Uberization Of Stock Photography

Posted on 4/26/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The take over of the stock photography business by amateurs and part-timers is not new, but the long range implications are worth considering.

Shutterstock is adding almost 800,000 new images a week, has over 83 million in its collection and is on track to have over 100 million images before the end of 2016. They have over 100,000 contributors and the number is growing daily.

Total revenue generated in 2015 was $425 million and they say they paid out 28% (about $119 million) to contributors. That means that the average contributor earned a little less than $1,200 in the year. A few earned a lot more. Very few earn enough from photography to support themselves and a family. Most of the high earners license many of the same images through several other microstock sites, not just Shutterstock.

The vast majority of contributors earned a lot less than $1,200 from Shutterstock in 2015.

Shutterstock had 147 million downloads in 2015 or roughly 1,470 downloads per contributor.
Each one of these contributors had an average of about 700 images in the collection and by the end of 2016 it will be around 1,000. Thus, they earn something in the range of $1.20 to $1.70 per-image per-year.

What It Takes To Produce

It takes time and energy to produce 700 images. Most professional photographers used to expect to get 25 to 50 good usable images out of a day’s shoot. Often there is pre-production planning, and post-production preparation of the images for upload, that should be added to actual shooting time. Currently, Shutterstock and other sites often accept 5 or 10 slight variations of the same situation so today it may be easier to get more than 50 images from a day’s work. Recently, Jon Oringer, Shutterstock’s CEO did a red carpet shoot at the Tribeca Film Festival. He shot 1,000 images and 98 of them were uploaded to Rex Features.

Thus, it seems clear that today almost no one can engage in stock photography as a full-time occupation. The number that can make it work has been decreasing rapidly in the last few years. Today’s stock photographers take pictures because it is something they love and because they hope the images will earn them a little extra pocket money, not because they are looking for a career. Often they spend more on equipment and other shoot related expenses than they ever earn from the pictures they produce.

A few photographers that earn most of their living taking pictures on various assignments, or as an employee for some company, also produce stock pictures on the side, but from a business point of view most of these people are having trouble justifying the time needed to produce such images.

This is where the Uber analogy come in. I believe most Uber drivers do it as a part-time activity to supplement some other income source, not as the sole way to earn a living unless they simply can’t find another job. Uber has more than 450,000 active drivers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2014 there were 233,700 taxi and chauffeur jobs in the U.S.

Are Professionals Necessary?

Maybe we don’t need full-time taxi drivers anymore. Maybe we don’t need “professional” photographers anymore.

The world is certainly getting plenty of images. The problem is not too few, its too many. Its becoming harder and harder for customers to wade through all the choices in order to find something useful.

Some customers say they want the more natural, candid images that amateurs tend to produce rather than the perfectly styled with professional models that are cold and unemotional. Surveys indicate that customers engage better with images that are more realistic.  

However, there is a question as to whether amateurs will produce the variety of subject matter customers will need, or will they just photograph subjects they enjoy? Will amateurs take the time to try to figure out what’s in demand and produce that kind of imagery? Will customers be forced to simply live with what the amateurs produce, or hire a photographer to give them something specific and go through all the hassles that involves?

A Final Uber Connection

Recently, Getty Images put on a seminar in Chicago for some of its top producing photographers from the Midwest to help them understand what’s selling and what they should be producing. This was invaluable information for anyone trying to earn a living in this business. Only 10 photographers showed up. One had to leave a little early in order to do his Uber shift. The industry may have already lost the professionals.

Copyright © 2016 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.  


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