted the future man. And now Stocksy is here…

  • stefan

    I want to share another thought with you. Think the above the other way around… The micro agencys posses no content. They own nothing of what they sell. And their service is absolutly exchangable. The shooters own the content. 🙂 ! Even if a big player shuts down nothing would harm the deliverers. I mean nothing at all. The missing downloads would be done on one of the remaining plattforms (this could even make you more money?! Upgrading…).

    If the community (the real community; the 30% who generate 70% of the downloads) would (conform to their contracts dictated by the agency) decide to completly withdraw their content at one agency at one (twittered,faced and bloged) date – this agency would shut down within days, maybe months. Gone and leaving nothing behind but the remaing shocked microstock agencys.

    Do you find yourself smiling at this point? 😉

    stefan

  • Hello.

    Finally I have an opportunity to thank Tyler for his work. Tyler’s surveys have played an important part in my desk research since they approach the market from contributor’s point of view. While good statistics are available from various agencies there’s still a lot unknown about the factors which influence success of a contributor.

    Using Tyler’s findings as a starting point in an attempt to clarify this, another survey was designed with a slightly different approach.

    “Survey on commercial application of visual arts” is available on
    http://www.va-survey.biz

    Please take part in this survey. The results will be shared with all the participants.