Future Of Stock Photography

Posted on 2/18/2021 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (6)

I launched Selling Stock in 1990 with the goal of helping professional photographer understand the stock photography business and the opportunities it offered. For a couple decades many photographers earned significant additional revenue from the licensing of stock images. A large number earned their entire living by producing photos on speculation and licensing them as stock.

However, by about 2010 professionals started to see a steady and increasingly rapid decline in earnings. The causes of this decline were:
    1 – A huge and growing oversupply of images compared to demand.
    2 – Prices for use of images began to plummet.

    3 – An increasing number of part-timers and amateurs entering the market.
    4 – Agencies and middlemen sellers of stock images began to reduce the support they supplied image creators.
    5 – Agencies put an increasing amount of the work of preparing images for marketing on the backs of the creators.
    6 – Agencies began to reduce and eliminate editing and turn all the human editing functions over to technology and the customers. As a result, customers have been required to spend more of their time trying to find the images they need for their projects.
    7 – At the same time agencies began to take a larger and larger share of the fees customers pay to use the images the agencies represent.

Today, it has become almost impossible for western world photographers whose livelihood depends on the money they earn from the images they produce to earn enough for their time and out-of-pocket expenses to support themselves. They can earn more doing almost anything else.

A few professionals with large collections still earn good money from their previously produced work, but at today’s prices there is little,or no, incentive to produce new work.

Fewer and fewer professionals in western world countries earn enough for their time and out-of-pocket expenses to justify continued production. Some photographers in very low cost-of-living countries may still be able to earn enough to make producing stock images worthwhile.

At present, the vast majority of stock images are produced by part-time amateurs who view photography as their “art.” They are willing to spend more time and money producing photos and preparing them for market than they will every recover in the way of payment for use of the images. All they seek is recognition that someone liked the image enough to be willing to pay a few cents to use it.

There is nothing wrong with this if it makes the image creator happy, but if earning money is a goal producing stock images may not be the best way to accomplish that goal.

Anyone engaged in the stock photography production today should not expect the market to get better. If they need income, they should be looking for some other way to generate it. For those who enjoy photography and are considering photography as a career, they should look for some other way to earn a living. No matter how talented they may be they are unlikely to ever earn enough to support themselves. They should continue to enjoy photography as a personal hobby, but not expect it to ever generate much revenue.

I’ve reviewed what I have written on the subject over the last couple of years. If you are interested in a better and more detailed understanding of where the stork photography business is headed the stories listed below will provide extensive background on the business.

Stock Photography As A Career    (Pickerell story)  10/26/2020
Stock Photography’s Historic Earnings Decline For Creators      10/19/2020
Our Royalty System Is Destroying Photographers       7/10/2020
Future Income For Photographers       6/1/2020
Future Demand For Photography         2/4/2020
      Unsplash gets 4 times as many monthly downloads as Shutterstock, Getty and Alamy combined.
Death Of Photography As A Profession       8/4/2020
End Of Stock Photography As A Profession       12/11/2019
Changing Stock Imagery Market           9/24/2020
Stock Photography Future              9/8/2020
Self-Employed Photographer Dilemma           8/28/2020
Image Creators Need Better Sales Information         2/27/2019
Successful Stock Photographers            2/8/2019


New Stock Photo Marketing Strategy           11/9/2020
Ways Agencies Could Improve Sales             11/20/2020
Consumer vs Middlemen vs Workers             12/5/2020
What’s Fair Compensation?            7/24/2020
How Oringer Could Improve Creator Compensation       12/16/2020
Future Of Photography         12/20/2018
Call To Action - (CtoA)            11/26/2018
CtoA 2 -Power And Leverage Of Individual Agencies         11/26/2018
CtoA 3 -Agencies Should Analyze Their Getty 2018 Sales         11/26/2018
CtoA 4 - Present To Getty        11/26/2018


No Bottom Line Pricing            6/17/2020
CtoA 2 -Power And Leverage Of Individual Agencies          11/26/2018
Two Pricing Tiers: Licensed And Non-licensed          8/17/2018
New Stock Photo Marketing Strategy         11/9/2020
Raising Prices       9/19/2017
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing        10/9/2017


