RPI and Developing A Business Plan

Posted on 1/17/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

It is getting very common for experienced stock photographers to receive requests for information that go something like this.
    “I’m trying to put together a stock photography business plan and need to create a revenue forecast. Assume a collection of 1000 well produced, high quality, properly styled, current images. Assume the collection is spread to the top 5 agencies and that 20% are placed in RM and 80% in RF.  What can I expect to earn annually from such a collection?”
Here’s the way I answer that question.

Given the information provided there is absolutely no way to estimate how much such a collection might earn. It could be anything from less than $1 per-image per-year up. More than likely it won’t be up very much although a few stars do quite well. Keep in mind that there are a few stars in every profession who do well. Those are the people you usually hear a lot about. The only way to get some idea of what you might earn is to put some of your best images (probably at least 100) with some agencies and see what they generate over a period of time. Every photographer’s results will be different and will vary greatly depending on:
    1 – The kind of subject matter the photographer shoots. Many photographers produce very high quality images from a technical and artistic point of view but these images happen to be of subject matter that no one is interested in buying.

    2 – How many of the 1,000 images get accepted for marketing by which agency (or put another way how many thousands of images must you submit to get 1,000 accepted).
    3 – Which agencies actually will accept the work.
    4 – The degree of oversupply in the market of the subject matter supplied.
    5 – General market trends.
Based on this data, maybe you’ll be able to make some judgment as to what your collection might earn. Another very important factor is that you’ll also need the answer to item number 2 before you can determine what it will cost in time and money to produce 1,000 images that are accepted for marketing.

Useful Data

All this said, here is some data that may be useful. Back in 2003 the average photographer with RM images on the Getty Images site was earning about $271 per image annually. Some were earning a lot more and many were earning a lot less. By 2007 that average for an RM image in the collection had dropped to about $95. RF producers in 2003 were earning, again on average, about $130 per-image per-year and by 2007 that had dropped to $67.
Since 2007 Getty has gone private (they used to be a public company). This makes it much more difficult to estimate the company’s revenue figures. They have also started licensing a significant percent of their RM images at much lower prices. My bet is that the average annual return-per-image for RM has dropped significantly in the last three years. Some of Getty’s top photographers may still be earning over $100 annually per-image-in-the-collection, but there will be very few of them. Photographers licensing rights to royalty-free images through Getty are probably earning less than $35 per image annually.

If we turn to Alamy, a very popular site, the average contributor with a reasonably good, tightly edited collection may earn in the range of $10 per-image-in-the-collection per-year. For many earnings are much lower. There are people there who aren’t earning $1 a year per image in the collection. Alamy licenses rights to a total of about 200,000 images a year and they have over 20 million in their collection. That means that if someone has 100 images in the collection on average only 1 is likely to be licensed during the year and it will only be licensed once. The likely gross fee for that sale, if it is for editorial use, will be about $100 of which the photographer will receive $65.

On iStockphoto only about 1,700 contributors out of more than 90,000 have more than 1,000 images on the site. Eighty-five percent of all the contributors have fewer than 100 images on the site. In the range of 75,000 of iStock’s contributors have less than 250 total downloads from the site and are earning about $1.20 per download. In many cases it has taken them several years to earn this amount of money.

There are a few microstock sellers whose gross annual revenue is in excess of $100,000 a year. My estimates are that the number of microstock producers earning in excess of $100,000 a year is slightly larger than the number of RM sellers earning that kind of money. In both cases they represent less than 1% of the photographers participating in their respective markets. And because so many more photographers are trying to sell their work through microstock sites than are trying to license their work as RM, the percentage on the microstock side is much less than 1% of the total. These figures do not take into account the cost of producing the work.

Most of the figures above are averages. The only way to develop a realistic business plan is to start with solid statistics from your personal experience.

Copyright © 2011 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Mark Turner Posted Jan 17, 2011
    The other important factor to consider is the considerable length of time it takes before images with an agency begin to produce any revenue. My experience has been several months at minimum (after going through all the hoops to get images online) and in some cases several years. This is a game for the patient and persistent.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff