Exactly How Many Images Are Available Online?

What does the competition look like in terms of the number of images available online?

Among photo-sharing sites, ImageShack had 20 billion images and Facebook had about 15 billion as of last year. In February 2010, Facebook was reportedly adding more than 2.5 billion photos each month. News Corp.’s Photobucket currently has more than 8.2 billion photos, and Yahoo!-owned Flickr is in fourth place with over 3.4 billion.

Photo-Sharing Sites Still Little Threat to Pros

About 135 million Flickr-hosted images are available for free use under Creative Commons licenses. Of this number, use of approximately 35 million is restricted to non-commercial uses, leaving only 100 million that are available for unlimited free uses.

Despite these numbers, most professional photographers are not overly concerned about these image sources, because most of the images available on photo-sharing sites have been shot by amateurs and are, for the most part, of only personal interest to a given user’s family and friends. In addition, the lack of targeted keywords makes it very difficult for a potential buyer to find anything useful.

In fact, the very volume tends to work against trying to find images on photo-sharing sites, because it takes so much sifting to locate ones that might be of use.

Microstock Continues Growth

On the other hand, the millions of images on professionally oriented sites are an area of concern. These images have been keyworded, model-released and mostly edited for duplicates and substandard technical quality.

The four major microstock agencies reported these inventories in May 2010:

  • Dreamstime – 8,556,710;
  • Fotolia – 9,056,403;
  • iStockphoto – 6,837,000; and
  • Shutterstock – 11,332,581.

In many cases, the same images are on all four microstock sites, so a total of these numbers is not an accurate indicator of the overall image quantity, but 20 million unique images is a reasonable estimate.

Also interesting is that there are 230,299 photographers and graphic artists contributing to Shutterstock alone. There are likely more than 300,000 photographers constantly adding images to these four sites.

In the case of iStock, about 8 percent of the images in the collection belong to the top 200 producers of more than 80,000. The images from these 200 generated more than 27 percent of total revenue in the first quarter of 2010.

The Rest of the Market

What about the rest of the market? The inventories — some reported and some estimated — of the larger collections total more than 130 million images, including:

  • Alamy – 18,960,000;
  • AP – 6,000,000;
  • Bloomberg – 290,000;
  • Corbis – 4,000,000 (est. 1,000,000 creative and 3,000,000 editorial);
  • DPA – 7,500,000;
  • Getty Images – 8,500,000 (est. 2,500,000 creative and 6,000,000 editorial);
  • Microstock – 20,000,000;
  • Newscom – 40,000,000+; and
  • Reuters – 25,000,000.

All the smaller collections not distributed by one or more of these large distributors must also be considered. That number is hard to estimate, but an additional 30 million to 50 million unique images is probably in the ballpark.

Then and Now

An interesting historical sidelight is that back in the early 2000s, after Getty and Corbis had made a series of major acquisitions, both companies claimed to have 70 million images in their respective collections.

The major difference is that at that time these were mostly film-based images, not scanned, and in many cases, not very tightly edited. The only way to locate an image among these 140 million images was through laborious manual research. The vast majority of these images were never scanned, and it would be impossible to find most of them today — only a very small percentage are available digitally.

In contrast, the 130+ million images itemized above are digital files available in online databases for immediate research, download and use by potential customers.

7 Responses to “Exactly How Many Images Are Available Online?”

  1. Could you cite references for these figures? Flickr passed 4 Billion last year so your 3.4B sounds a little off.

  2. Heya Jim
    Very interesting figures, they look to be pretty much on the ball. Though I've done some research into actual contributor numbers (as I provide free tools for microstock contributors and tools for image licensing agencies):
    You state that "There are likely more than 300,000 photographers constantly adding images to these four sites."
    I'm fairly confident this is somewhat overstated, from the best I can figure out there are (at any one time) 60,000 to 120,000 registered accounts at each microstock agency, of which no more than 30-40% (31500) have been active in the last 12 months. A rough estimate puts about half of those as submitters to at least 2 major agencies, and half of those to at least 3 (quick calc to 47250 total contribs).
    Those 'constantly' adding images (average only around 150 per month) is probably somewhere in the region of 5% of the active accounts (2362), with a further 30% 'occasional' contributors (14175) or hobbyists adding at least a handful of images per month.
    A total number of submitted images from this contributor base is somewhere around 496,050, of which a third is likely duplicated content (impossible to say for sure, that last one is a gut figure not based on research).

    Giving us a grand total of only 16,537 active microstock photographers, adding a grand total of around 330,700 unique new images per month from the active base. Add an extra 100,000 images (guess of across all micro agencies) from the very long-tail contributor base (1 or 2 images/month) and we're hitting the rough figures for monthly additions as released by the agencies 🙂

    It's an estimate, but I'm pretty sure it's closer to the real figure of microstock photographers and illustrators actually generating content 🙂

  3. Hi Jim,

    Please note that Photobucket is no longer a subsidiary of News Corp. In December of 2009 the company merged with Ontela and formed the standalone "Photobucket Corporation". Thanks.


  4. And with the recent Getty Images / Flickr tie up, I am sure that the number of images on Flickr alone will mushroom as pro and amateur photographers alike will want to have their images available for licence on this top stock photographer website.

    I know I will be making sure I add more of my images to my Flickr account to increase my exposure to Getty clients and users.

  5. These numbers and your historical note put a new light on the Flickr/Getty partnership.
    Getty also has an issue with the Google image search which is becoming more and more important. Only about 27,000 stock photos from Getty are in Google's image index. In contrast to that Google has 4,540,000 images from Shutterstock indexed.
    Another site with more than 13,000,000 online photos is Photoshelter. Not directly a stock photo site but many independent photographers are selling their photos there directly.

  6. Hi Jim,
    Great website. I'm searching for verifiable stats for online images for an academic paper I'm writing. I don't doubt your statistics but I'd be grateful if you'd share your sources. All in the pursuit of accuracy, you understand. Photobucket publish their own, so no probs there.Flickr, Facebook and ImageShack don't. Where can I get this info?
    Many thanks.

  7. Hi Jim,
    I've the same query as Mike Thomas. It would be great if you could provide some links, or direct me to where I could find the latest stats.

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