2008 Income Survey: Averages and Top Producers

Posted on 4/29/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

The average annual earnings of photographers responding to the 2008 Selling Stock self-employed photographer income survey are $110,409, leaving out the top five producers whose earnings are uncharacteristically large. Of this, the average annual stock income was $65,475, which means that 41% of photographers’ freelance revenues come from something other than the licensing of rights to stock images.

The results of the 2008 survey were somewhat disappointing. It generated only 136 responses, compared to 238 responses to the 2007 survey. Though many factors could have contributed to this, the 2008 data must still be viewed as having less validity.

People who responded to the 2008 survey were probably very different from 2007 respondents. Only five of 2008 respondents said they responded to the 2007 survey; 8 did not respond and 123 were not sure.

In 2007, the gross income reported was $33,741,722, and in 2008, it was only $24,135,104. The average gross 2007 income for all those responding was $141,771.94. In 2008 it was $174,288.63, but five producers whose combined earnings were over $10 million skewed this averages.

The relatively small sample, general trends of the economy and anecdotal information from many photographers suggest there may have been an overall decline in industry revenue rather than growth as these figures might indicate.

Table 1. Gross and stock revenue: 2007 and 2008
Year Respondent group Number of respondents Gross revenue Expenses Stock revenue
2007 Over $500,000 in stock income 5 $7,935,000 $2,500,000 $7,645,000
Stock income under $500,000 211 $23,562,092 $9,282,263 $12,639,081
No stock sales 26 $2,244,630 $991,194 0
Total   $33,741,722 $12,773,457 $20,284,081
2008 Over $500,000 in stock income 5 $10,105,746 $7,110,600 $5,532,938
Stock income under $500,000 125 $13,801,158 $4,843,415 $8,184,356
No stock sales 6 $228,200 $118,847 0
Total   $24,135,104 $12,072,862 $13,717,294

The top producers

There were seven respondents with gross income of over $500,000. Five of them had gross stock income over $500,000, together representing 42% of the total revenue and 40% of the stock revenue.

The number one seller had $6 million in gross revenue and $2 million in revenue from stock. However, this individual reported work hours that equal 25 full-time employees and $5.3 million in expenses, leaving only $700,000 in profits. Obviously, it is not useful to compare this photographer with those working alone.

Another individual had gross income of $1.4 million, all of which came from self-employed stock production; however, he reported the equivalent of 14 full-time employees and $980,000 in total expenses. The remaining three of the top five had stock incomes of less than $800,000, but more than $500,000.

Over half the income of the individual with $6 million in gross revenues came from advertising assignments; 10% came from illustration assignments; the rest came from stock sales. This individual is a member of ASMP and APA. Four of the top 5 were ASMP members. One was a member of ASMP, PPA and ASPP.

Three of the top five earned 100% of their revenue from stock. In addition to stock, one of the top five does corporate, advertising and consumer editorial assignments. Two made 100% of their income from licensing images as rights-managed. One earned 93% of his income from licensing images as royalty-free, and another earned 75% of his income from royalty-free sales.

Table 2. Number of respondents: 2007 and 2008
Stock earnings   2007 2008
Number of respondents Percentage of total Number of respondents Percentage of total
Over $500,000 5 2.3% 5 3.9%
Between $200,000 and $500,000 15 7% 10 7%
Between $100,000 and $200,000 23 11% 13 10%
Between $30,000 and $100,000 67 31% 40 31%
Between $10,000 and $30,000 45 21% 29 22%
Less than $10,000 61 28% 33 26%
Respondents with stock sales 216   130  
Respondents with no stock sales 22   6  

In both 2007 and 2008, there were five people with above $500,000 in stock revenue. However, their proportionate share in 2008 is almost double that of 2007. In the other groups, the number of respondents was lower in 2008 than in 2007, but the proportionate share remained about the same. Almost half the respondents earned less than $30,000 from stock and 80% earned less than $100,000.

The question of “What can I make?” often comes up from people who are considering entering the business. The tendency is to look to the stars, but the stars did not attain their exalted positions overnight. Most people end up somewhere in the bottom 80%.

Industry averages

To provide a fairer picture of what is happening with the majority of individual image creators, the averages presented here concentrate on those reporting stock income under $500,000.

This yields an average 2008 gross income of $110,409, including $65,475 from stock and remaining 41% from photographic work other than stock. In 2007, the average gross income was $111,669, including $59,900 from stock and 47% from other activities.

The important thing to note here is not so much whether the average stock income is rising or falling but the importance of the “other income” to total revenues. While some photographers still devote 100% of their freelance time to producing stock, it may be wiser to devote some of that time to activities that are guaranteed to produce a certain fixed amount of income for the time and energy expended. All income came from stock for 36 survey respondents, while 56 said less than half of their freelance income came from stock.

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.  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Apr 29, 2009

    I'm glad that you do the work on this survey and that it is available. I also like that you include the top people so others can see what is possible. There are we shooters that do very well in this business and believe in it entirely. We get too much gloom & doom in this business. That is why I wrote my newest book to help other stock shooters see what they can earn! You are doing a good thing and I try to lecture to help others also. We can be rays of sunlight in an otherwise gloomy recession economy. I really believe there is much more money to be made by photographers who have the right tools & the right attitude to go for the top in our profession. That is what my book I talk about on my website also preaches. Photographers CAN shoot what they love and make a darn good living.
    I will be doing a tour of various cities ASMP Chapters giving that pep talk. Keep up the writing and information, Jim. I've known you a long time and know that you also have photographers best interests in mind.

    Bill Bachmann. Orlando

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