1999 Stock Photographers Profits Survey -Resu

Posted on 4/5/1999 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



April 5, 1999

We had 185 photographers respond to our Stock Photographer Profits Survey.

They had a combined total of $16,134,555.87 in stock income in 1998 and

additional photographic income of $9,761,851.62 for a total photographic

income of $25,896,407.49.

The survey was mailed to over 3,000 from the combined lists of Selling Stock

and PhotoSource International, and it was made available on-line. About 80 of

the respondents completed their survey on-line and the rest filled out the

printed survey that had been mailed to them.

To put these numbers in overall industry perspective, for a long time I had been

estimating that worldwide stock photo sales were about $1 billion, or

slightly higher. However, I had only been estimating that 10% of this number

came from direct sales not through agencies.

The direct sales numbers have always been extremely hard to calculate and

were mostly a matter of guess work. Part of my reasoning in the past for

this low percentage of direct sales was based on the assumption that a

large percentage of the

direct sales were for editorial uses at lower rates. There are several

reasons why this assumption could have been faulty.

In any event, this survey showed that 24% of the gross stock sales of these

photographers came from direct sales to clients - not through stock

agencies. Consequently, I am upping my estimate of gross worldwide sales in

the industry to approximately $1.25 billion with that portion generated by

agencies or other types of reps at right around $950 million.

The photographers get to keep 100% of direct sales, but I estimate on

average, considering the involvement of sub-agencies, that photographers

receive no more than 35% of the gross sales made through agencies. This

would mean that of the $1.25 billion dollars in gross sales, photographers

receive about $528 million.

Further extended, this means that those participating in our survey represent

only about 3% of the total stock photographers in terms of gross income

worldwide. This is a very small sample and there was no random selecting of

the group to be sampled. Both factors could result in distortions. Based on

conclusions that will become clearer as we move through this report, I

believe this sample of respondents is skewed toward being above average,

rather than being representative of the average photographer.

If this sample were totally representative there would be 6,166 individuals

worldwide engaged in producing stock photography. I think the actual number

is probably much higher, but a huge percentage of them are very marginally

engaged in the business.

With all these factors considered, and keeping them clearly in mind as we

review the numbers, there still may be many useful conclusions that we can

draw from the data these 185 individuals provided.

Income From Agencies

To begin, we asked photographers to provide figures for that portion of their business

that was related solely to the licensing of still photos. We purposely

excluded art decor and motion picture production from this survey.

The total income generated by stock agencies was $11,934,468.64.

Thirty four of the photographers, or 18%, were not represented by an agency

and all their income was generated through direct sales. The total stock

income for these 34 was $1,007,230 or an average of $29,624.41 per


Sixty photographers, or 32% of all respondents, were represented by only one

agency. Their total stock income was $4,381,312.54 or 27% of the total

income from stock. The average stock income per photographer of this group

is $73,021. The notable fact here is that this includes many of the top

individual producers who are with agencies such as Tony Stone Images, The

Image Bank, The Stock Market and FPG. However, their high incomes are balanced

by photographers who are just getting started and have not been able to build

files large enough to generate high dollars.

Eighty nine photographers, or 48% of the total respondents, were represented

by more than one agency. On average, each of these was represented by three

agencies with three photographers being represented by over 15. The total

stock income of the 89 was $10,234,951.83 which is 63% of the total stock

income reported in this survey. The average stock income of these

photographers is $114,999. This is much higher than the $73,021 average for those with

a single agent, or $29,624.41 for those without an agent.

Thus, it appears that those who are represented

by more than one agency still do significantly better, on average, than those

who have exclusive arrangements with a single agency.

There were 149 photographers represented by agencies. Of these

photographers, 35% earned more from their direct sales than from any single

agency that represented them. Some photographers, who were represented by

several agencies, earned more from the combined sales of all their agencies

than they did from their direct sales.

The respondents had work with 142 different agencies. I have attached a list

of these agencies at the bottom of this report.

Taking Expenses Into Account

The average stock income before expenses for all photographer was $87,213.81.

The average gross photography income adding in Other Photographic Income and

Barter Income came to $145,915.36.

However, the estimated total expenses necessary to produce this income was

$11,211,154.14. It should be noted that 12 of the respondents reported no

expense figures. To give a fair representation, we removed their income

figures from the gross income category before deducting expenses to achieve a

net income figure. We divided the result by 173 to get the average which was

$81,111 before taxes.

In the expense category photographers were asked to include: film,

processing, dupes, props, sets, models, assistants, travel, digital scans &

outputs, marketing costs, computers, camera equipment, studio and office

rent, phones, office equipment and supplies, accounting, insurance,

depreciation, continuing education, etc.

