What's a TIME Magazine Cover Worth?

Posted on 7/29/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (7)

TIME used Robert Lam’s photo of a jar of coins on the cover of the magazine, with the headline “The New Frugality.” The copy read: “The recession has changed more than just how we live. It’s changed what we value and what we expect—even after the economy recovers.” Lam received $30 for use of the image, which suggests we should expect a lot less.

TIME found the image on iStockphoto and paid $150 for an extended license, as was required for printing more than 500,000 copies of the magazine. Its worldwide circulation is almost 3.4 million, but this cover was used only on the U.S. edition. If TIME had intended to print fewer than 500,000 copies, the same photo could have been licensed for $12.00.

On the iStock blog, Lam indicated that he was very happy that his picture was used. When some bloggers commented on the low price, Lam said: “There’s value in the tear sheet. I’m speaking specifically to the $30.”

A microstock photographer with the handle MinisterC said: “WOW! Congratulations. That’s worth a shout. It’s a bit unfortunate they don’t pay a bit more, but such is the life of stock photography. Very cool. That means that thousands, if not millions of people will now view your work! Nice.”

A fashion photographer from San Francisco pointed out that “an editorial photo on the cover of TIME is easily [worth] $10,000.” That might be true for exclusive rights to a breaking news image. Getty Images’ price for a non-exclusive use of a rights-managed stock photo is listed on its site at $1,465—less than $10,000 but a lot more than $150.

Lam works in Los Angeles and has been posting images on iStock since April 2008. He currently has 223 images and somewhere between 400 and 500 downloads. Given what is believed to be the average return per download for a non-exclusive contributor, Lam’s iStock earnings to date are probably under $650.

Copyright © 2009 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.  


  • Jonathan Ross Posted Jul 29, 2009
    It is only a photo of a jar full of money to start with. This is the second time Time magazine has used Micro for their cover. All I get from this is, don't shoot simple objects for RM anymore. They belong in Micro. As far as their being anything ethically wrong. The photographer was happy the client was happy and so was the agency win-win-win for the parties involved. As far as the value of an image, that is the world around us and I don't believe time is going to reverse it.

    Jonathan Ross

  • Morgan David de lossy Posted Jul 29, 2009
    I must agree with you Jonathan, but still... it hurts!



  • Gerard Fritz Posted Jul 29, 2009
    Sadly, it hardly matters if the images was used for a 500 print run by a local shoe store, or the cover of a national magazine that used it to promoted their magazine making to make millions of dollars as a result. Buying it that cheap, and selling it that cheap are rooted in the same flaw...greed.

  • Tibor Bognar Posted Jul 29, 2009
    I wonder what Robert Lam is doing to pay his rent and groceries? Wouldn't he prefer to earn a living from photography instead of happily giving it away? The trend may not be reversible, but it's beyond me why have photographers started it? Of course the clients are happy....

  • Jagdish Agarwal Posted Jul 30, 2009
    Time will soon come where photographers will pay magazines to print their photos.

  • Mark & Audrey Gibson Posted Jul 30, 2009
    Cost of graphic design?

  • Posted Jul 30, 2009
    Every photographer finds his own level of value in the marketplace. Time Magazine now values a Robert Lam photograph at $150 or less. Yikes!

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