Billboards: A Place For RM

Posted on 10/6/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (12)

This Atlantic City billboard illustrates a discouraging trend in stock-photo pricing. Photographer Jon Feingersh produced this image two years ago, as part of a $35,000 Venezuela shoot. A decade ago, The Stock Market probably would have licensed one of Feingersh’s images for billboard use at between $4,000 and $5,000; the photographer would have received 50% of the sale.

When Feingersh shot this image, he considered putting it into the Getty Images’ rights-managed collection, but at that time Getty accepted very few images from this very expensive production. To get a reasonable number of images in play and have a chance of recovering his investment, Feingersh decided to make the entire production available as royalty-free stock through Blend Images, of which he is a member/owner.

If the image had been accepted and sold by Getty, whose current rights-managed price for such a use is $3,970, Feingersh might have received $1,200 to $1,600 for the use. However, because the image was made available as royalty-free instead of rights-managed, the billboard sale was for about $300 to the primary selling agent, who took a percentage. Then Blend took a percentage of what was left—and Feingersh ended up with $89.44.

On the other hand, $89.44 is a good deal compared to what microstock photographers get when customers purchase their images for billboard use. (This has happened.) The customer can buy the largest file size on a microstock site for about $27, and at a 20% royalty, the photographer receives $5.40.

Some questions

Given the customer’s cost of producing such a billboard, the media placement fee paid and the value received from such placement, is the right image worth $4,000, $300 or $27?

If you conclude that it is only worth the lower figures, is it possible for the photographer to sell enough volume to make up the difference in total revenue received and cover his costs of production?

From a purely economic point of view, is it better to hold a great image out of the lower priced market and gamble that some customer will want to buy it for a large-scope use?

Do we have a crazy system of pricing usages in this industry? Does pricing have anything to do with cost of production or value received?

Copyright © 2009 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:  


  • Leland Bobbe Posted Oct 6, 2009
    no . . . pricing seems to have nothing to do with the price of production and value received which is ridiculous. i can't think of another industry where this holds true. for john to make $89.44 on this shot/media placement is absurd.

    welcome to the current world of stock photography.

    leland bobbé
    president of SAA 2003 & 2004

  • Mark Turner Posted Oct 6, 2009
    Farming is the other industry in which the cost of production has little connection to the price paid by the end user. At least in stock photography we're not quite so dependent upon the weather for our crop.

    Mark Turner

  • Gerard Fritz Posted Oct 6, 2009
    Unlike factory-farming, photographers do not get government subsidies.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 6, 2009
    Lesson is... send your GOOD images to RM and you won't feel raped like this. Why don't people take this seriously IF THEY WANT A CAREER in photography. Now I know Jon and I am not blaming him. But too many people (I won't use the word "photographers"think they HAVE to send images to RF or Micro. You DON'T!!!

    I have no images with Rf or Micro.... and I make many hundreds of thousands per year from stock. Think you are worth it and just maybe YOU WILL BE. I lecture always on this around the world, but most photo people think they need to go to RF right away! My advise... go for RM and you will be surprised. I wrote lots of this in my newest stock book "Remember The Joy". Yet it is hard to convince people who don't have confidence enough in their work...

    Bill Bachmann


  • Jon Feingersh Posted Oct 6, 2009
    I realize there was a market anomaly--severe editing-- occurring when I put this into RF. I hated to do it, as I'm an old-time RM guy who has always questioned the RF model. But at the same time I wanted to support Blend in its' efforts to build a large quality file. And the shoot has been selling pretty well, even at RF pricing.

    What disturbs me most is that the large distributors--Getty and Corbis-- are leading a fight to the bottom on pricing. It's a strange kind of ritual suicide in an industry they control. I firmly believe that they could exert positive pricing pressure which could eventually change for the better.

    Jon Feingersh

  • Gildo nicolo Spadoni Posted Oct 6, 2009
    I'm gonna get a cabbie license.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 6, 2009
    Why don't all Getty & Corbis photographers just DEMAND that they QUIT dropping prices out the bottom?? Getty is the largest.... the photographers should get together and make Getty quit selling out their work!

    I agree with Jon... this is one of the major problems--- the big boys, who should make the rules, instead sell out at any price, thereby dropping the market price constantly to commit suicide in the industry!

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

  • Jagdish Agarwal Posted Oct 7, 2009
    Even in Bombay now Mumbai, cab drivers make more money, than photographers. But seriously, last year in India, 1,000,000 digital cameras were sold. On an average, one photographer comes to me everyday, to show his porfolio. We say no, and he goes and uploads his pictures on some site! What can you and I do?
    jagdish / dinodia / india

  • Maggie Hunt Posted Oct 7, 2009
    Getty and Corbis are leading a fight to the bottom and dragging the rest of us with them. However, we still believe (despite evidence to the contrary) that there is a place for a boutique stock agency that gives its photographers 50% of the license fee (gross for RM and net for RF).

  • Leland Bobbe Posted Oct 7, 2009
    as current SAA getty ombudsman i am in frequent contact with artist relations at getty. they are claiming to be the victims of this car wreck, not the ones behind the wheel. they also clim to be as concerned about about this state of affairs as the contributors. considering they are making a fortune with istock i find this hard to believe.

    leland bobbé

  • Julia Dudnik Stern Posted Oct 7, 2009
    Getty might be making a fortune with iStock, but it's also losing a fortune on all other creative imagery. Last we saw their numbers, its losses were greater than its gains--and I'd bet that in the past two years this trend has been exacerbated by continuing drop in pricing and macro-economic conditions. iStock was also a purchase, not a new product Getty developed--so it hasn't been all profit.

  • David Sanger Posted Oct 7, 2009
    It doesn't seem to me that Getty and Corbis are in the driver's seat at all. They are trying to maintain market share and facing hideous competition from micro, during a recession, with a massive oversupply of images.

    The classic economic response to oversupply is lower prices, much as we might rail against it.

    As for RM vs RF it is RPI over the long term for a photographer that is the important number, so looking at one single image or sale is misleading. I'd be interested to see Jon's long-term RPI for his two collections. My own experience is that until recently RF RPI at Getty was higher than RM but much depends on subject matter and brand.

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