We did not ask photographers to break out expenses just for the stock side of

their business because we felt it would be too difficult to separate for

those who do both stock and assignment work.

It should also be noted that only 61% of this $81,111 was income resulting

from stock sales so the average net income from stock sales, before taxes,

was $49,477.71. In doing the calculations this way we have assumed that the

expenses for the stock and assignment sides of any particular photographic

business are proportional to the income. This is probably not true. In spite

of the potential inaccuracies of this average stock sales number we believe

it gives some sense of the costs of producing imagery and the understanding

that income from stock imagery is not cost free.

One hundred seventy-four of the 185 photographers made estimates of the

number of days they worked to produce their stock income. The average was

134 days. If we assume 250 working days in a year, and that at least 39% of

the time is spent producing other types of photographic income, based on

the averages from this survey, that would

leave, at most, 152 days for producing stock. Some of the photographers

reporting are engaged in activities other than photography as a means of

earning a living wage.

Tony Stone Images

The agency with the most photographers represented was Tony Stone Images with

46 photographers reporting some income from TSI. The total royalty payments

these photographers received from TSI was $2,885,046. Because we got such a

good representation from this particular agency, and because other statistics

are available from TSI, we may be able to draw some conclusions about how

accurately this survey represents the stock industry at large.

Gross sales for TSI in 1998 were probably in the range of between $80 and

$100 million. TSI says they pay their photographers approximately 38% of

sales. Thus, if we take the high sales estimate, the amount of that which

would go to all the photographers would be about $38,000,000. We also know

that late last year TSI offered contracts to about 1,000 photographers.

Thus we would expect the average TSI photographer to earn about $38,000 per

year. But, the group responding to this survey earned an average of

$62,718.39 from TSI. Averages don't mean much since there is a very broad

range in earning potential. The individual earnings from the TSI

photographers responding to this survey ranged from a low of $485 (this

photographer was

with several agencies) to a high of $450,000. The photographer with the

$450,000 in earnings from TSI sells through two other agencies, as well as

making significant direct sales to clients. He reported gross stock sales of


The TSI photographers who responded to this survey represent 4.6% of the

total photographers represented by TSI, but at least 7.6% of the royalties

paid to photographers. If TSI's gross income was closer to $80 million than

$100 million these photographers might represent as much as 9.5% of TSI's

gross income.

Based on TSI alone we might draw the conclusion that photographers responding

to this survey are more successful than the average stock photographer.

Unfortunately, we didn't get a large enough block of photographers reporting

from any other major agency to varify this conclusion.

The most successful photographer was with FPG and reported $596,000 in gross

stock income. Seventeen FPG photographers responded. The Stock Market had

11 photographers reporting, The Image Bank had 8, Index Stock Imagery had 16,

Telegraph Colour Library

had 4, Corbis Westlight had 5, and Stock Boston and Stock Connection each had

12. The foreign agency that was named most often was IFA Bilderteam in

Germany with 11 photographers responding. The income from these agencies

and TSI represented 49% of all stock income reported.

Summary Figures




Percent of TPI   


From Stock Agency Sales   




Stock Sales Direct to Client   




Gross Stock Income   




Total Photo Income (TPI)   








Expenses for 173 or 185 Photographers   




Net Photo Income   



1998 Survey Comparisons

There are some interesting comparisons between the survey we published in

March 1998 and this year's survey. In 1998 we supplied a series of income

categories rather than asking photographers to list their specific income.

The comparisons of the number of photographers in each category are as






  Total Respondents to Survey   







Gross Income in 1998

  Over $400,000




  $250,000 to $400,000




  $150,000 to $250,000




  $100,000 to $150,000




  $70,000 to $100,000





  Percent of Total Responding to Survey



Click here to review the 1997 survey, Story 125 ).

Other relationships

Fifty photographers, or 27% of the total made their entire photographic

income from stock. Twenty-one percent made all of their stock income from

stock agency sales, and nothing from direct sales. Thirty-five photographers

reported some barter income, but the total barter income was only $286,200 or

just a little over 1% of the combined total photographic income.

Ninety three photographers reported that their yearly income from stock is

increasing. Fifty five said it is about the same as last year and 35 said it is

decreasing. Three did not respond to this question.

Less than 2% of the gross stock income came from Royalty Free sales. Nine

photographers reported some stock income from Royalty Free companies for a

total of $310,552.80. However, one photographer represented almost $200,000

of this total. Obviously, some photographers are doing well with Royalty

Free, but the broad base of photographers who responded to this survey are

not involved in RF.

