Is $1.00 Per-Image, Per-Year Enough?

Posted on 5/14/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Recently Alfonso Gutiérrez, CEO of AGE FotoStock told one of my readers that a "professional" stock photo collection in an agency should be returning to its contributors a minimum of $1.00 per-image per-year. The photographer noted that his returns from AGE were way below that number and he wondered whether many photographers are seeing that kind of return.

I can remember back in the 1990s when collections were much more tightly edited than they are today, and the prices charged to use an image were much higher. At that time some Image Bank (TIB) photographers were saying they averaged $1.00 per-image-in-the-collection per-year. Of course, that was when dupe transparencies were placed with each distributor and TIB had more than 100 agencies around the world distributing their collection. So, in effect, one “unique” image was really 100 copies of the same image in multiple locations. And TIB was the industry leader at the time. If photographers were averaging $1.00 for every images that had been placed with distributors around the world they might have been earning $100 per image for the “parent” collection that was sitting in New York.  

Last year Shuttstock had gross revenue of $557.1 million. About 28% of that or $156 million was paid out to contributors. At the end of the year they had 170.1 million still images in collection which works out to an average of $0.91 per-image in the collection. Of course, many photographers are earning way below the average.

Rather than editing tightly, some Shutterstock photographer will upload 50 to 100 “similars” of basically the same situation. That’s not necessarily a wise thing to do because if anything sells from such an offering it is usually the one or two best that sell multiple times. An increasing percentage never sell.

I found one Shutterstock photographer who had uploaded more than 500 images from an office interior shoot that had 4 or 5 different people in basically the situation. Over half the shots were of one individual. The shoot certainly didn’t take the photographer more than 2 or 3 hours. If the photographer earned $455 for that shoot, (plus all the time it took to keyword and upload those images) it might not have been a bad return on investment. But I don’t recommend this strategy as a way to maximize earnings.

If we look at Alamy they currently have 130 million images their collection and I suspect their gross revenue in 2017 was less than $40 million. Thus the average return per image in the collection was in the range $0.30. Image creators get 50% of that or $0.15 per-image. However, a big percentage of the images on Alamy are supplied by stock agencies who take a second cut of that $0.15 before the photographer gets his share.

Getty Images has 23,216,298 images in its Creative Image Collection (Both RM and RF). I believe Getty’s gross creative revenue in 2017 was about $280 million and about 25% of that, or $70 million, was paid out to contributors. That works out to about $3.01 per image in the collection.

Of course we have to keep in mind that about 71% of the images in the Creative Collection are RF and those photographers receive a lower royalty share than the photographer supplying RM images.

In addition, about half the images in the Getty collection are supplied by other agencies that take an additional cut of what Getty pays them before the photographer gets his share.

But, Getty’s Editorial Collection is another story all together. Currently, they have 108,347,612 Editorial image from 1,396,949 events. I believe Getty generated about $250 million in 2017 from Editorial sales. Thus, the average gross revenue is $2.30 per image in the collection and the photographer gets 50% of less of that. However, we should keep in mind that with editorial the bulk of the images licensed were taken within a day to a couple months after they were shot. Thus, images that have been in this collection for more than a couple years generate a very small percentage of the gross revenue. It is hard to tell how many of the 108 million images were added in the last year.  

It should also be noted that a lot of what AGE FotoStock is offering is hard news editorial, but I doubt if the company is doing anywhere near as well in terms of gross sales per-image-in-the-collection as Getty Images is doing.

Getting back to Creative sales it is interesting to go back to 2006 where we have more detailed Getty numbers. Gross creative revenue in 2006 was $634.10 million. Total Getty revenue for the year including editorial and footage was $807.3 million. (Getty income for the 12 months ending September 2017 was $836.8 million.)

Total images in Getty’s Creative collection in 2006 was 1,767,214 (973,933 were RM and 787,281 were RF). There were 1,053,751 RF images licensed in that year and 607,945 RM images licensed for a total of 1,661,696 licenses. Thus, there was almost 1 license for every image in the collection.

If we divide 2006 gross revenue of $634.1 million by 1,767,214 images in the collection, we get an average gross return per-image in the collection in 2006 of $358.51 compared to $12.06 ($280 million divided by 23,216,298) in 2017. Image creators received a share of those numbers.

It is worth noting that despite the fact that Getty only earned about 44% as much in Creative revenue in 2017 as they earned in 2006, they licensed rights to many more images in 2017.
I have examined the 2017 sales reports of some of Getty’s major photographers. Based on their figures I estimate Getty licensed rights to about 4.5 million images in 2017 compared to the 1.77 million in 2006. However, almost one-third of the images were licensed for prices below $5.00 and over 50% were licensed for prices below $10. The additional volume of sales did not come close to making up for price declines.

Cost Of Production

It is worth considering whether $1.00 per-image per-year, or $0.15 is a reasonable return on investment. Back in 2006 professional photographers who did people and lifestyle set ups with paid models were telling me that they tried to keep their overhead costs below $50 a day and get 50 good images out of each day’s shoot. Often, complex shoots would cost more. Now, most of those photographers have moved on to some other way to earn a living. Those who have survived have cut their costs to below $25 and they are still struggling.

Now, some photographers tell me that they aim to keep their costs below $15 per image. It’s hard to do that on many shoots. Just producing more images in a day is not the answers. But, even if you can produce images for $15 in overhead costs and all you’re going to earn is $1.00 per-image per-year it will take 15 years to cover your costs before you begin to turn a profit. And almost no image is going to have 15 years of useful life.

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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