Got To Keep Producing

Posted on 3/28/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Recently, on the “Stock Photography, buy and sell your images” group on LinkedIn photographer Pierre Charrlau complained that his Getty Images sales have “greatly diminished” and wanted to know if others were having the same experience.

The potential life span of images is a critical factor when producing stock images. The prices charged for use almost never cover the cost of production. At today’s average prices images from a given shoot may need to sell many, many times to cover the cost of production.

In 2006 Getty had 1,761,214 images in its Creative Stills (CS) collection. Recently they had 9,464,907. In 2006 Getty’s gross Creative Stills revenue was $634.1 million. In 2013 CS revenue was less than $300 million. And Getty’s revenue has declined in each of the last 5 quarters.

Thus, in 2006 the average return-per-image in the collection was $360 and in 2013 a little less than $32. So if what you earned in 2013 was more than 9% of what you earned in 2006 ($9,000 compared to $100,000) then you are doing better than the average. With the possible exception of 2009 the decline has been steady, not a sudden drop. From the photographers point of view it reminds me of the metaphor of the “boiling frog” (if you don’t know it check it out on Wikipedia).

If your collection with Getty in 2013 wasn’t 5.4 times larger than it was in 2006 then you haven’t kept up with the growth trend, but even if you had your revenue would have declined significantly. Back in 2007 Getty’s average price for each RM image licensed was about $540 and $240 for an RF license. (See yesterday’s story. Recently, I had the opportunity to analyze the 2013 sales of a significant number of Getty’s leading contributors. The average price for RM licenses was down to $299 and RF was down to $133.

I also talked to another major Getty contributor whose average image license fee in 2007 was much more than $540. In recent years he has produced continually and his collection is now more than 6 times larger than it was in 2007, but the royalty he earned in 2013 was only about 45% of what he earned in 2007.

Is keywording the answer? Even with perfect keywording customers don’t look at all the images that come up in a search. They look at 200 to 300 thumbnails and then refine the search or go somewhere else. Most searches generate many more than 300 results. The rest of the images are never seen.

The longer your images have been in the collection the deeper they go in the search return order and the less likely they will ever be seen. If they are not selling it may have very little to do with quality of keywords and more to do with the fact that no customers ever see them.

Agents constantly ask for new and better quality images so they can show their customers something different (and hopefully better) every time the customer comes back to the site. For the photographer -- especially if he is producing new images of the same type of subject matter as he shot previously – all this does is reduce the chances that his older images will be seen.

Alfonso Gutierrez, CEO of AGE and CEPIC president says, “Only images that differentiate in quality and subject matter or treatment can expect prices above the lower budget offers.” I’m not convinced that’s true. It depends on when a customer who needs the image -- and has a big budget -- shows up to search for that subject matter. If it happens a few weeks after the image is uploaded there’s a reasonable chance the image will be seen. If it happens six months or a year after upload there’s a good chance the image will be buried. And, with all the images that are being uploaded, the length of time that an image of a popular subject can be found is getting shorter and shorter.

There is no way to control the timing of when a great image is uploaded and when that miniscule percentage of customers with decent budgets will show up and want to use it.

In the meantime a lot of the people with little of no budgets may show up and license usage for what they can afford to pay. Given the way most of today’s agency licensing systems work, “image quality” and “treatment of subject matter” have absolutely nothing to do with the fee charged to license usage.

Copyright © 2014 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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