Image Creators Need Better Sales Information

Posted on 2/27/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Image creators need better information about the kind of content that is selling. Are customers looking at higher priced content? Can creators earn more money if their images are in a collection like Offset where images are licensed for much higher prices? Should creators produce more stills? Should they buy new equipment and start shooting video that sells for higher prices? Shutterstock’s quarterly reports to investors aren’t very helpful in this regard.

Considering these issues requires a lot of guess work and speculation. The figures I come up with may not be totally accurate, but they may offer some useful insights.

The first thing to recognize is that the 179.6 million downloads Shutterstock reported for 2018 are not just the still images and illustrations. The figure includes all the Offset, Footage and Editorial downloads that were licensed at much higher prices. It also includes Bigstock and probably includes Music downloads.

Thus, when they say that the average price per download was $3.40 that is an average of every download regardless of which collection it came from. If we multiply 179.6 million by $3.40 that gives us $610,640,000. Shutterstock’s total revenue for the year was $623.3 million. The other $12.7 million was generated from other services supplied to Enterprise customers, like Webdam, that didn’t directly relate to a piece of content being downloaded.

The first step is to look at price variations.

Collection Prices
Offset $499 and $249
Editorial $199 and $99
Footage $179, $79, $65
Music $49 and $419
Images $14.50 to $0.27

Then we get to the guess work.

Offset - I’ve been told some time ago by creators that they license about 1 image annually for every 10 images in the collection. Currently, I think Shutterstock has about 700,000 images in the Offset collection and generates less than $20 million annually from that collection. About half the images are licensed for the high price and half for the low price so the average gross license fee is about $330.

Editorial – My guess is that most of the licenses are by large users who pay $99 per image for a package of 25 downloads. I have no idea how many Editorial images they might sell, but my guess is that it doesn’t represent a significant percent of Shutterstock’s gross revenue. No more than $20 million annually. My guess is that the average gross license fee is $110.

Footage – My guess is that more and more customers are using 4K and that the average for footage clips sold is $100. Back in 2015 Shutterstock told us that footage represented about 10% of gross revenue. In 2014 the figure was 7%. My guess is that now it represents no more than 10% and maybe less or about $60 million annually.

Music – I have no idea, but my guess is that music downloads are mostly for web use and represent no more then $5 million annually. Thus, I’m placing the average price per download at $50.                

Still Images – So far I have accounted for about $105 million of the $610.6 million in gross revenue from downloads the other $505 million comes from still images. Some years back we were told that about one-third of the still images downloads were for graphic illustration and the other two-thirds were for photos. I see no reason why that would have changed. Thus, I believe illustration represent about $165 million of Shutterstock’s 2018 revenue and still photos represent the other $340 million.

One thing that we can be reasonably sure of is that the percentage of revenue generated by each of these 6 categories has remained relatively the same throughout 2018 because the average price per piece of content downloaded remained flat at $3.40. If sales of the higher priced content were going up then the average per download would go up.?

Collection Gross Revenue

Offset $20,000,000 $330 60,606
Editorial $20,000,000 $110 181,818
Footage $60,000,000 $100 600,000
Music $5,000,000 $60 100,000
Still Illustrations $165,000,000 $2.82 59,300,000
Still Photos $340,000,000 $2.82 119,400,000
  $610,000,000   179,642,424

Thus, the average license fee of a still image or illustration is not $3.40, but $2.82. And since, on average, about 26.7% of that is paid out to the contributor in royalties contributors receive about $0.75 for each still image downloaded.

These figures give you an idea of where customers are looking for the visual content they want to use in their projects. If they are looking for a still photo they are 1,970 times more likely to look at the Shutterstock collection than in Offset.
For editorial photographers it is also important to keep in mind that Shutterstock is adding about 8.4 million new editorial images a year. There is probably a 1 in 46.15 chance that one of the new images added will be licensed 1 time during the year for a single print run of up to 500,000 copies.

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:  


  • jasmin awad Posted Mar 2, 2019
    Hi Jim, it is pretty easy to share sales data with good friends and many stock groups have threads were you can share sales experiences. Also some people diligently all their results every month. Or just look at the sales thread on the pond5 forum. If you check into your regular info places, you get a good vibe for what will sell. Plus of course the feedback from your own results. It is not an exact science, but also not overly complicated.

  • jasmin awad Posted Mar 2, 2019
    diligently publish, sorry

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