Two Categories Of Image Suppliers

Posted on 1/8/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Broadly, there are two different categories of photographer who produce stock images.

1 – The first category is made up of photographers who are trying to earn their living, or at least a significant part of it, from the images they produce. These photographers try to study the market and gather as much data as possible to determine what customers want to buy. Then they go out and try to produce that type of imagery, as cost efficiently as possible. The subject matter of these images is not necessarily related to something the photographer would do for fun. Professional photographers get their satisfaction from knowing that they have produced something that someone else needs. In general, they have concluded that this line of business is more enjoyable than other things they might do to earn a living. The money they earn gives them the freedom to do other things they may enjoy even more.

2 – Photographers in the other category tend to focus on taking pictures of, or recording things, they enjoy. They tend to photograph things that happen in their normal daily activities, not necessarily seek out or find subjects for which they have determined there is a high demand. They assume that if they find something interesting, or beautiful, everyone else will enjoy it as much as they do. Of course, they would be happy to earn money for their efforts, but money is usually not a prime motivating factor – at least at the beginning. They will often spend huge amounts of time producing their images as well as additional time adjusting the basic capture, captioning, keywording and uploading the images to stock agencies. Usually, little or no thought is given to return on time invested.

Eventually, they may decide that the time and effort they have spent preparing their images for market isn’t worth the trouble. Often it seems to take a long time before such a realization occurs. At that point they are likely to continue creating their “art” and maybe posting the images on Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr or Twitter for their friends to enjoy, but they will likely stop spending the extra effort to try to market what they produce.

Quality Of Imagery

From a technical and artistic point of view there may not be much, if any, difference in the quality of the work produced by those in either of these categories. In fact, amateurs and part timers often produce artistically beautiful images, but in many cases such images don’t fit the needs of commercial customers. Amateurs love what they are doing. The time required to produce images and the cost of production tend not to be a major concern for the amateur. For the professional (category 1) cost is always a factor because the professional is looking for a bottom line profit.

Changes That Have Taken Place

Back in the 1990s nearly everyone producing stock images was focused on producing images that customers would want to buy. To get accepted for representation by a stock agency the photographer needed to show a certain level of competency and a focus on producing the kind of images customers wanted to buy.

In the Internet era that has changed dramatically. Now, everyone is encouraged to upload their images. Everyone with a camera is made to feel that there is a demand for whatever they produce. There is very little editing on the theory that it doesn’t cost much to add an image to a collection if the creator is doing all the work to prepare the image so it can be found.

As a result, a huge percentage of image suppliers become discouraged and disappointed because their images aren’t producing the kind of revenue they had hoped. After some brief efforts most drop out when they realize they are expending a lot of effort for very little return. For some who believe that what they are producing has value it may take longer for this realization to set in.

Shutterstock Figures

A look at Shutterstock figures provides some insight relative to the percentage of photographers who are currently producing stock photography as a profession. Based on the analysis I did last week about 2% or 5112 contributor have more than 10,000 images with Shutterstocik. They have a combined total of 71,627,393 images that represent 42% of the collection. My guess is that these images generate much more than 42% of Shutterstock’s revenue because these contributors have been focused on producing what they think customers want.

But, if we look at the average annual royalty of $0.78 per image in the collection, on average those with 10,000 images would earn $7,800 from Shutterstock annually. With 20,000 images they would earn on average $15,600. Certainly some expenses would reduce some of the profits. Maybe they have placed the same images with other sources and are earning something from those sources as well. But, in most countries this is a long way from enough to support oneself. or a family.

About 71% of the collection, or a total of 122,143,734 out of the 170 million images, were created by 7% of Shutterstock creators. Each of these creators has more than 1,000 images in the Shutterstock collection. Undoubtedly, this 7% of contributors represents more that 71% of total revenue generated because most are focused on producing what customers want, but for this calculation I’ll assume that the 93% of contributors with fewer than 1,000 images in the collection generate 29% of revenue.

I have estimated that $480 million of Shutterstock’s 2017 revenue (not counting footage and editorial revenue) resulted from still image licensing. Twenty-nine percent of that is about $139,200,000. Ninety-three percent of the 250,000 contributors would be 232,500 contributors. The average contributors would generate $598.70 a year for Shutterstock and receive a royalty of $173.62. For that kind of return, not many will keep contributing for very long, but most will leave their images with Shutterstock and technically remain contributors because already having done all the work, they have nothing to lose.

Not only, does this strategy not benefit the photographer, but in the long run it doesn’t benefit customers either. More on that later.

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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