Can Prices Be Increased?

Posted on 2/21/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

A top 2017 priority for the major image distributors should be to reverse existing pricing trends and find a way to begin to increase usage fees to some extent. Usage fees have been steadily declining for a number of years. The industry must find a way to turn the corner.

Customers always want more for less. Many believe the only way to succeed in business is to give customers what they want. Continually growing the amount of content and lowering prices can work if the market is growing dramatically, or if a one company can take market share from someone else.

Is The Market Growing?

However, there is very little indication that the demand for licensed stock photography, worldwide, is growing. Some will point to growth in subscription downloads, but they may not be an accurate indication of what is really being used.

The number of major users of stock photograph is not increasing significantly. And each year they use about the same number of images as they used the year before. In the rare cases where they use significantly more, they pay about as much, or a little less, for what they used as they paid the year before.

Print use is declining in importance while digital use is increasing. Digital prices are much lower than print. More of the digital use is turning to video rather than still images.

There may be growth in the number of small users, and consumer users, but individually they purchase very few images. They insist on low price and often are less choosey about quality. While it is important to keep supplying this customer segment the potential for industry revenue growth is with the professional users who buy more and tend to be willing to pay somewhat more for better quality and a search system that saves them time.

The industry needs to find a better way to service these professional customers.

Multiple Pricing Tiers

Raising prices across the board probably won’t work, but finding a way to offer a selected, curated collection of images at a somewhat higher price could help to move the pricing needle in the right direction.

iStock has such a two-tier system, although it came about through a process of lowering prices, not raising them. They started out with exclusive collections at much higher prices than the basic non-exclusive collection. In order to compete with Shutterstock which offered everything at one low price iStock found that they needed to dramatically lower the prices of their exclusive images. Over a few years they struggled with incremental declines until now they hve been able to stabilize the price for images in their Signature collections at three times the price of the non-exclusive Essentials collection.

Getty markets this Signature collection as being “Exclusive.” However, I don’t think that is why customers are buying Signature images. They purchase those images because they are good images that fit their needs better than the cheaper images and the prices are still reasonable. In my opinion, very few of these customers choose the Signature collection because the image are exclusive to iStock, and available nowhere else. Customers searching the Signature collection also know that they are able to review a sub-set of all the images available on iStock, and this sub-set probably contains the best of what iStock has to offer. This saves them search time.

It is also important to note that a significant percentage of iStock’s customers purchase Signature images. Before iStock introduced a subscription model a couple years ago, Getty had stated that 75% of iStock revenue was generated by the licensing of Signature images. Clearly the slightly higher prices are not discouraging many customers.

Getty Images

Unfortunately, to the detriment of its RF contributors, Getty has not used the same strategy on They have an RM collection that is higher priced, but it has major disadvantages for many customers. First, the rights arrangement is a problem because most of today’s customers want a Royalty Free license for the images they purchase. Consequently, few of these customers even look at what the RM collection has to offer.

Second, the RM collection is perceived to be too expensive, despite that fact that Getty will sell RM images to many of its best customers at the same or lower prices than they charge for Royalty Free.

Since 2007 Getty has negotiated “Premium Access” deals with many of its best customers giving them any image in its collection – RM or RF – for one fixed price. Often the price is lower than iStock prices.

What Getty needs to do with it’s RF collection on is find a way to segment it into at least two tiers at two different price points in the same manner as they have done with iStock.

Segmenting An RF Collection

Fortunately, that’s fairly easy to do. The ideal way would be to have human editors go through the collection and choose images they believe are the best for the new higher priced collection. But, that could be expensive in human time. An easier solution would be to identify all the RF images customers have purchased in the past and put them in a separate higher priced collection, similar to the Signature collection on iStock. Then Getty would have two-tier RF pricing on We know that a significant percentage of customers are happy to use images that others might have used before a different purpose, and are not concerned at all about the exclusivity of the images they use.

To start, the price of the top tier doesn’t have to be that much higher than the base pricing. Nevertheless, every image a customer purchases from this higher priced collection should result in a slight increase in gross revenue. Going forward prices for the images in the new collection could be adjusted without affecting the base price. New images should not go into this higher priced tier until they had sold at least once in the low priced tier.

Customers would know that every image in the higher priced tier had been selected for use at least once by another buyer. If they want to concentrate their search on the best RF images in the Getty’s collection, overall (based on decisions of other professional buyers), and probably spend less time searching, they would want to go to the higher priced collection. If they only want to review images that have never been used, or if budget is a problem, then they should search the low priced collection.

There is no reason why down the road Getty couldn’t create a third tier and raise the price even further on those images that are used very frequently.

Such a strategy would also make it much easier for Getty to integrate its Gettyimages RF collection with iStock as the Unification process moves ahead.

On The Other Hand

With its Unification project Getty has an opportunity to grow revenue and take back some of the market share it has lost in the last few years. But, if they can't find a way to solve their recurring technology problems they, and the industry, are probably doomed to continued declines.

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:  


  • Grant Faint Posted Feb 25, 2017
    RF pays photographers 20% not the 30% and 40% of RM . The continuing move to RF benefits the agent
    who give les to shooters. So another loss to photographers in this changing world. Lower prices, lower splits
    someone explain how photographers continue to make new fresh images in this nuclear winter.?

    I stared this biz full time in 1985 after my latest report I have dropped out, I find it I'm possible to
    justify creating new images. gvf

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