149 CATALOG MATH
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
"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."
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.]