Need 'A Little Respect'?

Posted on 7/21/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Recently, a very talented and successful photographer who produces both rights-managed and traditional royalty-free images was bemoaning the sorry state of the stock photo industry. He said: “We need a little respect [for our work].”

By a “little respect,” he meant that rights-managed photographers—who have worked hard to produce images, hired the best models, built complex sets, scouted out unique locations and in general spent a lot of time, effort and money to create unique images—are entitled to have the feeling of respect that results from receiving reasonable compensation for their efforts.

Part of the issue here may be in the way we traditional photographers define “respect” and “reasonable compensation.” Is compensation only reasonable if a photographer receives an average fee of $225 (45% of a $500 average sale) every time an image is licensed? Is it only reasonable if a photographer has the chance to very occasionally earn a portion of a $15,000 to $25,000 fee when one of his images is chosen for very extensive use by a large corporation?

Or is there some evidence of respect when lots of individuals say, “I like that image well enough to pay something for it,” even if that something is a very small amount of money? Is respect measured by how frequently art directors from large advertising agencies choose one of our images for a major campaign? Or is there some level of respect when a mother chooses to use an image on a poster to promote a school fundraiser or a regular guy uses it on his Web site? And if there are lots of those small uses, does that demonstrate as much respect for the photographer’s talent as a single big use?

Also, consider also how many readers actually see the picture an art director chooses for use in a magazine with a circulation of 1 million. How many copies of the magazine are never opened, and how many readers do not actually go to the page where your image appears? Of the readers that do see your image, how many like it? On the other hand, when any individual chooses to pay even a small amount to use your image, that is evidence of respect for your talent. Where are you receiving the greater respect?

Of course, part of the answer is in the numbers. How many people are willing to pay a lot to use your image, and how many only a little? Consider these numbers. Since Lise Gagne started uploading images to iStockphoto in 2003, there have been more than 880,000 sales of the 6,573 images in her iStock-exclusive porftolio. Since 2005, Yuri Arcurs has had more than 630,000 sales from an iStock collection of 4,327 images; however, Arcurs has these and many more images on a number of other microstock sites. Thus, more than 1 million people have liked Yuri’s images enough to pay something for them. Some of both photographers’ images have been licensed many thousands of times. If you make 2,000 sales at an average iStock exclusive royalty of $2.60 each, is that better than several traditional sales that net the photographer a combined total of $4,000 in royalties?

Granted, Arcurs and Gagne are stars, and the sales of others show much lower numbers. Yet consider how many times any one of your images has been licensed, or how many total licenses you have had over several years. How many times an image is used should certainly not be the only consideration; photographers should not necessarily seek multiple uses above all else. But these do highlight the different ways of measuring respect. Perhaps there is some merit in weighing the number of uses, combined with price per use, when calculating just how much respect you get.

Granted, microstock prices are lower than they need to be for some uses. Still, a few of the top microstock producers are earning significantly more than the majority of shooters trying to license their work at traditional prices. Traditional shooters might also want to ask themselves how much their work is respected by Getty Images’ customers when they license images at Premium Access prices and photographers receive royalties of $1 or less per image.

Photographers looking for respect should consider whether they gain more of it from occasional sales to large businesses, which are often more interested in exploiting the photographer than respecting him, or from direct sales to consumers, who appreciate the photographer’s talent but have limited resources that correspond to the limited use they intend to make of the image.

Copyright © 2009 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:  


  • Maggie Hunt Posted Jul 21, 2009
    Here's how StockShop shows respect: our photographers receive 50% of gross license fee for RM images and 50% of net license fee for RF. Granted, we are a small agency (but there are those who love us) and don't generate the volume of sales that Corbis, Getty, Alamy do - nor do we offer microstock. However, we know that we would be nothing without our contributors.

  • Jagdish Agarwal Posted Jul 22, 2009
    Same here. Dinodia Photos in India too pays 50% to photographers, sends a monthly newsletter, conducts an artwalk every Saturday, has lunch meetings about once in three months, gives annual awards to top performing photographers, organises motivational camps, etc. etc. We just had an exhibition, where on the last day prints were auctioned and all prints sold. And in these times of gloom and doom, we sold a picture last week for about US$8000 which is a lot of money for an Indian photographer. Respect can be different for different photographers. Let us all concentrate on creating better pictures. Best wishes.

  • Carl Purcell Posted Jul 22, 2009
    Show me the money.

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