Are Low Prices For Image Use Bad?

Posted on 8/9/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

One of the things RM and traditional RF photographers tend to overlook is average price-per-image-licensed. Photographers worry when their images are licensed for low prices. They track their average royalty-per-image-in-file and the trends of their monthly royalty check. But is a lower royalty check the result of fewer images being licensed, a lower average price-per-license or both?.

As Tom Grill has pointed out in 50 x $200 = 200 x $50 lower prices aren’t necessarily bad; it’s price times volume that counts. As microstock prices rise it is time to take a careful look at the revenue potential from the three licensing models - RM, RF and microstock.

RM and Traditional RF

I have figures from a Getty Images' photographer for whom Getty licensed over 1,000 RM and RF images in the first six months of 2010. This photographer has been told that he is among Getty’s top 50 earners. The average gross sale price for RM licenses was $343.24 and he received about 35% for an average or $119.90 per image. Only 3% of the RM sales were for prices over $1,000 and none of them were for more than $3,000.

The average gross sale price for his RF images was $166.86 and the average the photographer received was $38.12. However he had almost 2.5 times the number of RF licenses as he had RM. Consequently, he earned close to the same amount for his RF sales as for those that were RM due to the higher volume of sales of the RF product, and despite the lower royalty share.

Overall, totaling the revenue earned from both the RF and RM licenses, the photographer received 27% of the gross that Getty collected. I have information from other Getty photographers that tends to confirm these numbers.

When Getty images was a public company they always reported each quarter the average price per image licensed for both RF and RM. At the end of 2007 Getty’s average price per RM sale was $506 and their average price per RF sale was $240. The RM prices had been pretty steady throughout the decade. RF prices saw a steady increase from 2002 through 2004 and then leveled out and held steady through 2007.

Thus, if this photographer’s numbers are representative, and we believe they are, the average prices Getty charges for uses have dropped by about 1/3 in two-and-a-half years. It is also important to recognize that back in 2007 Getty was licensing rights to a little less than twice as many RF images as RM and the revenue generated from these two licensing models was about equal. So the ratio hasn’t changed much except that the licensing of RM images may have declined a little faster.


For some microstock comparisons, I have information from a photographer who is represented exclusively by iStockphotos and is one of the top 150 earners at iStock. In 2009 he was earning about $2.60 per download. Due to price increases he is averaging over $4.00 per download in 2010, and the average is still going up. $4.00 per-download may not seem like much compared to $120 or $38 but this photographer will have well over 24,000 sales in 2010 compared to slightly over 2,000 for the Getty Images photographer selling at traditional prices. In 2009 the iStock photographer had over 30,000 sales.

The revenue for these two photographers on an annual basis is about the same. For a list of estimated earning during the 12 months between July 1, 2009 and July 1, 2010 of 168 of iStock’s leading photographers check out this chart. Both these photographers are in the top 1%, in terms of earnings, of all those using the licensing models they have chosen. The vast majority of RM, RF or microstock photographers are earning a lot less.   

Going back to Grill’s analogy a more accurate ratio might be 20 x $200 = 1000 x $4.

Copyright © 2010 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, 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:  


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