$15 Per Hour

Posted on 4/15/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I received a note from a stock photographer who was one of the more successful full-time image producers in the 1990s and early 2000s. He called my attention to a CNN story about “Workers Striking For $15 An Hour.”

He is envious of those who will earn $15 per hour for their work. He is looking for a new career because he can no longer earn anywhere near $15 an hour in present value for the time and effort he puts into producing new images.

Over the last few years he has meticulously tracked his costs of production and time invested in producing images. He has a very efficient operation compared to that of many full-time pros. But, based on current sales it will take years for him to earn $15 for every hour invested in producing new photos. And the rate of return is declining.

Unlike most hourly workers, in order to produce new images, he must also invest some capital in equipment, props and models as well as finding and getting to the locations where he takes pictures.

I want to emphasize that this photographer’s peers consider him to be one of the more successful photographers in the business. He has worked hard to improve his efficiency, lower his cost of production and focus on producing images of the subject matter in highest demand. Nevertheless, earnings continue to decline.

Rapidly declining prices and the huge increase in competition have dramatically lowered the present value of new work. Of course, if he can afford to wait long enough for the royalties to come in, and his work has a long useful life he might, over many years, earn more than $15 per-hour for the time invested. But there is every indication that work produced going forward will have a shorter and shorter useful life as competition continues to increase and prices continue to fall.

So Why Produce?

While $15 per hour may seem like a basic minimum for many U.S. workers, there are parts of the world where the cost-of-living is much lower. Many workers around the world would be happy with much less. In future it may be these low cost-of-living locations where most of the world’s new imagery will be produced.

In addition many of today’s photographers are not trying to earn a living taking pictures. They do it for fun, or as a break from a boring job that provides their primary means of support. If they can earn a little extra income from this sideline activity; all the better.

Much of the work of these part-time producers is at least equal in quality, and sometimes even better, than work produced by full-time professionals. Thus, for the most part customers tend to be well served by being able to get images they can use at little or no cost.

Unfortunately, turning an activity that was fun at the moment of capture into a revenue producer does require some boring work as well. There are the boring activities of image correction, keywording, uploading images to distributors and dealing with rejection that must be dealt with. Most people don’t find these activities fun. They are just part of the job.  But, a sufficient number of part-timers seem to be willing to make this effort in hopes of receiving some affirmation of their work and a little money.

For those seriously considering trying to earn a living taking pictures I would encourage them to do what my friend did and carefully consider the time they are investing in this activity relative to the money they are currently receiving. Consider how much more time and effort they will need to put into producing pictures to generate a living wage.  Unfortunately, a person’s time is limited. And hourly earnings are important.

Copyright © 2015 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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