Competition: Who Has The Market Advantage?

Posted on 6/8/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

During the CEPIC Congress in Warsaw a Russian stock photo agent told me that Russian photographers can live and support a family very comfortably on 50,000 roubles a month. At today’s currency exchange that works out to about $886 per month or $10,632 per year.

According to Wikipedia and OECD statistics the “annual median equivalence disposable household income” in the U.S. in 2012 was about $30,932. In both cases these figures are basically net profit after business expenses are paid. A stock shooter would probably need gross royalties that are at least twice these figures in order to take home these amounts before taxes.

This information is important because more and more of the best selling stock images are being produced by photographers from countries with low costs of living such as Russia, Eastern Europe and former USSR territories. Photographers in Western Europe and the U.S find it difficult to compete because the revenue they need to cover costs and show a profit is so much higher.

The big markets for stock images are still the U.S., UK, Germany and France in that order, but more and more of the images being used are created by photographers who reside in parts of the world where the cost of living is much lower.

I raised this issue on Microstock Group. The following are some of the comments.

Qwerty in Australia said, “The minimum wage in Australia is about $33,500 AUD (about $27000 USD) and no paid sick leave or holiday pay for casual workers. The cost of living is higher than in the USA and you'd be struggling to support a family on one minimum wage workers wage.”

Mantis said, “Once the $15/hour minimum wage becomes common in every state across the USA the lowest full time job will pay $31,200/yr.  Right now I don't shoot full time nor do I make $31,200 a year in micro stock. I typically put in nearly 40 hours a week on top of my day job, keywording, shooting, editing, etc. $31k would be excellent as a supplemental income, but would not provide a “comfortable living” if I dumped my day job. The only way, in my opinion, to go full time is to find new extensions to market your work and venture into other visual arts (illustration, video...even audio).”

LesPalenik noted, “Prague is nowadays not much cheaper than Berlin, but the further east you go, the cheaper life gets. And also the female models get prettier and vodka gets more available as you travel eastwards. Or maybe they look prettier because of the vodka.”??“In Canada, the standard of living is about the same as in USA -- taxes are higher; health care cheaper. Gas is less expensive in the USA.”

uiltimagaina said that the cost of living in Moscow is higher than London, but acknowledged that “Eastern Europe is a whole different ballgame. Bulgaria, Slovakia, and Ukraine are still quite cheap and $1,000 is OK if you're single but you will struggle if you've a family with a big home.”

PixelBytes noted, “Yes, it’s easier for photographers in lower cost of living countries, but the agencies that keep cutting rates better not rely on them for everything. Sure, cliché’s like girl on white with headset, business team, handshake, etc. can be done anywhere.?But majority of buyers are still in the west, and for location stuff, they will want accuracy. Things like hospitals and equipment, police, fire trucks, ambulance, architecture styles, roads, construction gear, etc, are region specific and can't be faked on the cheap in Eastern Europe. The agencies better wake up and keep this industry viable for Westerners.”

And Tror added, “Microstock is bleeding out at the moment. Shutterstock’s strategy is disgusting - squeezing contributors for the sake of shareholders value; raising prices, and passing nothing through to content creators. Last week I spoke to a photographer who made a good living from microstock a few years ago. Now, he has had to cancel his health insurance. And yes, he is based in a developing country. Very sad.”

When engaging in a career or a business it is important to have a clear understanding of who your competition might be. In the stock photography business it is not just someone next-door, or even in your own country. Now, we are all citizens of “Earth Inc.” and have to engage in business accordingly.

Copyright © 2015 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:  


  • Jennifer Borton Posted Jun 16, 2015
    Sooo... I just paid to read posts I could have read for free on Microstock Group?

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