30 Dec 2009 10 Years of Microstock

Ok, maybe not quite ten years yet, but close enough. As 2009 comes to an end, rather than look back on just one year, let’s have a look at some of the major developments that have shaped the microstock industry over the past decade.

2000 – Photo Sharing

As the famous story goes, bitter from rejection of traditional stock photo agencies, Bruce Livingstone puts thousands of his own photos online for free. Registering a domain name with the then-cool now-cliche leading ‘i’, iStockphoto is born. It quickly becomes popular with designers who contribute their own photos, turning it into a thriving community.

2001 – Microstock is Born

As the famous story continues, a $10,000 hosting bill forces Bruce to change strategy. He consults the community and the decision is reached to attach a small fee for downloading files. The microstock business model is born.

2002 – 2003 – Business as Usual

iStockphoto enjoys having the market to itself.

iStockphoto website in 2000 "Always Free Royalty Free"

2004 – Dreamstime, Shutterstock and Andres

In March, Romanian designer, Serban Enache, converts his stock photo sharing utility (online since Feb 2001), Dreamstime, to the microstock business model and quickly joins the ranks of top microstock agencies.

Late in the year in a somewhat familiar story, New York computer programmer Jon Oringer converts his website where he sells 30,000 of his own photos by subscription (online since July 2003) to the microstock model. Shutterstock is born and quickly dominates the microstock subscription business.

London-based Colombian-born graphic designer Andres Rodriguez discovers microstock and registers as a contributor.

Dreamstime website in 2004

Shutterstock's first logo

2005 – Fotolia and Yuri

On the back of several successful ventures, entrepreneur Oleg Tscheltzoff launches new microstock agency Fotolia in French. The new agency overcomes the microstock catch-22 by paying contributors 5 cents for every image accepted. They grow fast and quickly dominate the European microstock market.

Danish psychology student and graduate photographer Yuri Arcurs discovers microstock and registers as a contributor.

Fotolia website - in French - in 2005

2006 – Jupiterimages and Subscriptions

Jupiterimages enters microstock by purchasing controlling interest of StockXpert parent HAAP Media Ltd.

Shutterstock narrowly beats iStockphoto as the first agency to offer microstock video. StockXpert and Fotolia follow in 2008.

Chasing the subscription market, Dreamstime is the first to introduce subscriptions in addition to credit-based sales. StockXpert follow in 2007, Fotolia in 2008 and iStockphoto in 2009.

Microstock agencies issue press releases about their portfolios passing the 1 million milestone.

StockXpert old logo

2007 – Corbis and Editorial Microstock

Corbis launches SnapVillage, a “fresh” approach to microstock which fails to catch on and is supported for just two years.

Shutterstock are first to add editorial licenses followed by Dreamstime in 2008 and BigStockPhoto in 2009.

SnapVillage Logo

2008 – Guarantees and Services

Vivozoom launched as the first agency with guaranteed microstock images.

StockXpert parent Jupiterimages is sold to iStockphoto parent Getty Images for $96 million.

LookStat arrives as the first serious third-party service provider in the microstock market.

Vivozoom logo
LookStat logo

2009 – Consolidation

Corbis folds SnapVillage content into their new acquisition creating Veer Marketplace.

iStockphoto, Shutterstock and Veer Marketplace follow Vivozoom’s lead introducing their own image guarantees.

iSyndica launches their microstock distribution service, later adding basic analytics and support for illustrations and video.

Shutterstock buys BigStockPhoto.

Veer logo
iSyndica logo

Agency portfolio growth rises to 250,000 – 300,000 per month.

Microstock Agency Portfolio Growth Chart - December 2009

2010 – ???

What are your predictions for 2010?

Screenshots courtesy web.archive.org

  • Rahul Pathak
    Posted at 17:31h, 30 December Reply

    You left off the emergence of Microstock Diaries. I think the post should be updated to reflect that. Your blog is a key part of the landscape 🙂

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 17:46h, 30 December Reply

      You flatter Rahul, but it’s spectating rather than participating. Hardly qualifies for this sort of list. 🙂

  • plrang
    Posted at 17:31h, 30 December Reply

    Nice listing, could be even three times longer to read more about the background stories. I’m just after the ninth month;)

  • Luis Santos
    Posted at 17:39h, 30 December Reply

    Great post Lee, thanks 🙂

    (check the url link for Andres)

  • mystockphoto
    Posted at 17:51h, 30 December Reply

    Wow… it seems that an entire era is passed since the beginning, it was a joke and now it’s an established industry. I’ve really enjoyed this roundup. Let Rahul – and me – add MicrostockDiaries in this excursus as the first structured and the most famous blog about microstock.
    All the best for 2010!

  • CandyBox Photo
    Posted at 18:57h, 30 December Reply

    Lee great post once more and yes I agree with Rahul 😉

    Wishing you and all the very best for 2010 and further…


    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 19:08h, 30 December Reply

      Thank JM, I’m looking forward to seeing what you’ve got in store for us in 2010!


  • Marek
    Posted at 10:39h, 31 December Reply

    Microstock Diaries definitely belong to a general “microstock landscape.” I started shooting for microstock two years ago and learned a lot from MD.

  • Leo
    Posted at 10:57h, 31 December Reply

    This blog is my inspiration for starting carreer in microstock…
    Happy New Year 2010…

  • FlemishDreams
    Posted at 17:17h, 31 December Reply

    You didn’t mention the failure of “midstock”. The model of Featurepics collapsed and it still is on life support. LuckyOliver went and on New Year’s eve, also Zymmetrical. CutCaster didn’t take off and is stagnant. MostPhotos, after a good start, doesn’t sell anything. YAYmicro is bleeding. Veer Marketplace seems to have inherited the flaws of defunct SnapVillage.

    The trend is clearly, certainly with the many new sites that pop up (and disappear), towards lower prices. Cheap, cheaper, cheapest. Many stockers are hesitant, but part bites in the bait anyways.

    As such, the small amateur contributors will slowly disappear. Entering or staying afloat in the market asks more and more investments, both in hardware, shoot and postprocessing time. The ones that will stay are the large image factories that can control their costs and drive up their volume.

    For photographers are an endless supply: well selling concepts are copied massively by new contributors and the originals drown in the search results. The shelf life of images goes down, unless niche images.

    The situation for illustrators is much better. They are scarce and not so much part of a supply market. It takes more talent to be a good illustrator than to push a camera button, and concepts and style can not be copied easily.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 18:18h, 31 December Reply

      I had to draw the line somewhere.

  • PhotoXpress
    Posted at 18:16h, 31 December Reply

    This is a great snapshot. 2010 will be an interesting year for all.

  • Daniel Laflor
    Posted at 14:35h, 03 January Reply

    Great post Mr. Torrens. I like the overview very much.


  • Vitezslav Valka
    Posted at 09:23h, 07 January Reply

    Thank you Lee. There’s a lot I’ve learned since 2008 I’ve joined microstock as a Pixmac’s CEO. FlemishDreams is definitely right with the projections. I would add sound and video to the illustrations, as it also need’s more skills and not so common hardware. The niche market from the point of content is a difficult challenge for sure.

    For me the first experience was with SXC.hu in 2005 and then StockXpert as a contributor to both. And I will definitely always search for something that may remind me that same friendly feeling at Pixmac. Hopefully others will notice 😉

  • Martin Vlcko
    Posted at 17:34h, 03 February Reply

    What are your predictions for 2010?
    There will be one more curve. Pink upward curve! 😉

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