2008 Income Survey: Revenue by Stock-Licensing Model

Posted on 4/30/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Everyone wants to know the best strategy for marketing their images. The numbers from this year’s income survey show that more people used the rights-managed strategy than any other, and that their average gross revenue was the highest at $56,326. However, image marketers should not be too quick to jump to the conclusion that rights-managed is necessarily the correct approach.

Stock-licensing revenue by licensing model
Licensing model Number of survey respondents Stock-licensing revenue
Gross Average
Rights-managed 110 $6,195,900 $56,326
Rights-ready 17 $404,815 $23,813
Royalty-free 53 $1,125,591 $21,238
Subscription 2 $17,100 $8,550
Microstock 22 $431,705 $19,623
Not applicable 3 $9,245 $3,082

Of the 125 total survey respondents, 110 or 88% earned some of their stock income from rights-managed sales. Somewhat surprisingly, 50 of that 110 also earned some income from royalty-free sales, making it clear that a significant portion of stock producers now view the royalty-free model as an accepted marketing strategy. These 50 shooters earned a total of $3,101,346 from rights-managed and $1,116,075 from royalty-free images. Seven of them earned more from royalty-free than from rights-managed sales. None of those who licensed images as royalty-free used that strategy alone. Three respondents that earned money from traditional royalty-free imagery also had microstock incomes.

The microstock information is among the most interesting. In 2007, there were 19 microstock sellers who earned less than $500,000 each (one earned more); these 19 represented 9% of the total survey respondents. In 2008, the 22 whose images were licensed as microstock represented 18% of the total respondents. In addition, 8 of these 22 photographers also earned revenue from traditional royalty-free sales. One whose gross stock revenue was $131,000 earned 95% of it from microstock and 5% from traditional royalty-free licensing.

One surprise was subscription sales. It has been generally believed that most non-exclusive microstock sellers also license their images through the subscription-based Shutterstock. However, in the Selling Stock survey, only one of 22 photographers who license their images as microstock also earned money from subscription sales.

Also evident is growth in the average earnings of microstock photographers. In 2007, average earnings were $9,971; in 2008, these were $19,623—almost as high as the average earnings of those who license rights to traditional royalty-free images. Of course, we must acknowledge that these numbers come from such a small portion of total microstock contributors that they may not be representative of microstock as a whole.

The rights-ready numbers offer another insight. This model was a Getty Images product that has now been discontinued. It was designed as a simplified rights-managed model, and the initial hope was that it would generate a similar average return per image. The low average return that photographers experienced may explain why Getty dropped it and moved all the rights-ready images back to rights-managed.

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.  


  • Kim Westerskov Posted Apr 30, 2009
    Hi Jim - unless I'm missing something [quite possible], I'm not convinced that the average revenues for the different licensing models are telling us much. Sure, they tell us that the photographers in the survey make 2-3 times as much from RM as from RF, but that does not tell us which is the most successful licensing method. Not until we factor in the numbers of photos being offered in each model, do we get figures that can be used to compare the different models.

    For example [as in my case, and it could be a common scenario], a stock photographer who has been in the business for say 30 years will have started his or her career using the RM model, and the RF model, if used at all, is a latecomer. So if say 90% of the photos being offered are RM and 10% are RF, then the RM photos will in all probability be earning more money in total than the RF photos, though when we take photo numbers into account we may well find that each RF photo earns as much or more than the RM photos.

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