Business Planning for the Future: Four Major Trends

Posted on 8/14/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

If you do not plan to retire before 2015, and the money you earn from stock photography is an important part of your gross income, it is not too early to begin devising a plan for modifying your photography business. In the last few years, there have been radical changes in the business of photography, and it seems likely that we have not seen the last of them. What worked in the past or is working now may not work as well in the near future or later. Given the rapid pace of change, it is inevitable that most people will make dramatic career adjustments in their lifetime.

The first step in planning is to diligently watch for signs of change and be sensitized to the way the future is unfolding. Recognize and track threats in order to be better prepared to react appropriately and navigate through change.

Humans tend to resist change. They want things to continue as they have in the past and tend to wait until they are absolutely forced into change. At that point, they have often missed important opportunities for easy, less disruptive transitions. A careful process of regularly examining industry trends, and considering and testing future options, will better position you for the inevitable change. For each individual, the answer will be different.

Prevailing industry trends

In any business, there are always a few relative certainties and a number of uncertainties that should be constantly re-examined and evaluated. In the stock photo industry, there are four trends that we can be relatively certain will continue. These are:

    (1) Growth in the number of still photos from which customers can choose;

    (2) Growth in the number of people producing new photos;
    (3) Decline of print image uses; and
    (4) Growth of Internet and other digital image uses.

Growth in the number of still photos. Advances in technology have made it easier to produce images and make them available than was the case a few years ago. Databases that make images easily available to customers for search and purchase are growing in number and size at phenomenal rates. Shutterstock offers almost 8 million royalty-free photos; Alamy has 16.3 million; and Newscom has almost 40 million. There is no indication that this growth will slow down. The more choices there are, the less is the chance that any specific image will sell.

Growth in the number of people producing new photos can also be expected to continue at a similarly rapid pace. When rights-managed sales were king, Getty Images had 2,000 to 3,000 active photographers. It is likely that this number is currently declining. However, Shutterstock has more than 185,000 contributors, and their numbers are growing daily. The more people are shooting, the less is the chance that any single individual will make a sale.

Decline of print image uses. Traditionally, still photos have been used in some type of a printed product—newspaper, magazine, book, brochure or poster. At the very least, we can expect to see a decline in the number of images used in print. Consider that in 1990, U.S. newsprint consumption was 12.1 million metric tons. Three quarters of that, or over 9 million tons, was used by daily newspapers, and the rest by commercial printers. In 2009, daily newspaper usage in the U.S. is on track to be about 4 million tons, or perhaps a little less. There has been a 26% decline in usage just since 2008.

Newsprint costs and a decline in advertising spending have forced publishers to produce fewer sections and fewer editions, as well as reduce publication sizes and circulations. Consumers are increasingly moving away from print and going to online sources for the information they need. The same is happening with magazines.

Growth of Internet and other digital image uses is unquestionable. However, many online uses generate no or very little, micro-level revenue for image creators. Some Internet users create the images they need themselves. Others purchase photos at very low prices or steal what they need from other Web sites. There are also huge quantities of images available for free.

Additional issues to consider

The industry is general agreement on the existence of these four major trends. However, there are a number of other issues and trends that photographers should also consider. These include:

    (1) Growth in demand
    (2) State of the economy
    (3) Copyright
    (4) Useful life of images
    (5) Search return order
    (6) Cost of production
    (7) Royalty percentage
    (8) Pricing trends
    (9) Foreign workers in the market
    (10) Technological changes
    (11) Expanded use of video

All of such trends and issues are less certain than the four majors. New developments could dramatically influence the outcomes for individual photographers and businesses. Photographers should regularly weigh the impact each is having on their businesses in order to determine if and when they need to change their focus and move in a different direction.

Forthcoming articles in this series will examine each of these issues. If there are others that should be added to this list, please tell us about them.

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:  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Aug 14, 2009
    This promises to be an interesting series of articles, Jim. Make sure you HELP people see that they can still have a CAREER in photography without selling their soul away for free.

    Keep it up.

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

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