Catalog Math

Posted on 6/22/1998 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



June 22, 1998

In a recent internet exchange several photographers suggested that getting pictures

into any catalog is a sure route to success. Our survey on Direct Stock 6 in this

issue (Story 146 on-line) points out the fallacy of this notion. It should also be

noted that many photographers with stock agencies also have poor sales from some of

their catalog images.

Stock agencies have an advantage over an organization like Direct Stock because they

can base their editing on past sales of similar subject matter. The larger the agency

the more data they have to work from. On the other hand, even when agencies have a lot

of statistics there can also be problems.

In addition to providing new looks for best selling subjects, agencies also try to

"push the envelope" and provide art directors with a totally different type of work

that they may never have seen before. The hope is that the art directors, always

looking for something new, will go for an off beat approach. Or the agency may simply

be trying to wow the art directors with their "edgy" file, in the hopes that the ADs

recognize that they have the more common images, (and will think of the agency when

their needs are for the common.)

are more traditional.

Let's do a little catalog math. Jonathan Klein of Getty Images told me that recently

he had his staff go through an exercise to get one copy of all the print catalogs,

worldwide, that had been produced within the past year. They came up with about 150.

Let's assume that each of those print catalogs had about 2,500 images in it. Of course

we have catalogs like the Direct Stock blockbuster which must have 7,000 to 8,000

images in it and the AGE offering for which photographers worldwide have received

mailings promises to be another giant. But, 150 X 2,500 = 375,000 images.

I estimate that gross sales of all stock images is around $1 billion annually.

Further, I estimate that only about 60% of those sales are from print catalogs. But,

let's be generous and say 70%.

Now if we assume that every one of the sales that makes up that $700,000,000 comes

from an images in a current catalog, and that every image in these catalogs sells,

the average GROSS sales per image for the YEAR will be $1,866 per image. Keep in mind

that photographer get a much lower percentage of this number? Maybe 50%, 35%, 30% or 20%.

But, we also know that a huge percentage of the images that sell every year are from

those old catalogs laying around on art directors shelves. Thus, the average return per

image in the new catalogs will probably be much less than $559 which would be 30% of the

$1,866 gross sale.

In most cases, the photographer will also have an advertising cost to pay off which

will further reduce the potential income from these images.

Since we know that a few photographers are earning much more from their catalogs images

than these numbers would indicate, the conclusion we must come to is that a huge number

of the images in print catalogs never sell, or don't sell very well.

Yes, getting in a catalog, gives your image a much better chance of selling than if it is

not in a catalog, but just getting in a catalog is not much of a guarantee, anymore.

Another conclusion you need to recognize is that there are way too many images chasing

too few buyers. If you are producing images to make money you need to consider the

likely return before you run out and produce, produce, produce. On the other hand, if

you love to produce images so much that you will do it no matter what, and profit is

not an issue, then go for it -- enjoy yourself. Create better and better images even

if there is no way to sell them.

Response From Alfonso Gutierrez, CEO of AGE Fotostock In Spain

When I first posted the above to StockPhoto newsgroup on the internet, Alfonso

Gutierrez responded with the following:

"Counting catalogs for the sake of knowing how many of them are around, is something

that most agencies have done years ago when we all were uncertain about catalog over

saturation. Accumulating them sounds today peculiar as most people know that only a

bunch of selected catalogs produce the larger amount of sales in the world.

"I think that most figures estimating how large the stock world market is are not very

precise. My estimates, for example, says that the market for stock photography is twice

as big as the $1 billion suggested by Jim Pickerell.

"More on the same line of thinking, I would suggest that as much as 80% to 85% of the

gross money produced (globally) in stock photography today is coming from catalogs.

Specially, because in quite a number of countries, practically 97% of the entire sales

for stock photography is coming from catalogs only.

"According with my estimates most images in catalogs sell at least one time (I'm not in

Barcelona, so I cannot be more precise), with many images selling 20 to 40 times and

some of them selling several hundred times. But surprisingly very few don't sell at

all. Therefore, being in a catalog (I mean in a saleable catalog) is a guarantee of

making money, whether big or small is not part of the current debate.

"RF disks are said to have a negative effect on the market and it is true that certain

countries, certain individuals, even certain companies, suffer from such competition,

but I don't think that the answer to that is a "cause-effect" one.

"The truth is that in my experience we are seeing growth in the intrinsic value of

stock as a result of RF and not the contrary. When a client decides today to use a

picture from a catalog it is clear that the agency can go with determination for the

good price. Very few clients nowadays don't know anything about RF, therefore when they

approach a stock agency, either they don't want to use RF or they are prepared to pay

stock prices.

"Photographers producing images to make money need to consider what they have to

produce and how, to guarantee a presence in any of these 150 carefully collected

catalogs of which we were talking at the beginning. If photographers continue producing

better and better pictures, stock photography will have an excellent future. A future

where the Maths will become Myths."

Catalog Distribution

An agency in Switzerland reports that their total 1997 sales from catalogs was up over

a million Swiss francs above 1996 sales. However, their profits were down given the

costs of purchasing and distributing the catalogs. Consequently, in 1998 they are

being much more selective about the catalogs they decide to distribute and to date have

rejected 25 catalogs that have been offered to them.

While only a single example, this incident may point out that the market has become

saturated, and that it simply can not absorb every print catalog that is produced.

Getting images into print catalogs is not enough, if the catalogs are not distributed.

    [For those who may not understand the mechanics of overseas sales, stock agencies

    normally purchase a specific number of copies of a catalog and several sets of dupes of

    each image in the book. The stock agency then pays the cost to distribute that catalog

    within their country, and gets a percentage of any sales that result.

    Many stock agencies make much more from images produced by other agencies than from

    images produced by their own photographers.

    Small countries may only distribute a few thousand books. In the U.S. it is common to

    distribute 30,000 or more in an attempt to reach the entire market.

    Costs per copy can range from $2.95 to $6.00 for a book we were offered recently. The

    fees for a set of dupes range from around $1.00 to $1.70 per dupe. Mailing costs can

    be very expensive when the book and a box weight 4 to 5 pounds.]

Copyright © 1998 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 301-251-0720, 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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