Changing Times: New Stock Environment

Posted on 4/30/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

"Can an individual photographer actually make money shooting stock imagery today?"

I know full-time stock photographers who are making substantial six-figure, after-tax incomes, but their number is declining. In many cases, the annual revenue is declining. Most got into the business 15+ years ago when it was more forgiving. Several of these photographers are seriously considering going into another line of business.

If everything were to remain as it is, with some exceptions, it will be very difficult for an individual photographer living in the United States to earn his entire living from producing stock photography. It may be possible for someone living in Romania, India or China, but not in the U.S. economy. However, I am hopeful that a few things will change, and many photographers who are struggling will be able to do much better in future.

Changes Needed

All traditional agents recognize there is a huge, new customer base that didn't exist three years ago. 85% to 90% of the images licensed in 2007 were sold at microstock prices. Many customers would be willing to pay more. Probably nothing near traditional usage fees, but given their numbers, relatively small increases in the average price per usage could dramatically increase gross revenue for many photographers.

Traditional agents are exploring new pricing strategies in an effort to figure out how to reach this new customer base.  Major modifications to the ways we currently license rights will be required. RM, RF and microstock strategies will all need alterations and adjustments. Anyone who insists on sticking with one of the existing strategies is likely to be a loser.

Demand for images that will be used in print is declining and will continue to decline. At the same time, demand is a growing for images that will be used online and in other electronic forms. Photographers and image sellers need to reorient their thinking to this new market. Microstock sellers may be doing a better job of this than traditional sellers.

Prices for electronic uses are likely to be much lower than those for print, but the volumes could easily offset lower unit prices.

In the past, we've sold images to publishers who then distributed massive copies of the image in magazines, newspapers, brochures, textbooks, calendars, postcards, posters, etc. In the future, many sales will be one unit at a time, direct to the consumer at a fraction of the price previously paid. But because there will be hundreds of new sales for every one made, it will be possible to earn more money.

Consumers may be becoming more discriminating. They may have more specific and narrowly defined interests and be willing to pay directly. As we think about selling direct to consumers, new delivery systems will need to be developed and new methods to collect payments for small transactions designed. Microstock has made important steps in this direction, but I'm not convinced the systems offered are the total solution.

Amateur-produced imagery will play a much bigger role in the future. For many, licensing rights to images will be a supplement, rather than a primary source of income.

In tough times, it is often harder for the bigger companies to make necessary changes because they are inertia-driven. Smaller companies with new ideas tend to be the risk takers. Test all the new ideas you can find. Don't get hung up on trying to do things the old way. The next few years may not be easy, but there are likely to be new opportunities for those who want to make a living taking pictures.

Copyright © 2008 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:  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff