Grill On Return-Per-Image

Posted on 2/2/2006 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



February 2, 2006

    The following comments are from Tom Grill, co-founder of Comstock, and the world's leading producer of RM stock images for many years, if not still. Now he produces both RF and RM and earns as much from RF as from RM. Through his regular seminars in the '80s and early '90s he mentored many of today's most successful stock photographers, and recently he has started conducing seminars again. In 2003 I did a long dialogue with Tom in Story 548 that you might want to review. Here he comments on the Return-Per-Image issue I have recently discussed in Stories 779, 786 and 791.

By Tom Grill

I've been reading with interest all your recent articles about RPI, and Getty's falling return rate. I would like to make a few observations that may expand the way of looking at the situation.

When comparing RPI from one agency to another, photographers must keep in mind the number of selects along with the type of material that is being selected. The overall return from the shoot takes precedence.

Let's look at an example:

    Agency A has an RPI of $200

    Agency B has an RPI of $80

If, out of a submission of 50 images, agency A selects 12 where Agency B would select 30, then the actual return for that particular shoot is very close no matter which agency markets the images:

    Agency A: 12 images times $200 = $2400

    Agency B: 30 images times $80 = $2400

Add to this that Getty is accepting more trendy (i.e. marginal) material as opposed to mainline subjects, and you are only going to see a further diminishing return exacerbated by the fact that trendy material dies quicker on the vine, which goes in the face of the stock photo dictum of shooting for longevity.

On top of all this, the fewer Getty selects will result in a greater dilution factor from Getty's database expansion. Marginal subjects do not fair well in such an environment. It is more difficult to find them. What the photographer should want is an agency that will take both the marginal (trendy) treatment of the subject AND the mainline (albeit "stocky") treatment AT THE SAME TIME. In this situation the photographer can potentially gain three times the sales for exactly the same situation. (I say "three times" because the basic treatment will most likely sell at least twice as well as the trendy one.)

Stock photography is a long term investment best served with a large, balanced, broadly placed portfolio. Chasing the near term dollar is only a good strategy when it is folded into a much broader production range and distribution. While it might appear an easier choice to take the higher RPI, the fight to get there may be counter productive, and in the end other agencies who are accepting more images and more basic subjects may be the better venue.

I left Comstock 4 ½ years ago to become a born-again-photographer. By taking my own advice as mentioned above, I have already produced and distributed an image database larger than the one I left behind at Comstock and more imminently suited to internet marketing. I am seeing returns that are exponentially greater than I ever realized. The smaller agencies of the world are showing greater strength and growth than ever before. They have a voracious appetite and ready clients for well produced material, and, in the aggregate, I am finding that the return is at least equal to and quickly becoming greater than what you are reporting for Getty. While it may be more difficult to market in this way, in the end it is a safer strategy in that it reduces a photographer's reliance on the whims of any one agency.

Another Topic

Regarding your comparison of the RPI of Photographer's Choice to the mainline Getty RPI, I suspect you may be comparing apples to oranges and not apples to apples. Here's why:

The main difference PC and the rest of Getty is the selection process. All of Getty goes through a standard Getty editing standard. PC does not. I have reviewed the images in the PC collection and found a vast number that simply will not sell well. So I find it an amazing coincidence that PC and mainline Getty are so close in RPI. That said, if photographers were to load up the PC brand with very basic mainline conceptual material, I think they would achieve much higher returns that the regular brands.

Copyright © 2006 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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