Card Trick: Big Stock, Low Price

Posted on 9/11/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

On Friday, I wrote a story arguing that exclusives could cost photographers money, so no buyer should expect to get exclusive rights to an image for less than $4,000.

This morning, I received two notes from photographers who have just been asked by Corbis to agree to license one image each for a two-year exclusive use for greeting cards. The gross fee paid for this use is $500 per-image, with the photographers getting 45% or $225.

I guess my $4,000 was a dream. But consider what the card producer gets. The card producer can print and make available through the Internet an unlimited number of cards in two years. It will certainly sell at least 10,000 and 100,000 is probably not an unreasonable expectation.

At 10,000 copies, the photographer gets 2.25 cents on a per-card basis. Photo greeting cards are currently selling at retail in the range of $2.50 to $4.00 each. The photographer is getting less than 1% of what the customer pays - and is giving up exclusive rights. If 100,000 cards are sold, the photographer gets a small fraction of a penny for the usage. Why is the imagery of so little value?

To be fair to Corbis, this is pretty much what every agency is charging for greeting card use. In most cases, the greeting-card companies insist on exclusive rights to the images they use on cards. But is this a reasonable way for a photographer to make money?

Consider another option. Let customers go on the Internet and pick any image they want to use on their cards; the photographer gets $.05 credited to a Pay Pal account. In the long run, photographers would make a lot more money by dealing directly with the consumer. Customers might even pay $0.10 per picture.

Some customers are buying microstock images for $1.00. Is exclusivity important to an individual who buys a picture online? I don't think so. Maybe, dealing directly with the consumer at low prices isn't all bad.

Copyright © 2007 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:  


  • Wolfgang Kaehler Posted Sep 12, 2007
    Unfortunately Corbis is known to GIVE AWAY photos for exclusives for very low prices. I am constantly turning down these requests. I wish that other photographers would do the same!

  • Gary Elsner Posted Sep 12, 2007
    Hi Jim,

    It does seem as if times are changing. Pricing used to be based on a combination of exposure, to whom and for how long. More than ever, especially now with Microstock and Getty's newer offerings, price seem to be ever-increasingly driven based on demand and availability.

    Like it or not, with our products becoming more and more directly available to the general public, the time-honored components of pricing used in the past might very well have to fall by the wayside as the general public simply doesn't have and won't develop a respect for them.

    One thought on the Greeting Card issue you brought up - when cards were sold exclusively in retail stores the concept of exclusive meant something. The card company wouldn't want to see a competitor's card using a photo they had licensed in the very next rack or aisle. If the image is offered through a greeting card web site your argument is a very strong one and perhaps that is how agencies and photographers might choose to differentitate in the rights they offer for greeting card use.

    Gary Elsner

  • Tim Mcguire Posted Sep 12, 2007
    Pricing that puts consumer use and commercial use at the same price point would be like iTunes licensing songs to Microsoft or IBM for an add campaign for the standard consumer price of 99 cents. It makes no sense!

    Tim McGuire

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