What Can Be Done About Pricing?

Posted on 3/14/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

The number one issue for photographers is “what can be done to stop the steady down hill slide in the price paid to use an image?” Unfortunately, the answer is NOTHING!

Let’s look at some numbers. In 2006, the last year Getty provided accurate numbers for Creative images licensed, the company licensed rights to 607,954 RM uses and 1,053,751 RF. The average price per image licensed for RM was in the range of $550.00 and for RF $240. Based on what I am hearing from photographers and agents I don’t think the total number of images licensed on an annual basis has increased. There may have been a decrease.

Certainly the average price per image licensed has decreased significantly. In 2007 Getty’s gross revenue from Creative Stills (the two collections above) was $560.94 million. Based on their 2011 figures reported at the time of the Carlyle acquisition of Getty, I estimate that gross revenue was down to around $200 million. If they licensed the same number of images then they cut their average price to about one-third of what it was in 2007.

If they actually licensed more uses (everyone says demand is growing) then the price decline was even greater. Included in today’s numbers are all the images they license at  “Premium Access” prices. Based on recent discussions with photographers about 25% of the images Getty licenses from its Creative collection are for prices under $25 and over 50% are for prices under $100. Sure there are still occasional high priced sales that raise the averages, but they are not something a photographer can depend on.


The rising star in the stock photo industry is Shutterstock. In 2011 they licensed rights to 58 million images and in 2012 over 74 million. A high percentage of these downloads were subscription sales. Of the company’s $169.2 million in revenue about 55% was generated from subscription, 35% from on demand (single image) and 10% other. In their final quarter of 2012 the average price per image downloaded was $2.30. It is important to note that with subscriptions every image is priced the same regardless of uniqueness, what it cost to produce the image or how it is used.

Shutterstock, and others in the microstock business that license images based on file size delivered, focus on the volume aspect of the business and argue that the increased volume makes up for the low price.

Certainly, if we compare Getty’s RM sales with Shutterstock’s we discover that on average for every RM image licensed by Getty Shutterstock licenses rights to 121 images. If a photographer could depend on making that many more sales than would be the case if he licensed his images as RM then $2.30 per license doesn’t look that bad. Shutterstock also has about 7.6 times more images in its collection than Getty has RM images (24,591,504 to 3,214,481) so that reduces the average a photographer might expect to receive based on the same number of images in each collection.

So we’ve gone from RM pricing based on usage, to traditional RF based on file size delivered, to Microstock where at least file size is considered, to Subscription where all images and all uses are equal. Subscription sales are growing because the vast majority of  customers find that they can get everything they need there.

Many microstock sites that license images based on file size have raised their prices significantly in the last two or three years, but that doesn’t seem to have resulted in an increase in total revenue. It has just driven more customers to the subscription sites and particularly Shutterstock.

Despite its customer appeal Shutterstock’s pricing strategy is presenting a problem for many microstock photographers that make their images available through both Shutterstock and a host of other microstock distributors that license the images they represent based on file size delivered. The revenue photographers receive from Shutterstock is growing monthly, but it is not making up for the revenue they are losing from their other distributors whose customers are going to Shutterstock.

Many RM photographers believe that the way to get higher prices is to hold their images out of the market until someone comes along that is willing to pay the higher price. They are often adamant about never selling their images for lower prices. But this doesn’t mean the photographer will make more money. He will just make fewer sales and chances are less money.

Maybe the images available at lower prices aren’t as good as the ones being sold through the subscription sites. (I don’t necessarily agree with that premise.) But they are satisfying most of the customers.

Looking Ahead

It’s also entirely possible that in a few years photographers will wish they could still get $2.30 for each image licensed. New sites coming online are looking for images that have been shot with cell phones. These sites are social in nature and encourage Liking, Pinning and Tweeting for free.

These sites are reaching out to a much broader group of creators than even the microstock sites attracted. The vast majority of images found on such sites may be unusable, but there will be some good images. These sites will make some sales at prices that will probably be lower than the micros are charging. And that will undoubtedly reduce the number of images needed from the more expensive players in the market. We haven’t seen the bottom yet.

Copyright © 2013 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.  


  • Todd Klassy Posted Mar 14, 2013
    But there is something photographers can do; stop allowing middlemen to sell images for them and being selling images on your own (or find a service that allows you to set your own prices and margin). You're never going to get paid what you deserve, but you can get paid what you negotiate. Eliminate the middleman and keep their share in your own pocket.

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