2001 Stock Photographer Profits Survey

Posted on 5/2/2001 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



May 2, 2001

There was disappointing participation in our survey of photographer income and
expenses for 2000, and thus the results are probably far from being statistically
valid. Only 97 photographers responded, but the averages provided some interesting
comparisons to previous years. The most interesting analysis has to do with what
happened on the expense side of the stock photography business, but first I need to
set the stage by reporting income.

Combined, the 97 photographers reporting had a total stock income of $8,877,211 in 2000 and
additional photographic income of $5,579,669 for a total photographic income of

The average stock income per photographer for 2000 was $91,518 and the average total
photographic income was $149,040. Interestingly, these are almost exactly the same
numbers we had for 1999 which were $91,571 and $147,525. The 1998 averages were
$87,214 and $139,981 respectively. There were 185 photographers supplying figures for
1998 and only 138 for 1999.

The survey was mailed to over 2,000 photographers and made available on-line. About
half the respondents completed their survey on-line.

About 29% of the total stock sales, or $2,568,356, were made direct to the buyers by the
photographer. This compared with 29% for 1999 and 24% for 1998.

Income From Agencies

We asked photographers to provide figures for that portion of their business that was
related solely to the licensing of still photos. We purposely excluded art decor and
motion picture production from this survey.

The total income generated for photographers by their stock agencies was $6,308,855.
Twelve photographers (12%), were not represented by an agency. All their income was
generated through direct
sales. The total stock income for these 12 was $368,000, or an average of $30,669 per

Twenty-five photographers (26%) of all respondents, were represented by only one
agency. This was down from 29% in 1999. Their total stock income was $1,375,454 (15%)
of their total income from stock, and down from 21% in 1999. The average stock income
per photographer of this group was $55,030, down from $66,088 in 1999. One notable
fact is that this includes many of the top individual producers who are with agencies
such as Stone, The Image Bank, The Stock Market and FPG.

The gross stock income of the 50 photographers who had images with two or more agencies was
$7,133,757 or $142,675 per photographer. In 1999 62% of the photographers were
represented by more than one agency (higher than the 51% for 2000), but their average
income was only $111,921.48.
It is important to note that in our previous surveys those photographers who are represented
by several agencies have consistently earned much more on average than those
represented by a single agency, or those handling all their sales directly.

Taking Expenses Into Account

Eighty-nine photographers provided expense figures. Their total expenses were $5,932,956
and this generated income of $13,931,842. They estimated that $2,572,423, or about 43%
of the total expenses were related to stock production. This is a very significant

In 1999, of the 138 photographers responding 115 reported total stock income of
$11,230,080 and total business expenses of $7,885,589. They allocated $6,483,242
(82% of total business expenses) to stock production.

The average photographer was spending $56,376 on stock production in 1999 and that
dropped to $28,904 in 2000. Despite the drop in production costs the photographer's
average income remained about the same.

Average of total expenses were:   







Num. Photog.   

Gross Exp.   

Avg. Per Photog.   

Stock Exp.   

Percent Gross Exp.   













This shows very clearly that while photographers overall business spending remains
about the same, the proportion they are spending on new stock production has dropped
dramatically. Anecdotal information indicates that photographers have been rapidly
moving to diversify and find alternative sources of income other than stock.

In the short term this is good news for photographers. Costs are going down while
income is staying about the same. Profits should be increasing. This dramatic
reduction in costs fits with general anecdotal information from photographers that
they have been cutting back on stock production. While this doesn't seem to be affecting
sales right now, the major concern is what will happen to stock income a year or two
down the road when there are fewer new images in the pipeline to meet customer
demand. This may be of greater concern to stock agencies than photographers as they
need a steady flow of imagery in order to grow.

In the expense category photographers were asked to include: film,processing, dupes,
props, sets, models, assistants, travel, digital scans &outputs, marketing costs,
computers, camera equipment, studio and office rent, phones, office equipment and
supplies, accounting, insurance,depreciation, continuing education, etc. We did not
ask photographers to break out expenses just for the stock side of their business
because we felt it would be too difficult to separate for those who do both stock and
assignment work.

Getty and Stone

The agency with the most photographers represented was Stone with 20 photographers
reporting some income. The total royalty payments these photographers received from
Stone was $979,700 for an average of $48,985. The average in 1999 was $45,644,36.

Another 18 photographers earned income from TIB or VCG and the total royalty from the
three Getty brands of $2,177,218. Considering that the total royalties Getty paid out
for these brands in 2000 was probably between $80 and $90 million this is
a very small, and possibly unrepresentative, sample.

Comparisons With Recent Surveys

There are some interesting comparisons between the survey we published in March 1998,
April 1999 and April 2000 and this one. In 1998 we supplied a series of income categories
rather than asking photographers to list their specific income. The comparisons of
the number of photographers in each category and the gross 2000 income in each
category are listed in the table below.






  Total Respondents to Survey   





  Gross Income in 1999   





  Over $400,000   





  $250,000 to $400,000





  $150,000 to $250,000





  $100,000 to $150,000





  $70,000 to $100,000










  Total In High Income Categories










  Percent of Total Responding to Survey





While the average stock income for photographers answering the survey was $91,517,
the median stock income was $47,707. Thirteen respondents earned between $100,000 and
$200,000 from stock and another 13 earned over $200,000 with a high of $600,000.

Click here to review the Survey Results for 1997
(Story 125) , 1998
(Story 213) and 1999
(Story 297) ,

Other relationships

Fifty-four photographers (55%) reported their yearly income from
stock increased. This is compared with 57% of respondents in 1999. However, 21% said
income in 1999 was about the same and that was down to 14% in 2000. Only 21% said
1999 income was decreasing and that was up to 25% in 2000. Clearly there is a
downward trend.

Twenty-eight photographers, or 28% of the total made their entire photographic income
from stock. This is the same as last year. Sixty-seven photographers, or 69% made
some stock income by selling direct to the buyer. This was up from 40% in 1999.

Sixteen photographers reported that they earned some income from Royalty Free. This
was less than half the number that reported earning RF income in 1999.

In addition to producing stock photography 11% of the respondents said they were
involved in some manner in marketing the work of other photographers.

It is my opinion that part of the reason for the steady decrease in photographer
participation in these surveys over the last couple years has been that many photographers
are moving away from stock and on to other things. The risks in stock production
have increased dramatically and many photographers are finding other ways to earn
a living in photography.

Copyright © 2001 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 301-251-0720, 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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