2008 Income Survey: Should Photography Be Your Only Source of Income?

Posted on 5/1/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Over 80% of survey respondents said self-employed photography or illustration were not their only source of income. This suggests that, in the face of declining pricing and revenue percentages, many photographers have found new ways to supplement their freelance income. Some may have staff photography jobs and freelance on the side. A growing number work in similar or allied fields, such as graphic design, or even hold a totally unrelated job of real-estate agent, teacher or flight attendant.

Many outside the industry believe stock photographers must accept whatever customers are willing to pay because photography is a commodity and the way these people earn their living. The theory goes that, if fees decline or percentages are cut, stock photographers must either work harder or make their productions more efficient in order to survive.

Clearly, a huge percent of photographers have already found other ways to supplement their freelance photography income—or the other way around, where photography has become a supplement to their primary source of income. When the risks and costs in time and money become too great, photographers will put more energy into finding other ways to earn a living. For many, that point has already been reached, and more and more are making that decision every day. As the return for time invested in photography goes down, some may continue to produce images that are easy or fun to shoot, but they will no longer look to stock photography as an important income source.

For the 26 respondents whose sole source of income was freelance photography, illustration or graphic design, gross income averaged $71,301 and stock-licensing income averaged $37,039. Interestingly, the 109 respondents who had other sources of income averaged $157,119 in gross revenues—not including staff or non-photographic employment, which presumably brought in additional revenues.

The question dealing with gross freelance photography income requested that respondents “not include salaried income earned from working for an organization [they] do not wholly own…[and] not include revenue that is not related to photography, illustration or graphic design.” However, there is still a possibility that many respondents did not fully understand these instructions, which may explain the higher annual earnings of those who reported income other than photography.

There is also another possibility. Though counter-intuitive, it is a possible conclusion that one is likely to earn more from photography if he or she also has non-photographic income. It is possible that those who focus exclusively on photography may at times be forced into economically unproductive activities in order to maintain cash flow. Those with more flexibility can pick and choose the photographic activities that are most satisfying and lucrative and ignore the rest.

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.  


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