Shutterstock Q4 2020 Financial Results           2/11/2021
Eleven Year Shutterstock Growth Trends         2/11/2021
Shutterstock Historic Gross Revenue          12/22/2019
Shutterstock’s Global Contributor Community Surpasses $1 Billion in Earnings       12/10/2019
Shutterstock Enterprise         7/3/2019
Is Shutterstock Headed Toward Eliminating Creators?          5/17/2019
Which Countries Do Shutterstock's Pictures Come From?         6/10/2019
Will More Images Grow Revenue?          5/2/2019
Stock Photography: Is Volume The Answer?         7/29/2020


Premium Access Pricing         9/11/2020
Premium Access At Getty           11/20/2019
Getty “Market Freeze” Update         8/11/2020
Getty Creative Collection Transformation       3/18/2020
Royalty Rates At iStock            2/18/2019
Where Getty Goes From Here          12/2/2019
Death Of Rights Managed Licensing            11/6/2019
Future For RM Photographers            10/25/2019
Are Your Images On Getty Being Seen?          7/9/2019
Who Are Macrostock Sellers           6/11/2019
In Defense Of Getty               4/11/2019
Getty To Push Exclusive RM            3/13/2019
The End Of RM            3/11/2019


Still Images Or Video           7/15/2020
Licensing Stock Footage           6/18/2020    


Copyright Small Claims For Photographers Have Arrived            12/29/2020
Copyright Protection For Photos Is Dead                 6/10/2020


Creative Pros Use Of Free Content Goes Up            8/15/2019
Finding The Right Image Gets Harder For Creatives            2/28/2019
Will AI Kill Stock Photography?           11/6/2020
Will CGI Reduce The Need For Photography?            4/4/2019
What Stock Photo Customers Need           8/5/2020
Global Stock Photography Growth Potential             6/2/2020


Will Photo Assignments Go The Way Of Stock          7/16/2019
Spending For Wedding Photography Flat           2/15/2019
How The Value Of Stock Photos Has Declined           3/7/2019
How Much Has The Value Of A Great Photo Declined?            1/23/2019
Ad Agencies Turn Away From Stock To Assignments            5/27/2019


Which Countries Produce The Most Stock Images?           11/16/2019
Global List Of Newspapers              9/26/2019
Check Out Google Images Search And Licensable Badge          9/25/2020
Alamy Acquired By PA Media Group           2/11/2020
Microstock – The Dark Side Of Image Licensing              6/3/2019
The VCG Story Takes Another Turn           5/8/2019
Stock Photo Agencies: Outlived Their Usefulness            12/27/2018

Copyright © 2021 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


  • Wolfgang Kaehler Posted Feb 19, 2021
    Jim, you nailed it! Stock photography is a dying business. I am glad I was in for the good times!

  • Jim Steinberg Posted Feb 19, 2021
    So true Wolfgang. After 47 years retirement is looking better all the time. The days of those 4 and 5 figure checks are long gone and are not coming back. Best of luck to the young ones!

  • Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg Posted Feb 19, 2021
    There are still a select few "breaching" $50K profit annually.
    True, that amount is average-median annual US income.
    Ironically, a few I know are doing better than that by also offering
    thousands of historic photos for licensing that they obtained
    free from Library of Congress.

    Part of your summation advises not to consider any kind of photography career...?
    Some other categories besides stock must be achieving 6-figure profits, surely...

  • Richard Gardette Posted Feb 20, 2021
    As a result, all the recent stills on the platforms look like photos taken by the same photographer running around the planet over and over again without fatigue.
    But this is not a problem because the evolution of the stock prices have transformed the craftsman's work into cheap raw material.

  • Laura N Dwight Posted Feb 20, 2021
    Jim, I salute you for your tireless coverage of the decline of our corner of the industry. I recently saw something about the Shutterstock founder/owner/chief buying a house for zillions with his zillions. A very few at the far top have benefited from the labor of many, and that is an old story. Thank you as well, Jim, for all your articles and research over the years. I have found them quite valuable.

  • damon guo Posted Feb 18, 2022

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