Is Shutterstock Benefiting Editorial Photographers?

Posted on 11/20/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The market for editorial stock photos is quite different from the commercial market. Shutterstock may be having a difficult time adapting.

In January 2015 Shutterstock purchased Rex Features for $33 million. At the time it was believed that Rex’s gross 2014 revenue was about $7 million.

Shutterstock managers acknowledged that the Editorial side of the business functions somewhat differently from the Commercial side where they have been very successful, but they said they were bringing on Rex’s experienced managers who would help them understand and learn the editorial business. Their goal was to address the entire stock photo market, not just the commercial side of it.

However, by the end of 2015 all the experienced Rex managers were gone. The Rex sales team has been let go, the diary editors with overflowing contact books were let go.

So How Are Image Creators Doing?

One UK photographer with decades of experience as an entertainment shooter says the UK editorial market had always worked on making contacts and picking up the phone to sell pictures. Rex was good at that. It was all about providing custom service. Back in the day (long before Shutterstock) Rex even made prints and biked them around to the magazines.

They priced images based on the size and importance of the publication as well as usage. When Shutterstock took over they introduced subscription sales at fixed prices regardless of usage.

The photographer I talked to has great contacts and decades of experience covering events on speculation. He used to earn about £4,000 a month. Now its about £800 a month, an 80% decline.

If he sends his work to the Hearst magazine group. They will pay £200 for a cover, £300 for a double page spread and £150 page rate. Rex used to make sales for him at similar prices.

Now, if he gives his pictures to Rex Shutterstock they post them on their subscription picture desk. The Hearst publications, and everyone else, can download them for a fixed fee of £25 per-picture, regardless of how they are used. The photographer gets 60% of that or £15.

So, if the photographer makes a direct sale for both a cover and a double page spread he earns £500. It he lets Rex handle the sale he earns £30.

Given this massive difference the photographer no longer supplies the agency with breaking news images shot on spec. He has also started to turn down assignment work from them. Recently, he was asked to cover Lana Del Rey in concert in Liverpool, but the picture editor told him that the image would be distributed on a subscription basis. He quickly figured out that he would actually LOSE money to shoot the job when travel and parking were factored in. Shutterstock got someone else to do the shoot. That photographer only had a 24-70mm lens and the pictures were unusable.

Now, the photographer I talked to focuses on supplying his work direct. He emails his general production to the major news web sites and magazines. They pay their normal rates for anything they use without question. If he gets something really special, he picks up the phone and sells. He says the picture editors are always pleased to be getting some non-agency pictures and treat him well.

He still sends some images to Rex in case there might actually be some real stock demand for the subjects down the road. But he usually sends the images about 30 days or so after the event when the news story has died down. He also holds the really good images back.

Final Notes

He said, “On a personal level I can not understand the likes of Jon Oringer. He’s a billionaire and yet he’s driving photographers out of business, causing real poverty amongst families. I read that he treats photographs like he would selling peanuts or pizza’s, it’s all volume of sales and I think that’s why young agency photographers will always have to move on after 2 years in the job. The day will come when they want to move out of the family home.

“The Manchester Flynet photographer is now a personal gym coach. The Manchester splash photographer now works in the Apple store. The Manchester Wenn photographer has a full time job in catering. Silverhub have no celeb photographer in Manchester and have never tried. For a celeb agency that makes no sense.”

Copyright © 2017 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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