How About Some Encouraging Information For RM Photographers

Posted on 12/9/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

After my story last week on “High Level Thoughts On The Stock Industry” John Fowler asked, “Have you found any encouraging information at all from any RM photographers?  There must be some folks doing something that works for them.”

The short answer is NO. I’m not hearing anything encouraging from RM photographers. Most have seen 80% to 90% declines in their annual earnings since 2007. Even the few for whom declines aren’t so bad, are still seeing declines, no matter how hard they work at producing more and better images.

The simple fact is that almost no customer wants to deal with RM licensing anymore. According to my calculation less than 1% of the images licensed annually, worldwide, use an RM license.

And the revenue generated from RM image licensing declines further each year.

Of course, this calculation of based on stock agency sales. I have no way of knowing how many individual photographers license images from their personal collections and charge fees based on how the image will be used. Of the 250 to 300 million total images licensed annually through agencies, I believe fewer than 2.5 million of them are licensed based on usage. I suspect sales by individual photographers don’t change that number very much.

Here are some of the reasons for the declines:

    1 – Today most customers cannot anticipate at the time of purchase all the possible future uses they might want to make of the images. They don’t want to have to go back and re-negotiate each new use. Therefore, they want very flexible rights to use the images they purchase in any way that might develop.
    2 – There is plenty of choice among RF images. Customers don’t have to turn to RM to find a good image.

    3 – The time customers have for image search is limited. Thus, rather than having to research and remember which individual photographers have specialist collections in particular subject areas, they want to go to a single source that has a broad cross section of the imagery they might need.

    4 – Most of the major agencies that still offer RM images have adopted strategies that allow their major customers to have whatever rights they need to RM images for whatever price the customer is willing to pay. This results in some very low prices for significant uses of RM images.
    5 – Getty’s default search now is for RF images only. If customers want to review RM they must go to the “Prestige” collection, but that only shows the customer a small, edited percentage of all the RM images available at Getty. To review all the RM images, the customer must search for “All” images, but at that point the customer is shown one RF image for every RM image shown. Getty is recommending to a lot of its RM suppliers that they convert most, if not all, their RM images to RF because most of their customers are only looking for RF. Most other agencies that offer RM will eventually follow Getty’s lead.

Something Unique

If an individual photographer is going to get customers to come to his website, I would think that he would have to offer subject matter that is very unique. I can’t see a customer seeking out an individual photographer’s website to search for general pictures of people, the environment, agriculture, health & wellness, food, money & finance, etc. At the few major sites there are way more choices of this type of subject matter than anyone has time to review. Why would anyone bother going to a smaller outlet?

Maybe, if someone had seen an image published somewhere, and they really wanted to use that specific image, they might go to the trouble of trying to find the photographer. But, I think that is very rare. In addition, most uses aren’t credited these days so it is often very difficult to learn who the photographer is, or get any contact information.

While you certainly have some good images (see here) I would expect that you get very few requests for the more general and common themes I’ve listed above. My guess is that the customers who come to you are usually looking for your macro shots of Butterflies, Moths, Beetles, Spiders, Ticks, Centipedes, Worms and maybe Birds Fish, Reptiles & Amphibians, and Mushrooms. People who need this material might have more difficulty in finding what they need at the major stock agencies.

I decided to do a few search at Shutterstock, Alamy, Adobe Stock and Getty Images for subjects you have that I thought might be rare and hard to find. The subject matter I searched for were: Arctild moth, Columbia Giant Silkmoth, Columbia Egg, Columbia Larva, Notodontid moth, Darkling beetles. Here’s what I got. If a particular subject is not listed under the agency I got nothing at that agency.

Columbia Giant Silkmoth    3
Columbia Larva                  1
Notodontid Moth              27
Darkling Beetles             292

Columbia Egg    near exact match to your image
Columbia Larva               15
Notodontid Moth             20
Darkling Beetles            309

Columbia Giant Silkmoth – maybe (but lots seemed irrelevant)
Notodontid moth                   13
Darkling Beetles -       maybe 54

Arctild Moth                   3
Columbia Larva             22
Notodontid Moth           21
Darkling Beetles            32

Given the relatively small number of choices, customers may not find what they need at any of these agencies and may seek out a specialist who they suspect has paid more attention to careful identification. However, I’ve got to wonder how many customers really need this type of imagery.

Thinking Like A Customer

But there are two other options that customers are tending to use more and more when they can’t easily find what they want at the major agencies, or when they want to deal directly with an image creator.


I believe more and more customers are searching Flickr for the images they need. They have 13 billion photos from 120 million people. A small percentage of these people are interested in licensing rights to their images and Flicker is doing a pretty good job of bringing the photos of these people to the top of the search return. It’s easy to search the collection using keywords. It is for the most part fairly easy to find out how to contact those creators that are interested in licensing their work.

