Microstock Earnings

By Andrew Hudson Published: June 17, 2011 Updated: October 19, 2016

The first thing everyone wants to know is: how much money can I expect to make from microstock? So let’s look at some income numbers.


According to the excellent 2009 Survey by Tyler Olson of MicrostockGroup.com, the average income of a microstock photographer in 2009 was:

$10,654 a year

That’s $888 per month. This was for photographers that had about 1,000 images spread over six microstock sites.

“I think $1,000 a month is feasible, $3,000 with hard work. Remember that it is rather a long term thing so you might need 1 or 2 years to reach $3,000.”
— Laurent Dambies of Microstock Experiment

“$30–100 per month per 100 images you have had accepted on the top six microstock sites.”
Steve Gibson at Microstock Insider


How many images do you need online to get this revenue? Survey says:

1,156 images

Now these are accepted images. If we assume that microstock sites will accept about 60% of the images you’d submit, then you’d need about 2,000 images that you consider top notch.

RPI (Return Per Image)

An important metric that microstockers like to talk about is “RPI.” This stands for “Return Per Image,” which means the average income for one photo accepted online. Since each photo costs you time to shoot, process and submit, RPI is a good way to measure your hourly income.

In the MicrostockGroup survey, the average RPI was:

Annual RPI: $9.22

This is per year, and it’s tempting to think that you’ll get $9.22 each year for the rest of your life. But photos get old (just like us) and they grow unfashionable, outdated, and less popular (also just like us). If we assume that each stock photo drops in popularity by 20% per year, that gives us a lifetime multiple of about 5. So the lifetime income of a microstock photo is about 5 × $9.22=$46.

Lifetime RPI: $46

Now we have a benchmark with which to measure your time. If you can create and submit one acceptable microstock photo per hour, that’s a revenue of $46 per hour. Maybe you could work efficiently and improve this rate. But if you travel, rent a studio, hire models, buy equipment, or incur other costs, you have to take that into account too.

RPI Reported by Photographers

$38Royce Bair, The Stock Solution in 2005
$22.56Lee Torrens of Microstock Diaries in Nov 2009
$14Royce Bair, The Stock Solution in 2004
$12Laurent Dambies of Microstock Experiment ($1/mth)
$9.222009 Survey by Microstock Group (Tyler Olson)
$9Lee Torrens at Microstock Diaries
$3Steve Gibson at Microstock Insider
$1.08Microstock Adventure ($0.09/mth)

“On average, contributors see $12–15 annual revenue per image (RPI).”
— Lookstat ( source).

RPD (Revenue Per Download)

How much you get when your photo is downloaded (licensed) by a customer.

RPD Reported by Photographers

$1.82iStock forums
$1.40Jim Pickerell for non-exclusive
photographers at iStockPhoto

“On average, each download is worth around $2. If a photographer has 25,000 downloads since he joined in 2005 that means he’s earned around $50,000 from iStock.”
— David “Skyhobo”

Typical Microstock Photographers

How much do typical photographers earn?

Samples Earnings of Microstock Photographers

MonthImagesRPI pmDateSource
$3,1581,253$2.52Jul 2010
$1,8001,425$1.262009Marek Uliasz
$8881,156$1.30Dec 2009Tyler Olson
$826874$1.88Nov 2009Lee Torrens
$671Sep 2010Matt Antonino
$4431,644$0.27Sep 2010Luis Santos
$114210$0.54Aug 2010Anthony Shaw
$58May 2010Roberto Marinello
$31151$0.21Mar 2010Allen


What advice can you give to an aspiring microstock photographer?

“Do some research (find a niche), be patient and have perseverance.”
— Laurent Dambies of Microstock Experiment



March 16, 2013

how much can I earn by 1000 accepted photos in 123rf?

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