For many the end of the year is a time to review past experiences and consider whether it makes sense to chart a new course in the year ahead. Stock photography has changed dramatically for professional image creators in the past few years and in general it looks like it will continue on a downhill slope. The following are links to several stories we’ve published in the last year that provide some prospective on where the business is headed. New readers, or long-term subscribers who might have missed some of what we published, may want to check out some of these stories.
Earlier this week I wrote about the average price per image licensed at Getty
. This article will examine some of the publicly available and widely reported numbers related to the number of images licensed. ??Back in 2006 Getty reported
that they licensed rights to 607,945 RM images and 1,053,751 RF images for a total of 1,661,696 for the year. We also know that in 2006 49% of the Creative Stills revenue was generated from RF licenses and 51% from RM.
Using numbers from Getty Images it is interesting to look back at the RM and RF unit sales and revenue trends over the last decade. Between 2003 and 2007 when Getty was a public company they provided investors with very precise gross revenue and average price per image figures. This made it possible to make a reasonable estimate of the number of images licensed in each category.
One of the arguments for licensing images as Rights Managed is that only then can they be licensed for Exclusive uses because all the uses of the images are controlled and limited. With Royalty Free customers can continue to use the images they acquire in unspecified ways long after initially licensed with very few limitations.
After reading my recent series of stories on iStock (See here
) a reader asked, “What are the implications for rights managed? Does it mean placing one's images with a number of websites is actually a self-defeating exercise and one only needs to place them with one super star agency and wait for the high returns to roll in? Or does that conclusion not apply to rights managed? Or are rights managed images dead in the water these days?”
Recently, I received a request from Clive Thompson, columnist with Wired Magazine
, asking about the number of stock photography images licensed annually. He was more interested in the increase/decrease of the number of images sold than in any impact it might have had on revenue. Here’s what I told him.??Getting a handle on the size of the stock photo industry in terms of images licensed is very difficult. Most of the information is privately held. Basically, there are two companies – Shutterstock and Getty Images – that make enough information publicly available to allow me to make some reasonable estimates. The rest are my guesses based on 50 years of producing and licensing stock photos and 24 years writing my online newsletter Selling-Stock.com.
Many RM photographers still believe that microstock images are of much lower quality than RM and that customers who want images of the highest quality will continue to go to RM sites for the images they need. Unfortunately, they are only kidding themselves. (Note the difference in number of downloads in this story
Yesterday, I wrote about the problem of the growing size of image databases
and how this is making it difficult for customers to easily find the right image for their projects. Many good images are never seen by anyone because they get buried in the search returns delivered.
Most photographers believe stock photo prices are declining everywhere. But not at Shutterstock where they have seen a 27% increase in 3 years from $1.91 per download in Q4 2010 to $2.43 in Q4 2013. Shutterstock
started out licensing only via subscriptions. This resulted in very low prices per image downloaded. But in the last couple of years they have also licensed a significant number of single image uses at much higher prices. Read more about what that means.
Most agencies are constantly trying to add new images to their collections, but a huge percentage of the images they already have are never licensed. Photographers are constantly encouraged to produce more and better pictures. If they cut back on production sales often decline. Since there is no way to be sure what customers will want in the future, agencies hope that if they keep adding new images they will eventually stumble onto something a future customer will want to buy.
And finally, this story was written more than 2 years ago, but the points made are still valid.
In the future, will it be possible for more photographers to earn a better living than they are currently earning producing stock images? More and more photographers are jumping into the stock photo business every day and many hope to make it a career. Here’s a dozen reasons why future revenue growth for this industry seems unlikely. I’ve discussed all these issues before, but it seems useful to briefly itemize them all in one place.