Decline In Creativity: Is It About Budgets?

Posted on 9/26/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Art Directors and Graphic Designers lament the decline in creativity. They say this results from a lack of Time and a lack of Funding which leads to a lack of Inspiration. 75% say they have too many competing priorities to leave time for reflection.

Half (51%) of those responding to the survey conducted at Advertising Week 2013 in New York say they are photographers in their spare time outside of their normal work as a way of achieving some artistic satisfaction.

For stock photographers this raises a couple issues.

1 – These people who are responsible for purchasing the work of photographers are also creating – in their spare time – a lot of what they and their colleagues need. That means there is less need for images created by those who are devoting their full time efforts to creating pictures.

It is hard to fault art directors and graphic designers for trying to keep their own creative juices flowing when the time they are required to spend in their normal professional activities offer so little in the way of inspiration.

2 – The budget cuts also make it very difficult for those engaged in photography as a career to continue to produce as costs often exceed the amount earned. Let’s look at a few numbers.

Costs vary widely depending on the type of photography. In landscape or wildlife photography a big part of the cost may be the time it takes to find the right subject in the right environment and right light. In people and lifestyle photography there are models, sets, props, styling, assistants and location rentals.

Every photographer has costs for equipment, computers, office and administrative overhead, marketing and transportation to the job. Then there is post-production work or editing, correcting and adjusting the digital file, keywording and uploading to a distributor. These post-production tasks may require a few more hours of the photographer’s time, or they may be farmed out at an extra cost.

Most experienced and successful photographers aim to keep their out-of-pocket costs – not including their time – to $25 to $30 per image accepted into a collection. Those just starting out may find if difficult to keep their costs this low, but it is not a bad place to aim. For editorial photographers where there tends to be little editing and every frame is accepted into the collection this number may not apply, but whatever the number it is wise to measure it against return for all your images, not just the ones that sell.

And, so far, we are not taking into account any cost or payment whatsoever for the time the creator has invested in pre-production planning, creating the images, or in post-production.

Now, let’s look at the annual return-per-image, not just for those that sell, but every image that the photographer has been able to place into some marketing channel.

Recently, I did an analysis of the average annual return-per-image of the images in the Getty Images Premium collection. The number is $42.54. Obviously, a huge percentage of the images in the collection never sell and some are licensed for much more than this for a single use. This is the average. But the image creator has had production costs for each image in the collection, regardless of whether it is ever licensed, or not.

The $42.54 is what Getty receives. If the creator receives 20% or 30% of the gross license fee he would receive $8.50 or $12.76 per-year, per-image in the collection. But, about half the images in the Getty collection are placed there by other agencies or distributors. Getty does not represent the image creator directly. Assume in this case that creator gets 50% of what his agent or distributor receives from Getty. In some cases the creators get more, but in many cases they get less.

At 50% the creator would get an annual average of $4.25 to $6.38 per image in the collection. If it cost the creator $25 to create each image it would take 4 to 6 years for him to cover his costs before he starts earning anything for his time invested.

This is not a business!!

This is not just a problem for contributors to Getty’s Permium collection. Here’s what one of the early an iStock contributor with over 100,000 downloads had to say when asked why he has stopped producing new images.
    “The bottom line is that it's almost impossible to recoup your return on investment in creating stock images. The issues include:
    • low fee for the use of images and low royalties
    • high barrier to image acceptance
    • no protection against piracy
    • high competition from a glut of inventory in marketplace
    • site algorithms that penalize non-exclusive contributors
    • and declining revenue across the board

    “For the above reasons, it makes virtually no sense to produce stock images as producers end up working for below minimum wage to produce images that take tremendous skill and talent to generate.  Contributing to the stock industry can be likened to filling a leaky bucket where the hole in the bottom gets bigger and bigger every month.”
If the creator is producing images in his spare time, and is willing to cover any out-of-costs in the same way as he would any hobby, then anything he receives is profit. If a creator wants more than the personal satisfaction of creating images, he must also, at the very least, invest in the post-production time in order to learn if anyone likes his image enough to use it. Many hobbyists are quickly discouraged when they discover the amount of boring computer work that is entailed in licensing rights to pictures. Nevertheless, it also appears there are many hobbyist photographers with a great deal of skill who are willing to make this investment, and many of them occasionally create some great images.

These are some things to consider if your goal is to earn your living taking pictures.

Copyright © 2013 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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