Know Your Return-Per-Image

Posted on 5/31/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I would like to encourage every stock photographer to begin to calculate, on an annual basis, their Return-Per-Image (RPI) for each agency they work with. This is particularly important for those photographers who hope to realize a profit for the time and expense they invest in producing stock images.

In the last few weeks I have contacted a number of photographers to try to get a sense of their RPI and have been surprised by the number who seem to have no idea whatsoever of their personal RPI.

The figure is very easy to calculate. (1) Determine the total number of images you had in an agency’s collection at the end of the year (say 2017). (2) Determine the total royalty revenue received from the agency for that year. (3) Divide 1 into 2 and it will give you the average return-per-image in the collection.

For example, suppose that at the end of the year you have 5,000 images in the collection and the total royalty revenue you received during the year was $10,000. Your average RPI would be $2.00 per-image per-year.

It may also be useful to track the RPI for new images added in the year which will probably be a much higher number. This number may also encourage you to continue to produce. For example, suppose the person with 5,000 images had 4,500 in the collection at the end of the previous year. Thus, that person would have added 500 new images during the year and received $10,000 during that year, not just for the licensing of the new images, but all the images.

In this case the RPI would be $20.00. Chances are that the new images will have sold better than older images, but the figure may be a better gage of what you earned relatively to your total costs of production during the year. There are a lot of other factors that could affect this number and its importance, but even though it is not perfect it can be a useful guide in understanding sales trends.

You can also compare the trends of these numbers year-to-year. If you RPI goes up the next year, was it because you produced a lot more images? How does the percentage increase in production relate to the percentage increase in gross revenue?

What many photographers are discovering is that even when they increase their production their RPI declines, mostly as a result of price reductions.

Comparative Results

One advantage of having these numbers is that you can easily compare them with the averages of large agencies that supply gross figures. That will give you a sense of whether you are doing as well, or better, than the average contributor to these agencies, and by how much.

For example, in 2017 Shutterstock had gross sales of $557.1 million and paid out about 27% of that to contributors in royalties. Thus, $150.4 million in contributor royalties. At the end of 2017 they had 170.1 million images in the collection so the average image earned about $0.88 during the year.

Getty Images had Gross Creative sales (RM and RF) of about $280 million. They currently have 23,466,628 images in the collection (sorry, I didn’t record the exact number at the end of the year). The average gross per images is would be $11.93. However, RF contributors only get 20% of the gross which would be about a $2.38 royalty. At 35% some RM contributors would get $4.17 per image on average.

I know of some top producers for Getty who received in the range of $8.50 per image. Others got RIPs in the $2.50 to $2.90 range and the royalties for over 80% of their sales were under $10.00.

In addition, some agency suppliers earned less than $1.00 RPI from the images they had supplied to Getty for distribution. Those payments had to be split with the image creators.

Knowing where you stand relative to your peers can be very helpful when planning future shoots.

Help Me Improve My Data

I would also like to encourage readers to send me their average 2017 RPIs for the various agencies they deal with. I will use these figures to make broad general estimates of trends, and to make estimates of the relative size of small and medium sized agencies compared to the majors.

I will never expose the names of anyone who suppliers with any individuals who might choose to supply information.

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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