Sales from Direct Stock 6

Posted on 6/2/1998 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



June 2, 1998

Recently, we surveyed photographers who advertised in Direct Stock 6. This

book was published in early February 1997, and at the time of the survey it had

been in the hands of photography buyers for about 16 months.

There were a total for 550 pages of photos in this book. We received responses from 99

photographers who represented 155 pages in the book. Thus, the statistics to follow

represent over 28% of the pages in DS6.

The gross stock sales for these 99 photographers was $489,089. That means that the

average sales per page was $3,115.41. In addition to stock sales 15 photographers got

assignments that were generated by their clients seeing their work in this book. Some of

these assignments were significant and the total income generated from these assignments

was $96,491. When we add this number to the stock sales, we have a total sales generated

by this book, to date, of $584,580. (Remember that this figure represents only 28% of the

photographers. If it is representative of all the photographers in the book, it would mean the gross

sales, so far, for the entire book would be about $2.1 million.) The average return per

page using the $584,580 figure is $3,771.48.

In order to try to determine profit for photographers from this advertising, we estimated

that each page cost the photographer $2800 which would include space rate plus

separations. We know costs vary somewhat depending on discounts and number of images on a

page, but this seems to be a reasonable average number.

Thus, if we look at the stock sales alone, on average photographers got back 113% of their

investment (their costs plus 13% profit) 16 months after the book came out. (In some

cases they had made this investment as much as six months before the book came out.) If

we look at the total return from stock and assignments, on average photographers got back

135% of their investment (their costs plus 35% profit) 16 months after the book came out.

It should be noted that when we talk about profit we have not factored in anything for the

cost of producing the pictures. This will vary widely. We have no way of estimating what

production costs might have been, but each photographer must take them into account when

estimating his or her own profit.

As might be expected individual returns on investment varied widely. Eleven people have

had no sales at all in the sixteen months since Direct Stock 6 came out. The top seller

of those responding to the survey made $30,000 from stock and an additional $20,000 from

assignments generated by DS6. Six had sales in excess of $20,000 from the DS ad.

When we look at the returns from stock sales alone, 36% earned more than the $2800 cost of

their page meaning that 64% of the photographers lost money. Only 30% earned more than

$3800 per page which is $1000 over the estimated costs.

Fifty-one of the photographers who put images into DS6 decided not to go into DS7. They

represented 74.75 pages in DS6. The 48 photographers who did put images in DS7 represent

80.25 pages in DS6.

Of the 48 photographers who went into DS7, four, or 8%, said their sales were

higher in DS7 in the first four months than they were in the first four months of DS6.

Twenty-seven said their sales were lower and 17 said they were about the same. It should

be noted that four months is a very short time on which to judge the productivity of a

stock catalog so be careful not to read too much into these numbers. On the other hand

the size of the book may be a problem. Some art directors have told us that it is just

too large and that they wouldn't use it because of its size.

One photographer also commented that he was very unhappy with the awful job of keywording

on DS7. He has not had a single reply from DS7 and says, "I doubt that I will have very

good results because my page is so hidden in the keyword process."

Putting more pages into the DS6 didn't necessarily produce greater profits. In fact, the

photographer with the highest sales did it with one page. Forty-four percent of the

photographers with less than two pages earned more than the cost of their pages.

Thirty-nine percent of the photographers with more than two pages had total earnings

(stock + assignments) in excess of the cost of their page.

One of the most telling comments, for me, came from a concept photographer who has been in

all but one of the Direct Stock books. In the early books he had been used to making in

the range of $15,000 to $17,000 per page with most of that money coming in the initial

year-and-a-half after the book is released. In the first 16 months of DS6 he has earned a

total of $800. So far on DS7 he has not made a single sale.

This photographer is very experienced and did not forget what it takes to produce

marketable stock images when it came time to produce for DS6 and DS7. This photographer

also points out that so far in 1998 he has made sales of some of the pictures in older

books, but none in DS7.

There are many intangible factors that might explain why such an experienced photographer

has had such a drastic turn in sales. My best guess is that it has a lot more to do with

the oversupply of all types of imagery in the marketplace, and not the quality of the

particular images.

Another experienced stock photographer who made $6,915 from DS6 points out that in the same

time period he earned $13,835 from DS4. This may be encouraging for photographers in DS6

because there is a good chance of additional earnings from this book in the future.

Still another photographer said he is currently making more sales from DS3 and DS4 than he is

from DS6 and DS7. He is disappointed with overall sales. He has over 40 pictures in DS6

and only six have produced multiple sales. He says, "We are not guessing very well these

days. Apparently, most of our pixs are not unique enough."

One photographer wanted to know in particular how landscape photographers are doing.

Since my questions weren't directed specifically at the type of work photographers put

into the book, I can't answer that question from my own knowledge. However, one very well

known landscape photographer did comment on his survey response that he had been doing

some calling on his own and sales for landscape photographers were WAY OFF. He wondered

if somehow the copies did not make it to the advertisers. I checked with Direct Stock on

this issue and have been assured that all copies were shipped in early February as has

always been the case.

There are some other factors, pointed out by Arie Kopelman of Direct Stock, that you might

want to take into consideration when reading these results. He pointed out that in

earlier years they had done surveys themselves, but dropped them for the following


  • "We have found that the most successful photographers are often hesitant to call

    attention to their success and thereby invite copycat knock-offs of their work. You may

    not hear back from them at all, especially if they don't know how to program their fax so

    their fax number does not appear at the top of the reply page.

  • "Many photographers use Direct Stock as a way to test experimental, unproven material

    in the marketplace. It is hard to say what percentage needs to be successful to validate

    the notion of testing. For example, if one test out of three leads to a hugely successful

    long-term stock career and the other two tests do not work out well, I am not sure what

    conclusion one should draw from that experience.

  • "Comparing any two parallel periods of time from different years is risky. It does

    not automatically follow that the market should behave in a similar fashion just because

    the time of the year is the same."

He concluded by saying, "All that said, we hope you develop some useful information which

will benefit the community we serve."

Copyright © 1998 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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