Is The Customer Always Right?

Posted on 12/20/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Many in business believe “The Customer Is Always Right.” The only problem with this is that most customers always want “more” for “less money.” In the Internet environment, particularly, everything is expected to be FREE – literally.

When it comes to satisfying the customer the problem arises in finding a way to cover the cost of producing the product or service. Part of the answer is to find ways to produce more efficiently. Over the years it has been possible to cut costs by providing workers with better tools, expecting more from the workers for less pay or replacing workers entirely by turning production jobs over to machines.

But, if the product is to be Free then there can be no costs.

Another answer is to expect producers to be more generous with their time and skills. Unsplash makes photos available for Free. Unsplash’s online promotion states that the photos are, “Gifted by the world’s most generous community of photographers.” These “generous” photographers are willing to do the work and incur the expense of creating beautiful, needed images for no compensation whatsoever so others can enjoy and profit from their creations.

When we look at what has happened in stock photography pricing in the last few years it is clear that stock photography is not a sustainable business for creators. We haven’t got to totaqlly free yet, but we’re close. Virtually all of the major users of stock images now believe they should be able to get all the images they need for less than $5.00 each. Often much less than $5.00.

Low prices might be acceptable if there is enough volume of sales, but there isn’t.

The number of images licensed annually has been on a plateau for several years (see Shutterstock), despite a huge growth in supply. Individual creators are not licensing enough images to offset the low royalties and justify continued production. In 2018 Shutterstock contributors will have about 100 image licensed for every 137 images in the collection. On average they will receive about $0.85 per image licensed. Consider what it will cost them to produce 137 images.

On average Getty contributors will have one image licensed for ever 3 images in the collection. They will probably receive an average royalty in the range of $7.25 per image licensed or roughly $2.41 per image in the collection. How much will it cost them to produce images with paid models, sets or location payments and maybe travel and other costs? While a small percentage of contributors earn significantly above the average, for most it takes years of sales just to cover costs, let alone realize any profits.

The majority of photographers earn way below the average. The three major image suppliers – Shutterstock, Getty Image and Adobe Stock – combined probably represent more than 60% of gross Creative sales worldwide. None of them dare raise prices for fear of losing customers to the other two. Consequently, prices remain low and have steadily declined in the past decade.

Maybe new technologies will be able to provide image users with what they need at current, or even lower prices, but it doesn’t look like those images will be created by people who engage in photography for the purpose of earning their living.

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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