601 PRICE PER PIX
December 15, 2003
Some photographers have asked that I produce a survey that would develop an "average
return per-accepted-image, per-
year" for images promoted online. They argue that years ago in the analog world the
usually accepted number was $1 per image per year. They point out that if they had some
simple gage to measure projected income it would help when planning expenditures for
The problem with this logic is that there are such wide variations from site to site
that such a number on an industry wide scale would be totally misleading and more
likely to cause photographers to make incorrect judgments than to be helpful. In
addition to the different sales levels on various sites, there are wide differences in
demand for various types of subjects and this, too, can cause wide swings in any
"average return" figures.
The photographer may be able to make some useful personal projections by calculating
his own averages based on the return from the archives or portals that represent his
work, but don't expect these to have any useful relationship whatsoever to what other
photographers might be earning, or to what the average photographer with any other
archive might be earning.
This said, the one archive where we can make at least some determinations about what
these averages might be is Getty Images because it makes available a great deal of
statistical detail about the company. Photographers represented by Getty might find
these figures useful, but I would caution even them not to be greatly surprised if
their own personal figures with Getty are much higher or lower than the averages.
Everyone marketing through every other source should expect their average return to be
At my latest check Getty had 346,091 RM images in the Creative section of their site
and 189,523 RF images. The total revenue generated from these images in the last four
quarters was $268.33 million for RM and $154.54 million for RF. Thus the average gross
sale for a RM images was $775 and the average gross sale for an RF image was $815 per
image. Now assuming that the photographer gets 40% of the revenue for RM images, the
photographer's average return would be $310 per-image per-year. And assuming the RF
photographer gets 20% of the gross license fee that photographer would get $163
per-image per-year. In fact, with cuts for sub-agents and sales through overseas
offices most photographers will probably get something less than these percentages in
both cases, and thus their averages are likely to be lower.
This sounds like a big difference from the old $1 per year, but in the old analog world
it was not uncommon for photographers to have 50,000 to 100,000 images in the files of
various archives. Now, most photographers are lucky of they can get a few hundred
images accepted by the better producing online archives. Some of the top producers have
numbers in the thousand, but that is a rarity, and almost no one has numbers in the
high thousands. The math is totally different in the online environment.
I have no way of determining the number of images online in the Editorial section of
Getty's site, but believe it is much more than the combined total of the RM and RF
images. The gross revenue for Editorial sales in the last four quarters was $36.76
million and thus the average per image would be much lower than the figures above.
Since most of the photographers producing images for Getty's Editorial sales are staff
photographers who received no royalties this is an unimportant calculation anyway.
With Corbis we can only make broad guesses, but we know their gross revenue is about
one-quarter of Getty's and they have about two million images online. While all the
averages will be much lower than Getty's there should be big differences between the
photographers who produce Commercial images, those who produce Editorial images, and
the Fine Art and museum images. A great deal depends on subject matter.
As I pointed out above, a big question in using a per-image per-year average is the
number of new images, if any, you can get accepted in any given year. You may be able
to get more images accepted at archives and portals that are smaller than Getty or
Corbis, but that doesn't mean the returns per-image are likely to match those of these
While I enjoy playing with statistics, these numbers from Getty are probably of very
little value to most people.