Exactly How Many Images Are Available Online?

Exactly How Many Images Are Available Online?
By Jim Pickerell via Black Star Rising

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.