Are Professional Stock Producers Needed?

Posted on 9/13/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A big question the stock photo industry is facing, and one I think very little effort has been expended in trying to analyze, is Are Professional Stock Producers Needed? Can the industry survive and grow with only images produced by part-timers and amateurs who are more interested in having their work “liked” than in earning enough to cover their production costs?

1 - Certainly, these amateurs can and do produce some great images.

2 - There is increasing emphasis on images that are “natural,” “authentic,” show “realistic work places,” not “professionally staged,” and showing “real people,” not models that charge for their services.

3 - It appear that the major web sites are getting more images from the part-timers, and proportionally fewer from photographers who are trying to earn a living taking pictures.

4 – In addition many photographers who have earned a significant portion of their living in the past from stock photography are turning to other ways to support themselves and their families.


When I look at what is being used, I see a high percentage of images that seem to be professionally staged, although often they are staged to look more “natural” and “authentic.”

Top shooters who are still setting up situations are trying to make them look more natural and that solves part of the problem in meeting customers demand. But such images don’t take less time to produce or involve less cost. In fact, good images of this type may be more expensive to produce. And at today’s prices, it just doesn’t make economic sense to continue to produce such images.

When I talk to the experienced producers they tell me that many of their older images that were set up and arranged in an older style are still selling. Thus, it would that at least some customers are still using the same type of stock imagery that has been popular for several years.

Of course, no single individual see a large enough percentage of the overall worldwide use to make an educated value judgment.

Someone needs to be doing a careful analysis of what is actually being purchased from the large databases. Not just in terms of broad categories of imagery, but on specific types of imagery. They need to make some judgments about who created these images and what might have been involved in their production. Only then will they be able to tell whether the part-timers are generating everything they need, or if they somehow need to make it possible for a few professionals to continue to work if they hope to have much long range future for their businesses.

There is also one more factor that needs to be taken into account. Given that so many of the downloads today are via subscriptions there is a question as to how many of those subscription  downloads were used for reference purposes only, and not actually published in a finished product. This information may be impossible to obtain, but it cannot be totally ignored.

Data To Be Analyzed

Here’s some of the data points I think needs to be collected and analyzed.

1 – Build a database that only contains images that have been licensed. Make it searchable by revenue generated from each image. It should also be searchable by time period, i.e. last 6 months, last year, last 2 years, and all time for each image.
    (If agencies won’t make this information available to contributors, at least use it internally.)
2 – What percentage of the highest grossing image were staged or arranged by the photographer as opposed to clicking something that randomly appeared in-front of him? What percentage likely used professional models? What percentage likely required permission to photograph in a particular location, or doing some arranging of the elements within the image??

3 – How many of your contributors earn more than $20,000 a year?  Has this number increased or declined in the last few years?

4 - Individually, has the revenue each contributor earns annually been increasing of decreasing over the last few years?

5 – Are these top selling contributors earning their entire living from doing photography work of some kind?

6 – Has the number of new images each has contributed to your collection annually been increasing or decreasing over the last few years?

7 – Individually, has their average return per image in the collection been increasing or decreasing in the last few years?

8 – What percentage of your company’s total annual revenue is generated by these top selling contributors? Is that increasing or decreasing?
    (If, in fact, the revenue generated by these high grossing contributors has been declining as a percentage of total revenue and those who earn a few thousand dollars a year are becoming a bigger and bigger share of total revenue, then maybe you can survive quite happily with only the images from part-timers.)
Anyone hoping to be operating a stock agency five or ten years from now needs to be thinking about the answers to these questions.

Copyright © 2017 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:  


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