Best Business Ever

Posted on 6/26/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Internet entrepreneur and prolific angel investor Fabrice Grinda recently commented on his blog that stock photography may be the “best business ever” – for the organization marketing the work online, not the producer.

He pointed out that most online businesses keep between 1 and 20% of the online sales price:
  • eBay: 12%
  • Airbnb: 13%
  • Stubhub: 25%
  • Etsy: 3.5%
  • Alibaba: Less than 1%
In the stock photography marketplace the online operator’s share is 50-75% of the sales price:
  • Shutterstock keeps 70%
  • Fotolia keeps 50%

    (Grinda didn’t include the following in his list.)
  • Getty Image keeps about 65% of gross sales
  • iStockphotos keeps 85% of gross sales in some cases
Other advantages are:
  • The product can be sold many times.
  • The product is purely digital and delivered online automatically once payment is made. There is no need to follow payments, shipping, quality, etc.
  • There are a high number or repeat purchasers. (Other markets put buyers - in the broad sense of the word - in touch with sellers and end up losing them on the marketplace: dating, job and real estate sites are examples.
‘What makes the stock photography marketplace unique is that you have a long tail of pro and semi-pro photographers who are willing to supply the content virtually for free. They have no pricing power and leverage over the marketplaces. While this is also true of suppliers on other marketplaces, because the marginal cost of the sale is $0 and there is no marginal work they need to do for an extra sale, they are essentially willing to accept any price. This is clearly not the case of suppliers on 'traditional' marketplaces who are constrained by their gross margin structure.’ Grinda added.

Grinda may have missed the point that there is significant “marginal work” required of the creator after he has done the fun part of producing the picture in order to make if available for licensing. The image must be keyworded and captioned and there are often big hurdles to jump through to get the image accepted in the marketplace. This process seems to be getting more complicated all the time. At some point creators may tire of this and walk away.

But, Grinda is also probably right that there is a “long tail” of photographers that will keep stepping in – for a little while, at least – to replace those that leave.

Grinda concluded, "This may very well be the easiest marketplace to setup and operate!"

Copyright © 2013 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:  


  • Roberto Westbrook Posted Jun 26, 2013
    It might be easy to setup and operate the marketplace but there are two big challenges: 1) differentiating your product from the others is not easy (millionos of images out there), and 2) getting eyeballs on those images.

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