What Are Pictures Worth To Book Publishers?

Posted on 1/24/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Do educational publishers place much value on the pictures they use in their books? Based on what they are willing to pay for such images, the role pictures play in the educational process has declined significantly over the last 10 to 15 years. The fees paid for images used in textbooks have not kept up with changing usage demands. There may be little photographers can do to alter this trend, but they need to be aware of and understand the problem as they plan future production for this market.

In 1995 the recommended pricing in our book, Negotiating Stock Photo Prices, for use of an image one-quarter page with a circulation of up to 40,000 was $200. In the 2001 edition the recommended price was raised to $219. There wasn’t much electronic use at that time and we struggled to develop a pricing strategy for this rapidly changing aspect of the business. The book recommended an additional $180 for up to 40,000 CD-Roms. Other sellers charged a 25% to 50% premium on top of the base price when electronic use rights were included.

In addition, it was common practice back in the 1990s to pay an additional fee whenever the print run was extended. When a publisher wanted to print additional copies beyond the first print run they would be charged 75% of the original fee to print an additional 40,000 copies.

Compare these numbers with Getty Images’ list prices today.  According to their web pricing template they charge between $267 and $290 for print use alone, depending on whether the image is from the TIB or Stone collections, or a fee of $387 to $425 for both print and electronic use. At first glance these numbers look like an increase, but there is no size of use limitations as there were 10 years ago. In addition, there are no circulation limitations in Getty’s prices. Unlimited use for seven years is allowed. Instead of a 40,000 print run for textbook use which was common back in the 1990s, major publishers now ask for licenses to print between 500,000 and 1,500,000 copies of a new book. We also know that Getty discounts these list prices when selling to the major publishers, we just don’t know by how much.

Examining Titles

We decided to look at a few random titles of major publishers and compare the estimated costs of the images used in these books with the gross revenue generated by the book. To estimate the price of the images we decided that on average each image would be worth Getty’s top $425 list price for print and electronic use. (The vast majority of the images are used 1/4 page or less.) We estimated the number of copies to be printed at 1,000,000 since that is a very common print run requested today.

It should also be noted that it is currently common to request at least a 10 year license, not 7 and that there is no limitation whatsoever on the electronic use that can be made of the image while the license is in force.

Glencoe-McGraw Hill - Geometry

The book has 476 images, not including illustrations, and 1197 total pages, copyright 2010  
List price of the book $99.96
476 x $425 = $202,300 for the total cost of images in the book.
$99.96 x 1,000,000 = $99,960,000 gross revenue generated
Percent of total revenue paid for images.  2/10s of 1%  (.00202)

Pearson - Biology

This book has 535 images and 570 total pages, copyright 2010
List price of the book is $139.51
535 x $425 = $227,375
$139.51 x 1,000,000 = $135,510,000 gross revenue generated
Percent of total revenue paid for images - less than 2/10 of 1% (.00167)

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (McDougal Littell) - Algebra2
This book has 413 images and 1044 total pages, copyright 2004
List price of the book is $80.70
413 x $425 = $175,225
$80.70 x 1,000,000 = $80,700,000 gross revenue generated
Percent of total revenue paid for images – little over 2/10 of 1% (.00217)

Pearson (Prentice Hall) - Biology

This book has 937 images in 1146 pages, copyright 2004
List price for this book is $97.95
937 $425 = $398,225
$97.95 x 1,000,000 = $97,950,000
Percent of total revenue paid for images - 4/10 of 1% (.004)

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - Social Studies – Our Communities

This book has 687 images in 447 pages, copyright 2010
List price for this book is $54.94
687 x $425 = $291,975
$54.94 x 1,000,000 = $54,940,000
Percent of total revenue paid for images – a little over half of 1% (.0053)

Pearson (Prentice Hall) - The American Journey – 5th Edition
This book has 355 images (mostly historical, copies of painting) in 916 pages, copyright 2009
The list price of this book is $81.95
355 x $425 = $142,375
$81.95 x 1,000,000 = $81,950,000
Percent of total revenue paid for images – a little less 2/10ths of 1% (.0017)

It should be noted that all these estimates are probably greater than what the company’s actually paid to use all the images. Some of the images they use are created by staff photographers for lesser overall cost than if they were to license them from an outside source. Some images are in public domain, or are available at very low cost from suppliers who are anxious to have their images included in textbooks for promotional or other reasons.

In addition most publishers are now sourcing a lot of their images from microstock sites. Some picture researchers estimate that as much as 30% of the images currently being used in new textbooks are being sourced from microstock sites. On iStockphoto an extended license (in order to cover the high print run) of an image in their basic collection costs 125 credits which might be as much as $178.75 depending on the credit package purchased. An image purchased from Fotolia might cost as much as $117.00 and from Dreamstime $93.00 or less.

It is also important to acknowledge that not all of the gross revenue generated goes into the publisher’s pocket. There are staff expenses in project development and design. There is the cost of paper, printing and shipping. Some books are sold through retail outlets that take a percentage of the list price. Despite all these costs the amount paid for the creative content seems to be a minuscule part of the costs of the entire project.

Many photographers who produce images for use in textbooks are having difficultly earning enough to cover their costs. If publishers were willing to allocate even 1% of the anticipated gross revenue their books are expected to generate to the acquisition of imagery all the people involved in the image creation and marketing process would be earning much more than they are today.  However, that seems unlikely. The trend seems  to continue to do everything possible to cut costs in order to maximize return for investors. If photographers are having trouble paying for new equipment and supporting their families they can at least be proud that they are doing their part to increase the wealth of the principles and investors of the publishing empires.

P.S. If you enjoyed this story you might also enjoy two recent movies – The Company Men and Inside Job.

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 24, 2011
    Publishers typically receive only about 1/2 of the list price, the rest going to distributors and retailers. Even taking that into account the amount dedicated to photography is miniscule. Writers don't fare much better.

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