Photographer Productivity

Posted on 1/3/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

One of the things I said in my 2018 Predictions is: “Image creator may be given more useful information about what is in demand.”

In recent years we’ve seen a huge growth in the number of creators entering the stock photo business as well as images added to the collections. But we’re no longer seeing a corresponding growth in revenue.

It’s harder to make a determination about growth in unique images licensed, given the data available. Are the same images being licensed over and over again, or are most images licensed only once? Are new images licensed more frequently than older ones?

Here’s some Shutterstock data from the last two years. The first thing to recognize is that we can’t just divide the gross single images downloaded into the gross revenue generated by the company for the year because some of the total revenue is generated from the licensing of video clips, music, editorial sales and other activities. I don’t believe any of these licenses are counted in the download numbers reported. I believe these “other uses” represent about 11% of total revenue so the numbers I use for revenue from single image downloads are 89% of total revenue.

  Gross Revenue From Image In Rev Per Downloads Revenue
  Revenue Single Image Collection Image In   Per
    Licenses   Collection   Download
    (89% total)        
2016 $494,300,000 $440,000,000 116,000,000 $3.79 166,900,000 $2.64
2017 $540,000,000 $480,000,000 170,000,000 $2.82 170,100,000 $2.82

From the image creator’s point of view, the average annual revenue they receive per image in the collection is down 25% compared to what they were earning in 2016. In 2017 there was a 54% increase in the total number of images in the collection, but only a little less than 2% increase in the number of images actually licensed. The revenue per image licensed went up about 6%, which is good news for Shutterstock, but it is not good news for creators who spent all that time producing imagery that didn’t sell.

    (Note: I had to estimate Q4 2017 revenue and downloads since those numbers won’t be published for another couple of months. Slight variations should not make a significant difference in the conclusions.)
The general conclusion for creators is that they are spending more and more of their time producing images no ones wants to buy. Creators need to find a way to make more efficient use of their time.

Supplier Perspective

In most businesses suppliers are given information about the likely demand for the product they are asked to produce. If a certain product is not selling well the supplier is usually advised to cut back on production, or stop production entirely, until there is evidence of greater demand.

In the stock photo business, the kind of information creators need in order to make wise business decisions about what to produce is almost totally lacking. The information provided on most sales reports is not as specific as it needs to be and often not very timely. Occasionally, sellers will provide broad general guidelines on what to produce, but such information is usually very difficult to apply to a specific situation or shoot.

Granted, in the stock photo business each individual image and situation is unique and has unique characteristics. That makes it more difficult to draw conclusions about what to shoot and how to approach the subject matter. But it would be possible for creators to make much wiser decisions about where to focus their time and energies if they were supplied with more detailed information about demand.

What Creators Need

The following is a list of some of the information that would help creators do a better job of producing the kind of imagery customers want to buy.

1 – Contributors should be able to view a list of all sales of each particular image in their collection. It should be possible to sort this list based on number of times the image has been downloaded or total revenue generated in in the past month, 3 months, 6 months, year or lifetime. A thumbnail of the image should be next to this data. This image should be available online in real time so the contributor can see changes immediately after each sales transaction.

2 – Contributors should be able to see the number of times each of their images has appeared on a page viewed by a customer in the last month, 3 months, 6 months, career. They should be able to organize this information by number of times downloaded, total revenue generated, image number or date of upload. The information should be presented so the contributor can easily see the trend over a period of time. Is the number of times declining as the image gets older? How fast is that decline occurring?
    (Note: If the image is included in a search that delivers 1,000 returns, but the customer only reviews 3 pages (100 images per page) and the image was not on one of those 3 pages, then it should not be counted as having been seem. It is only seen if it is on a page the customer has actually reviewed.)
3 – Contributors should be able to easily group all the images from a particular shoot so they can easily gage the overall return from a shoot. This would help them determine the kind of shoots they might want to organize in the future and those that might not be worth investing in.

4 – Contributors should be able to search the entire agency collection for specific keywords (or multiple word search terms) and see only those images that have been licensed. The images should be ordered based on the number of downloads in the last month, 3 months, 6 months or year.
    (Note: I realize that some creators will not want others to know which of their images have been licensed for fear that someone will copy their image and thus reduce the potential for future sales of their image. While this is certainly possible the benefits outweigh the risks. In addition, in all likelihood an image that has already sold will appear higher in the search return than any new image of the same subject so the first producer still has an advantage.)
5 – Image creators should be regularly supplied with information concerning the average number of pages each customer reviews when doing a search. This will help the creator understand why at a certain point his/her images are no longer being seen. At that point the contributor may want to adjust the keywords on the image, or try some other tactic that will give the image a better chance of being seen by customers.
6 – Contributors should be able to easily add, or change, keywords after an image has been uploaded.

7 – Contributors need to know the relative popularity of a given keyword in the last month, 3 months, 6 months or year. For example, some words may be used 10,000 times in a given month, others a few hundred, or maybe once or twice. The creators should be able to search for a word and see the relative popularity of that word for the last month, 3 months, 6 months or year. Such a list would be a clear indicator of whether a particular subject is in high or low demand.

It should also be possible to pull up all the search phrases that include a particular word. This would enable the creator to better understand how the customer is trying to narrow his/her search for a broad concept.

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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