Revisiting Grill: Revenue as Function of Price Times Volume

Posted on 8/11/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

One of the things rights-managed and traditional royalty-free photographers tend to overlook is the average price per image licensed. Photographers worry when their images are licensed for low prices. They track their average royalty per image in file and the trends of their monthly royalty check, but is a lower royalty check the result of fewer images being licensed, a lower average price per license or both?

As Tom Grill has pointed out in “50 x $200 =200 x $50,” lower prices are not necessarily bad; it is price times volume that counts. As microstock prices rise, it is time to take a careful look at the revenue potential from the three licensing models.

Rights-managed and traditional royalty-free licensing

A Getty Images photographer for whom Getty licensed over 1,000 rights-managed and royalty-free images in the first six months of 2010 has shared figures with Selling Stock. This photographer has been told that he is among Getty’s top 50 earners. His average gross sale price for a rights-managed license was $343.24, of which he received about 35% or $119.90 per image. Only 3% of all rights-managed sales were for prices over $1,000, and none exceeded $3,000.

The average gross sale price for his royalty-free images was $166.86, with a royalty of $38.12. However, there were almost 2.5 times more royalty-free licenses. Consequently, the photographer earned almost to the same amount in royalty-free sales as in rights-managed.

Counting both rights-managed and royalty-free revenues, the photographer received 27% of the gross that Getty collected. Other Getty photographers confirm numbers in the same ballpark.

When Getty was a public company, it reported the quarterly average price per image for both rights-managed and royalty-free images. At the end of 2007, the average rights-managed license was $506, and royalty-free images averaged $240. Rights-managed prices had been pretty steady throughout the decade; royalty-free prices saw a steady increase from 2002 through 2004 and then leveled out and held steady through 2007.

Thus, if this photographer’s numbers are representative, and we believe they are, the average Getty prices have dropped by about a third in 2.5 years. It is also important to recognize that back in 2007, Getty was licensing rights to a little less than twice as many royalty-free images as rights-managed, and the revenue generated from these two licensing models was about equal. So the ratio has not changed much, except that the licensing of rights-managed images may have declined a little faster.


For some microstock comparisons, I have information from a photographer who is represented exclusively by iStockphoto and is one of its top 150 earners. In 2009, he was earning about $2.60 per download. Due to price increases, he is averaging over $4.00 per download in 2010, and the average is still rising. While $4.00 per-download may not seem like much compared to $120 or $38, this iStock photographer will have well over 24,000 sales in 2010—compared to slightly over 2,000 traditionally priced sales for the Getty Images photographer. In 2009, the iStock photographer had over 30,000 sales.

• • •

On an annual basis, these two photographers generate about the same revenues. (For a list of estimated earnings during the 12 months between July 1, 2009 and July 1, 2010 of 168 of iStock’s leading photographers, check out this chart.) The earnings of both photographers are in the top 1% of their chosen licensing models, with the vast majority of other photographers earning a lot less.   

Going back to Grill’s analogy, a more accurate ratio might be 20 x $200 = 1,000 x $4.

Copyright © 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, 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:  


  • John Harris Posted Aug 12, 2010
    The promise of low price/high volume does not work for most photographers due to massive over production by an increasing number of photographers. Lowering of prices by these companies results in lower income for most producers but the volume does allow those at the top to pay themselves very very well (even if they borrow from the future expansion). This seems to work even if the quality of content declines. What happens as these companies "run out of road"?

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