I have done some stories on Todd Klassy. Most of his customers find his images by searching Flickr and he licenses his images based on usage. He has been quite successful for several years.

Here’s what I found when I did searches for these subject on Flickr.

Harnessed Tiger Moth            258
Columbia Giant Silkmoth           8
Columbia Larva                  1,597 (all types of Larva)
Notodontid Moth                   224
Darkling Beetles                 3,174

In the process of searching for these subjects I also came across two photographers with huge collections that I suspect are doing well in sales. John Horstman’s (itchydogimages) work can be found here and Nicky Bay’s ( images are here.

It should also be noted that Getty has culled the Flickr collection and has accepted over one million images from Flickr photographers that have chosen to work with Getty.  


Google is another place where more and more customer are looking for images. Google delivers a very high quality selection of images on most subjects. The Google image search algorithm has gotten better and better over the years. However, one of the problems customers face when searching on Google is that only the URL where the image can be found is listed. It can often be impossible to identify where someone interested in licensing rights to use a particular image would need to go to get permission.

Google does show a lot of images from Shutterstock, Getty Images, Alamy, Flickr and PhotoShelter. So if a customer doing a search sees that the image they are interested in comes from one of these organizations a single click will take them to the agency where they can license usage.

When I searched for Arctild Moth, Harnessed Tiger Moth, Columbia Giant Silkmoth, Columbia Egg, Columbia Larva, Notodontid Moth and Darkling Beetles I found that Google offered a broad selection of images of each subject.   

It is also worth noting that Google will only show 500 to 1,000 images for any search no matter how many images it finds when it searches the entire Internet. How they choose which to show first is part of their secret sauce, but it is safe to say that it is highly unlikely that any image from an individual photographer’s collection will appear.


Compared to Flickr and Google, PhotoShelter is a disaster. I can’t imagine any customer actually using it to search for images. It is even difficult for customers to figure out how to begin a search. It only works for photographers who rely on customers finding their images through a Google search, or for those customers the photographer can bring to his site through his own self promotion.

Working Together

I don’t think there is much likelihood that photographers will be able to “work together” to build traffic to their individual web sites. There would need to be a search engine like Google or Flickr that delivers thumbnails from all participating photographers, in some type of random order, whenever a keyword or set of keywords is entered. The site would need to have a very broad cross section of subject matter in order to compete with the existing stock agencies. The images must be delivered in a consistent and easily reviewable format. While Flickr and Google have easily reviewable formats, their weakness is that the creators of many of the images they deliver are either not identified or have no interest in licensing use.

There must be some economic incentive to create and market such a central source. It is hard to imagine how that would work other than to function as a stock agency.

Copyright © 2016 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:  


  • Grant Faint Posted Dec 10, 2016
    good info... it isnt nice to hear that so many buyers only want RF as getty gives only 20% of a sale to photographer.

    grant faint

  • Tibor Bognar Posted Dec 10, 2016
    While I'm not familiar with RF prices (so far I've sold RM only) I partially disagree with this analysis. Several agencies I work with sell the same quantity of images as when the going was good, but of course at much lower prices. So, RM is still sold. One positive side is that the pricing is flexible and at least a few images sell for a good price. And of course Getty pays 35% for RM and 20% for RF... In my experience RM is not dead yet!

  • Jean-pierre Lescourret Posted Dec 10, 2016
    Do you really think that Getty would be so glad to distribute the Corbis imagery (90% RM) if the
    RM licensing was obsolete ?
    Where this 1% of the images licensed annually as RM is coming from ?

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Dec 16, 2016

    I think Getty's main purpose in acquiring Corbis content was to eliminate the competition, not sell RM images. Besides, the transaction didn't cost Getty anything.

    Getty currently has 17,451,230 image in its collection and 11,054,890 are RF leaving only 6,396,340 RM in the collection. In addition the Prestige RM collection only has 144,017 images. If a customer wants to see any of the other 6,252,323 RM they must do a search for "All" and then they are shown one RF image for every RM image shown.

    Taking all this into consideration, I believe there are very few situations where customer get to see many of the RM images in the collection. Maybe it works for niche subject matter where the number of images returned in a search is very small.

    You've also got to remember that a huge percentage of the RM images licensed are licensed through "Premium Access" deals at very low prices so you might as well be licensing them as RF and giving them a better chance of being seen.

    Also Getty is encouraging many supplier to transfer their RM images to RF. Currently the ratio of RF to RM is 63% RF to 37% RM. I think it won't be long until 75% of the images on the site will be RF.

    As to the 1%, you must remember that a huge percentage of the images licensed are licensed via subscriptions. You may not like the low prices, but you can't ignore these uses because that is what the customers are using.

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