In Defense Of Getty

Posted on 4/11/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

More and more photographers are expressing frustration with Getty Images and saying they are pulling their images. Many are looking for another distributor that will charge higher prices and offer a better royalty share.

I hate to defend Getty, but to be fair today’s low prices are not all their fault. If we go back to the early 2000s Getty tried to keep prices at reasonable levels, but once iStock and Shutterstock came on the scene, and got some traction, there was no way for Getty to hold out forever. As the microstock sites began to get work of higher quality it was inevitable that customers would go where they could get perfectly satisfactory images for much lower prices.

Getty purchased iStock, and for a while they were able to raise prices for the iStock premium (Signature) collection. While those prices weren’t anywhere near traditional RM or RF pricing, they were a lot better than prices today.

But even with those somewhat higher priced microstock offerings, there was no way to sell enough volume for professional producers (trying to earn a living from their photography) to justify continued production.

There are four things that have killed the market for professional producers. There was nothing Getty or anyone else could have done to stop these four things from occurring. They are:
    The Internet
    Amateur photographers

    Improved camera technology making it easy for amateurs to produce quality imagery
    Shutterstock’s low prices
The Internet and Improved camera technology made it easy for anyone to take reasonably good pictures and upload them in a place where it was easy for any potential user to find them. It turns out that what the vast majority of customers need is a reasonably good picture that illustrates a point they want to make. In addition, very few need the absolutely best picture that has ever been taken of the particular subject or exclusive rights to use the image. Before the Internet those two characteristics had some value but today almost no one cares whether the stock image they intend to use is something no one has ever seen before. In the rare cases when they need something totally exclusive they will assign the project, not use stock.

There are two other elements that also had some impact. Today, everyone sees so many images that no particular image is all that important. Secondly most images are used for a very short period of time in a very focused market. Seldom is a stock image used in a major campaign that appears everywhere over months or years. Thus, there is less need for that great image, or one that no one might see somewhere else.

But the real killer was Shutterstock. They made good images available at extremely low prices. When they started out it could be argued that the overall quality of the images on their site weren’t as good as Getty’s, but over the years they have flooded the market with so many images that now there are plenty of “good” images in their collection.

Shutterstock, iStock and other microstock sites made it possible for part timers and amateurs to participate in the market. For most amateurs it is more about knowing that someone likes one of their images rather than making money. A few had dreams of making at least a good sideline income from their photography, but it didn’t take most long to discover that wasn’t going to happen.

More than 650,000 photographers, videographers, musicians, artists and designers have contributed to the Shutterstock collection. On average each has a little less than 400 pieces of content in the collection and earns a total of about $250 per year. Doing that much work for so little pay is not an activity for a professional.

Getty tried a number of different strategies in an effort to compete, slowly dropping prices in an effort to become more competitive. But by 2015 the annual revenue generated from their Creative collection had dropped to less than half of what it was in 2006. At that point they “thru in the towel” and basically set out to match Shutterstock on pricing. While the move stabilized their annual revenue the company is no longer a place where professionals (those trying to earn a portion of their living from the imagery they produce) are likely to earn enough to justify continue production.


The hard fact is that nothing is likely to turn this business around. Customers have gotten used to getting the images they need for low prices are they are not likely to pay significantly more. There seems to be a steady stream of amateurs who are willing to continue to supply images even if they earn little or no money for their efforts.

What I don’t understand is why people who are still earning some money from Getty are pulling their images.

They may find another agency to represent their work that will offer them a higher royalty and insist on higher prices. But, that only turns into real dollars if they make sales. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the sales at higher prices will be few and far between. It is highly unlikely that they will earn more money from those images unless they put them non-exclusively with many of the microstock agencies, and that will require a lot of additional work.

Better to spend the time looking for some way other than stock photography to earn the money they need.

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:  


  • Thomas Wear Posted Apr 13, 2019
    Thanks for this Jim -- it's the unvarnished truth. Getty, and the other established agencies, never would have lowered their prices if they weren't pushed into it -- why should they? But as you explained, technology and the law of supply and demand were outside their control. Nobody is going to turn back the clock in any significant way.
    Video may command higher prices than stills for a while, since the barriers to entry are still higher, but the learning curve and costs may be prohibitive for many still shooters to make the transition.
    In retrospect, I think the golden age of stock is turning out to be an aberration. For most of the history of photography some form of assignment shooting paid the bills for professional photographers, and I think we're simply seeing a return to that.
    It's funny in a way, because you and I (and probably a lot of readers of your newsletter) have been in the business long enough to remember when stock was the villain, hated by assignment photographers for taking their jobs. Full circle!

  • Grant Faint Posted Apr 14, 2019
    hello from morocco where i am shooting fresh stock images for OFFSET and GETTY. I started 1985 with The Image Bank, I was signed photographer #564... now you say Shutterstock has 650K contributors . Jim I agree with your piece completely. As they say dont be sad it's over be happy you had a good run. However raising prices across the board by the major outlets wouldnt make the cost of a photo out of reach for users and it nwould add to everyone's bottom line. OK I am a dreamer ha best to all trying to make it work grant faint

  • Sabine Pallaske Posted Apr 15, 2019
    hi all... I agree with you. But we need to consider another change: Artbuying is no longer the task of creation or marketing, but that of "central purchasing". This is where photos, films, graphics are purchased as such as consumables like pencils or toilet paper : as a low cost as possible with a comparable appearance. The real "image quality" of a photograph, video or grafik is no longer important, the main thing is to show the "triggers" (matching the article, the ad, the blog etc.).

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