Are Stock Photo Prices Falling Everywhere?

Posted on 3/9/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

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.  

To that statement most would respond, “Who cares. $2.43 is still a ridiculously low gross sale price.” And that is true, even when you consider the 100-million download volume in 2013. But this low figure is deceptive because it includes a mix of products at widely differing price points.

About this time RM and traditional RF photographers are thinking, “This is not a story for me. I’ll never go near any distributor with prices that low.” But, please don’t give up. Let me walk you through some numbers that you may find useful and interesting.

Evolving Business Model

Shutterstock’s business used to be focused almost entirely on selling subscriptions to their collection. This resulted in a very low fee per-image-downloaded that probably works out to about $1.20 per-download since Shutterstock says it pays 28% of revenue collected in royalties and those royalties range from $0.25 to $0.38 per download depending on the contributors lifetime earnings.

But now Shutterstock also has 4 other ways they license image at much higher prices. They are Image On Demand, Video, Enterprise and Enhanced Licenses for use of the image on merchandise or print runs over 250,000. Revenue from all these licensing methods is growing while revenue from subscriptions – as a percentage of total revenue – is declining.

In Q4 2013 total sales were $68 million and there were 28 million downloads. To better understand the different segments of the business it may be helpful to try to allocate portions of this revenue to each business segment.


Back in 2012 they said subscription represented 60% of their business. Lately they have used the term “about half.” Based on the royalties they received some contributors think subscriptions may now represent as little as 40% of Shutterstock’s revenue. For my calculations I’m going to estimate that subscription in Q4 was 45% of revenue, or $30.6 million. Thus, at $1.20 per download that would account for 25.5 million of the 28 million downloads.


It was announced in the conference call that video sales were between 5% and 6% of total revenue. 5.5% of $68 million would be $3.74 million for video. The prices for video downloads are as follows:
        Web video    $14 to $19
        SD                 $40 to $49
        HD                $68 to $79
Not knowing the mix of sales, I will estimate the average price for a video download at $50. That would means there were 74,800 video downloads.


It was announced in the conference call that 15% of revenue, or $10.2 million in Q4 2013 comes from Enterprise licensing. Revenue from this licensing more than doubled in 2013 compared to 2012 and CEO Jon Oringer said it could eventually reach 20% to 25% of total revenue.

Image On Demand

Thus revenue from subscription, video and enterprise totals approximately $44.54 million leaving $23.46 million for Image On Demand and Enhanced Licenses. We have no way of knowing how much of that is for Enhanced Licenses, but it is important to recognize that 30% to 35% of revenue comes from Image On Demand and this source of revenue has been growing. The average price per download for Image On Demand is probably around $11 per image. If we assume that the entire amount is for Image On Demand that would account for 2,132,727 downloads, but given that some of the revenue is for Enhanced Licenses the number of downloads will be somewhat less.

So far I have accounted for 27,707,527 of the 28 million leaving about 292,473 downloads. If that number is in the ballpark – and I realize I have made a lot of assumptions – the average price for an Enterprise download would be $34.87. If there are fewer Enterprise downloads the average could be even higher; less it would be lower. A great deal depends on the revenue generated by Enhanced Licenses.

It is also important to note that image creators get a royalty of $28 for each Enhanced Licensed and there are a few cases where they get as much as $80 to $120 for a single license. (See Earnings Schedule)

Comparisons With Getty

I don’t mean to say that $34.87 for Enterprise or an $11 for Image On Demand are great gross sale figures. But I want to point out some comparisons with Getty numbers I published last month.

In that story I had calculated Getty RF royalties about $133.20 per license and the image creator get 20% of that or about $26.64. In 2013 Getty earned about $150 million from ?RF sales. At the above average price they would have licensed about 1,126,126 images for the year. If my 292,473 licenses for Shutterstock for one quarter is in the ballpark, and they could maintain that level for 4 quarters that would be 1,169,982 images licensed for the year. Indications are the percentage of these sales are growing. And with Shutterstock you have all the extra Image On Demand, Subscription and hopefully a few Extended Licenses to add on.

I want to make two points.
1 – First, $34.87, or whatever it really is, is a lot more than $2.43. Don’t be deceived by that low overall average.
2 – While $34.87 is not anywhere near $133.20, it is headed in the right direction. Up.  Getty, with its give away program, is headed down

Copyright © 2014 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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