We tried to determine the percentage of each photographer's work that was

either generic images that require little regular updating, or images that

need to be updated regularly. The generic which don't change include


subjects as: wildlife, scenices, babies with no clothes and certain concept

illustrations. The kind of images that need to be updated frequently include

business and lifestyle images where clothes, hair styles and equipment people

use change frequently.

The percentage figures used to calculate this number were estimates made by

each photographer and left quite a bit of room for variation. We calculated

the actual dollar amount of total stock income for each photographer based on

the percentages they supplied. Then we totaled the income in each category

and figured the percentage of the total for that category.

While the percentages varied greatly from photographer to photographer, some

worked almost solely in one category and others worked almost solely in the

other category. The final breakdown when everything was totaled was 49%

generic and 51% images needing regular updating. We looked at the

photographers who earned $70,000 or more from stock and there was a slight change

with 47% of the income coming from generic images and 53% coming from images

that need regular updating.

This 50/50 split happens to fit very well with observations I have made

recently after reviewing various catalogs. Of course some catalogs

appear to be weighted much more toward people pictures, but if we

can trust

these estimates there is about as much stock income from pictures that don't

require regular updating as from those that do.

We asked photographers to consider their work in terms of two broad market

categories -- editorial and corporate/advertising. They were asked to give

the percentage of their total production that fit into each of these two


Using the same calculating strategy as outlined above, and taking the

percentages of total stock income, 35% of the income was produced from editorial

images and 61% was produced from corporate/advertising images. Respondents

indicated that 4% of their income fell into some other undefinied category.

Again, when we looked at only those who had sales of $70,000 or more there

was a slight change with 32% of the income coming from editorial and 65%

coming from commercial/advertising.

We got some confusing answers on questions 13 and 14. The

questions were:

    13 - Are any of your images available on RF discs or web sites?

    14 - Are your RF products self-produced and marketed, or does some other

    company handle the marketiang of these products for you?

Twenty one photographers reported that they had supplied images to RF discs

or web sites. Thirty two photographers said yes to question 13. In answer

to question 14 eleven said they self marketed their RF images and 21 said

they were selling through another company.

In addition to producing stock photography 12 people said they were involved

in some manner in marketing the work of other photographers.

Agencies Named In The Survey

The following are Stock Agencies where more than one person responded to the

survey and the numbers to the left of the agency name are the number of people

who responded.











  AGE Fotostock (Spain)


  Index Stock Imagery




  Adventure Photo


  International Stock


  Science Photo Library (UK)


  Ag Stock


  Landmark Stock Exchange


  Spectrum (UK)






  Stock Boston


  Alaska Stock


  Light Sources


  Stock Connection


  Bruce Coleman




  Stock House






  Stock Solution


  Corbis/Digital Stock














  Natural Selection Stock


  Telegraph Colour Library (UK)




  Nawrocki Stock Photos


  The Image Bank


  Direct Stock




  The Stock Market


  FPG International


  Pacific Press Service


  Tony Stone Images




  Panoramic Images






  Peter Arnold


  Viesti Associates


  Granata Press (Italy)


  Photo Researchers


  Visual Unlimited


  H. Armstrong Roberts




  Washington Stock


  IFA Bilderteam (Germany)




  West Stock


  Image Works





The following are Stock Agencies with only one person responding.

  ABPL (South Africa)   Digital Vision   Key Photos (Japan)   ROMA
  ACE (UK)   ENP Images   Leo de Wys   Rapho (France)
  AFIO   FLAP (UK)   Michael Ochs/LA   Saba Press
  Allsport   First Light   Mo Yung   Silver Image
  Amana Images   Fotex   Monkmeyer   Sipa
  Amana Nations   Fototecha   Mountain Stock   Stock Options
  Animals Animals   Frozen Images   NHPA   Stock Photos
  Aris   Grazia Neri (Italy)   National Geographic   Stock Shop/Medichrome
  Artville   Horizon   Naturbld (Germany)   The Stock Rep
  Aurora   Hot Shots   Omni-Photo Communications   The Stockhouse
  Bavaria   Huber (Germany)   Pacific Stock   Tom Stack & Associates
  Benelux Press   IFOT   Photo 20/20   View Finders
  CMI Disc/Ads   INA   Photo Edit   Vireo
  CMI Library   Ibid   Photo Network   Vision Photo
  Code Red   Image Bauls   Photo Spin   Wild Iris
  Colorific   Image Colour Library (UK)   Photophile   Woodfin Camp
  Comstock   Image Finders   Photri   Zephyr
  Cosmo (Japan)   Image Quest   Picture Book   
  DRK Photo   Imperial Press (Japan)   Premium Stock   
  Dembinsky   Ken Graham   Prisma (Switzerland)   

Copyright © 1999 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.  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff