Just How Big Is the Stock Photo Industry Today?

I believe the gross worldwide revenue that is generated from the licensing of stock imagery, both still photos and illustrations, is about $1.8 billion annually.

In May 2004, I estimated the market at $1.5 billion, and at the time I addressed the lack of hard facts necessary to make an industry estimate. There is still a lot we don’t know, but the consolidation of sellers in the last three years has provided additional information that makes it much easier to estimate the gross industry revenue today. In planning for the future, it is useful for producers and sellers of stock photography to have some idea of market size and trends.

To arrive at my current estimate, I first looked at the information supplied by the publicly traded companies and Corbis which, although not required by law, has chosen to supply some detail concerning their operations. Looking at the amount of stock revenue from just four companies — Getty, Corbis, Jupiter and a21 — we arrive at a figure of $1.062 billion.

Considering the number of companies involved in the stock photo industry worldwide. one might think that certainly gross industry revenue is much higher than $1.8 billion. But given the acquisitions that have taken place in the last few years, there are very few companies of any significant size left in the market. Amana, Masterfile, Mauritius, Photolibrary, Image Source, Fotosearch, Alamy and AGE are important independent players. But even with some of these, part of their revenue is included in the current gross figures of the big three.

Next we need to look at the large editorial suppliers such as Associated Press, European Picture Association (EPA), Reuters, Bloomberg, Agence France Presse (AFP), Newscom, etc. A large percentage of the images these companies supply are produced to fulfill subscriptions, and thus it might be argued are more like assignments than stock. Nevertheless, I have chosen to lump their photo revenue into the stock category. Some of these companies and publicly owned, but in those cases their picture licensing revenue is a small part of their total revenue and not broken out in their reporting. Thus, it has been necessary to make an estimate of this revenue based on conversations with senior people in this segment of the industry. I estimate the combined gross revenue of all these editorial sellers to be approximately $250 million.

Thus, I have accounted for $1.312 billion in revenue, meaning that combined all the rest of the companies in the industry generate only $488 million if the total revenue is $1.8 billion. Many might say that the combined gross revenue of all these other companies must be more than $488 million, but there is one other factor we must take into consideration: double counting.

Virtually, every major image supplier is generating some of its revenue, and in some cases a significant part, from licensing rights to images supplied by other agencies. Even Getty Images receives some portion of its revenue from distributors who represent part of Getty’s collection.

I estimate that at a minimum 20 percent of the total actually charged customers for the use of imagery is double counted. Thus, if we were able to total the gross revenue that all the distributors and image suppliers in the world report as income each year, it might come to an annual figure of $2.16 billion, even though image buyers had only paid $1.8 billion. The number could easily be higher, but at this level the total revenue for the “Other” category would be $848 million. I think that is very reasonable estimate of what the smaller suppliers generate.

Finally, what about all the photographers who are licensing rights to images from their personal stock files direct to customers? I believe that the Internet has made it so much easier for customers to find an image they can use in large databases, and to quickly complete the transaction, that the number of direct sales from photographer to customer has dropped dramatically from what it was 10 to 15 years ago. While there are certainly some sales of this type, I believe they currently represent a very small portion of total industry revenue and are covered in my $848 million figure.

[tags]stock photography[/tags]

8 Responses to “Just How Big Is the Stock Photo Industry Today?”

  1. This is very interesting. What other sources are available for this kind of information?

  2. Jim - facinating article, really enjoyed. i had some further questions. What is the best way to contact you??

    i can be reached at david @ DMDconsultingllc.com

    thanks SO much!

  3. Hi Jim,

    Really interesting insights. Would you happen to have an idea of the gross worldwide revenue generated from assignment requests? Or in other words the Photo assignment business?

    Thank you!

  4. Any idea about the size of the photography workshop market, i.e. how much is spent annually on workshops?

  5. HI Jim,

    Great article, very interesting!

    I am starting a company in the stock photo industry and would love your feedback! Your industry experience would be extremely helpful.

    How can I contact you? You can reach me at [email protected].

    Ryan Freed

  6. Hi Jim

    Great article, pretty insightful. Could you roughly estimate the size of microstock industry?

    Thanks and Regards

  7. Jim,
    I too found this information fascinating - and relevant - as I quite frustrated with the stock photography market and how it's evolving.

    Curious, how big do you think the stock photography market is today? Have you updated youre figures since publishing the above?

    William Berenson

  8. Hi Jim,
    This is some very good info and is a great help to me as I attempting to start selling my photos and this is all info that I need to consider. Every little bit helps. thanks.

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