Will iPad Boost Stock Photo Licensing?

Posted on 2/8/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

A San Francisco-based photographer recently asked: “There is a lot of speculation about tablets like the Kindle and the iPad possibly leading the way for more image use and therefore a possible boon to stock-photo licensing. Do you have any thoughts on that?”

The iPad, in particular, has the potential to become a widely used tool in the field of education. Currently, I believe worldwide licensing of stock photography for educational purposes totals something in the range of $350 million a year, but that figure is more likely to decline than grow as a result of the introduction of the iPad.

A lot of images will be used on iPads, but that doesn’t mean professional photographers will be earning more from licensing rights to still images. For the past five years, at least, book publishers have added this verbiage to requests for rights to use a picture in a printed book: “[including] the right to publish the picture in an unlimited numbers of electronic uses on the Internet, or in any other electronic product now in existence or yet to be invented, for 10 years from the date of invoice.”

Most image sellers have been agreeing to these terms for little or no additional money. Consequently, the rights for most of those iPad educational uses in the next decade have already been given away.

Getty Images has been a leader in this giveaway. Find a rights-managed image on the Getty site, and you may reproduce it inside a printed book in any size from postage stamp to double-page spread and print an unlimited number of copies for 7 years, for $267. If you also want electronic rights for the same book and time period, these are an additional $120. If you only want to use the image in an electronic book, the price is $92 for 10 years. And because publishers tend to be large users of images, Getty offers them much more favorable bulk deals.

The theory that there could be a boom in stock photo licensing assumes that publishers will continue to print all the books they are currently printing, plus the electronic versions for the iPad and Kindle. However, the use of printed books should be expected to decline rapidly as school systems switch to electronic teaching materials. It is likely that professional photographers will lose many more sales than they gain.

For an analogy, think of how the demand for rights-managed and traditional royalty-free images has declined as microstock has grown. There are a lot more image users now, but the overall revenue from licensing rights to stock images has declined in the last few years. In one sense, there may be a boom in that more imagery will be used, but revenue growth is unlikely. In addition, the revenue that is generated will be spread among a much larger group of photographers, with much more of it going to part timers and amateurs.

Interactive electronic whiteboards

The hot concept in delivering educational information today is interactive electronic whiteboards. These systems normally include a computer with an Internet hookup, a video projector and a large white board on which the image on the computer screen is projected. The computer is operated by touching the image on the whiteboard with either one’s finger or sometimes an infrared stylus. In some applications, students, each with their own personal computer, sit in a classroom, view the professor and the whiteboard at the front of the class, but also have all the information that appears on the whiteboard on their computers in front of them and can interact with each other and make and store their separate notes.

A basic system can be had for about $3,000, and that price will drop soon. It is easy to see how the iPad will become the student’s or the teacher’s portable computer within this system.

Such systems are not just being used in universities but have also been installed in K-12 classrooms across the country. In October 2009, the Detroit public school system inked a $40 million multi-year contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to install its Learning Village electronic system throughout city schools. When HMH gets around to licensing rights for use of images in the Learning Village program, and on iPads, I am sure they will argue that the image is not worth anywhere near as much as it was worth in a printed book and therefore want to pay a lot less than $92 for such usages.

These electronic systems will enable school systems and teachers to exercise a lot more control over their lesson plans. School systems will be less dependent on publishers than they have been in the past and will customize their curricula and lesson plans to a greater extent. They will use the Internet as a resource. When they want photos, they will go to Google, Flickr and microstock sites first. People who want to sell to the education market will have to find a way to sell quality work to individual teachers and school systems at very low prices and hope that volume will make up the difference.

The iPad and interactive whiteboards are also video-friendly. This may mean that there will be a lot more demand for short video and a lot less demand for still imagery. Think about science classes. Can magnetism be explained better with a still picture or a short video? What about dissecting a frog? The phrase “dissecting a frog” returns 459 videos on YouTube; most are not very good and could have benefited from professional lighting, camerawork, sound and narration—but where do you think teachers will go to find visuals that will inspire their students?


The iPad will be a boon to the education industry, not professional photographers. Elementary students will no longer have to carry heavy book bags, just a simple iPad. They will learn using the tools of their future careers. Tests and additional resources will be available to students wherever they are. Teachers will be able to test and grade online. School systems will save huge amounts of money compared to what they previously spent on books. No longer will university students have to pay $1,000 for the books they need for a semester’s study; they will upload all the educational materials they need onto their iPad for a fraction of that cost.

The need for tons of paper to print test books will be reduced. Trees will be saved. Trucks to carry books to market will no longer be needed. There will be less need for book distribution outlets, or, at the very least, the need will be for a very different type of distribution outlet. There will be less need for complete packages called books. Experts on various issues currently found within books will discuss their research and findings in shorter articles and teachers will compile a series of such articles into course curricula.

The world is changing, but not necessarily for the better for those photographers who want to continue to operate based on 20th Century rules.

Copyright © 2010 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.  


  • Jim Reed Posted Feb 9, 2010
    Sobering, but very useful information and opinion. Thanks Jim, as always! You are helping to educate and prepare a whole new generation of photographers... or should I say multimediographers or white board artists?

  • Ted Spiegel Posted Jul 23, 2010
    Jim - I am in Norway now and able to probe the back issues of Selling Stock, thanks to someone rehabing my registration - and as usual find them to be "ARTICLES OF LASTING INTEREST" - Have you done an article - better yet a case study - of how to establish an application that others will pay for? - Ted Spiegel

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