Decline Of Images Requiring Production Planning And Costs

Posted on 1/29/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

In the not too distant future there will be few, if any, new professional images created that require pre-planning, paying for models, renting locations, building sets, acquiring props, or anything that adds to the cost of producing such images. Currently the costs of producing a large segment of images in demand far exceeds the revenue generated from licensing such images. Producers trying to earn their living from such production will find it necessary to drop out of the market.

Given the low prices, and particularly the reduced frequency of repeat sales, I believe there will come a point when the only new images produced will be amateur snapshots of things and event that happen in front of photographers during their normal daily activities.

Some of the largest and most active production companies like Wavebreakmedia, Rawpixel and maybe Yuri Arcurs will certainly be the last to be affected by such a trend because they already have extremely large collections. As the number of new images of certain subjects declines customers may be forced to use some of the older images from these giant collections. As individual photographers drop out of the market the only image producers left will be the few big production companies. But it is questionable as to whether even these organizations will be able to continue to justify the costs of new production.

As long as unit sales were growing at a significant rate it was possible for a significant number of professional photographers to grow revenue at microstock prices. That growth seems to have stopped. For the last 3 years Shutterstock seems to be stuck at licensing about 43 million images a quarter despite adding huge numbers of new images to its collection. As best I can determine all the other suppliers are experiencing similar flat sales, or seeing declines.

The industry has already reached all the potential customers willing to pay anything for the images they use. Each of these customers uses about the same number of images annually. They are not likely to use more just because more are available. There may be continuing overall growth in the number of images used on the Internet, but the users not already buying image want the images they need for free. They are not willing to pay anything for the images they use.

The industry will not find new buyers except for young people replacing older workers who have retired, or moved on. That doesn’t result in additional sales.

Many of the images customers want to use can be produced by snap shooters who want nothing but recognition. These photographers could care less if it costs them money to get that recognition. That segment of the market may continue forever.

But, there are certain types of imagery that will only be produced by professionals trying to earn at least a portion of their living from their production efforts. At some point these people must stop wasting their time and spending more producing images than they earn. They must move on to some other way to earn enough money in order to cover their living expenses.

It is not easy to define exactly which images fall into this professional category except that if planning time is required to determine what to shoot and organize the shoot and productions costs are involved then that’s a professional shoot. I think such images represent a significant percent of all images licensed.

Customers may be able to get by for a long time just using older generic images, but at some point they may need newer work. At that point there probably won’t be any photographers left willing to produce such work on speculation. Certainly, not for the prices the customer has been paying.
Some of the few remaining, successful professionals point out that every industry goes through change. Those that are innovative survive. Those that aren’t go out of business.

But it is hard to define what “successful innovation” would be like in today’s stock photo industry. It would certainly require a more productive workflow, but I think most of the existing survivors have already achieved maximum productivity and are still seeing declining revenue.

The old business model is not working, but it is very hard to identify any likely change or new emerging opportunity that might make the production of stock images a viable business in the future.

Copyright © 2019 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:  


  • Bas van Beek Posted Jan 30, 2019
    Here is the stock photo agency of the future Jim:

  • Mr I J Philpott Posted Feb 3, 2019
    If Eyeem is the future of stock photography I'll eat my hat............ there is nothing 'planned' there that costs money, or if it does it's peanuts. There is no future in that model for a lot of clients. It's cheap yes but it's pretty low quality. In the end the price wars by micro stock will even kill each other and everything else that is at the low end. I actually think the only possible future is in the high end truly specialist market place.

  • Thomas Wear Posted Feb 6, 2019
    Here's a scenario that seems likely to me: As you've said, photographers will no longer be able to afford to produce the commercial-quality lifestyle/business scenarios that are still needed in stock. And amateurs will not provide those, or at least not in any quantity or quality. So where will the agencies get the images they need? (Well, besides Eastern Europe...)
    I think agencies will, by necessity, have to start hiring professional photographers on work-for-hire assignments to produce the high-end shoots they need. The photographers who will get those jobs will have to prove themselves to be capable of high-quality, high-volume shoots under direction. There won't be too many of those photographers, but the ones that are capable should be able to command assignment fees appropriate to their abilities.
    I know many will be aghast at the thought of doing WFH assignments, but what's actually better: getting a decent amount of cash in hand for little or no initial outlay, or to self-finance to the tune of several hundred (or thousand) dollars and then sit back and wait for the pennies to trickle in?
    I'm not sure if many agencies are quite ready to go that route yet, as nobody wants to spend any money, but once they start running out of fresh, in-demand images they will have to re-think.

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