Do We Need Floor Prices?

Posted on 5/15/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A reader agreed with the lead in “Escalating Price Based On Demand” that few photographers understand what they should charge for their work, but he argued that there is “another possible consideration.”

He said it is important to establish a “floor price” below which you won’t license a usage. He asked, “why won’t agencies allow creator to set a ‘floor price” for ‘special images?’ It can be painful to see $2.50 sales of extremely complicated to produce images. Creators should be able to mark certain "high value images" so they can't be used unless the buyer is willing to pay at least a minimum fee.”

Photochain and other Blockchain seller may offer photographers this opportunity in the near future. But photographers need to think long and hard about whether it is in their best interest to establish a published “floor price” for their work.

A floor price might work if every sale is RM and all licenses are individually negotiated based on use. This was the case before the Internet, but at most stock agencies such negotiations really no longer exists.

My reader pointed out that when he was dealing directly with customers he used to set $125 as his floor price. Often, he got more, but he wouldn’t sell an image for less than $125 because he felt it wasn’t worth his time or trouble. Many buyers were OK with this; some were not and he lost those sales. But he felt, “pictures should not be sold at any price just to get a sale. Work is involved, even in the ‘digital world.’”

The problem with a “published floor price,” when there is no direct communication between photographer and customer, is that it becomes “the price.” The photographer is never able to get a higher price for certain types of use, or because a certain image happens to be very popular.

One of the problems with establishing a single “floor price” is that it fails to take into account how the market has changed. Before the Internet (let’s say before 2000) most of the customers for stock photos were large corporation, or at least business of some significant size. Many smaller commercial ventures simply did not use pictures, or they created the images they needed themselves, because they could not afford even the cheapest stock photos.

With the introduction of Microstock at much lower prices there has been a huge growth in the number of image users willing to pay some money for the images they need to promote very small businesses, or other small local uses. Set a floor price that is too high and you lose all these customers. Set it too low and the customers who used to pay more will now get the images they need for much less than they would have been willing to pay.

Such users don’t mind using the same image someone else has used. They can’t justify paying $125, but they would pay $2, $5 or maybe even $10 for an image that works for their project and is easy to find.

Consider the growth in usage. Back in 2006 Getty Images licensed rights to 1,661,696 images found in its Creative collection. In 2017, based on my analysis of sales of some of Getty's top contributors, I think they licensed rights to somewhere in the range 4,500,000 Creative images (not counting iStock or Getty’s Editorial collection). That’s nice growth, but unfortunately they priced the usages in 2017 so much lower than those in 2006 that they only earned about 44% of what they earned in 2006.
While it may be necessary and advisable to lower prices somewhat, in some cases, in order to increase sales volume, if you go too far you lose revenue and that’s not a desired goal.

On the other hand, consider the number of images licensed by Shutterstock in 2017. They had 172 million images downloaded compared to Getty’s 4.5 million. Shutterstock images were licensed in a narrow price range. A few of Getty’s images were licensed at very high prices (over $1,000) while others were licensed at prices even lower than Shutterstock’s. All too often Getty gave away their images for whatever the customer said they “wanted to pay.” Anything to get and keep every customer.

The point is that there are a lot of image users out there willing to pay something for the images they need. Some can not justify paying very much. Based on how they are going to use the image, others will happily pay more than Shutterstock prices. Setting a floor price, or one price for all, guarantees that many images will be given away for less than some customers would be willing to pay.

Back in the early 90s, Henry Scanlon, CEO of Comstock, one of the most successful stock agencies at the time, was asked “How, do you determine what to charge for an image?” Henry’s answer was, “I want to find out as much as I can about the customer, the use and what the customer can ‘afford to pay’…. Then I want to get all of it!

Copyright © 2018 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:  


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