Of Images In Collections: How Many Are Actually Used

Posted on 10/4/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

How many of the images in stock photography collections are ever used? The stock photo distributors could figure this out, but for the most part I don’t think they pay attention to this figure -- or really care. Their interest is in unit sales, and average price. They don’t care if a few images sell hundreds of times, or every image in their collection sells once – as long as revenue continues to rise.

Professional image producers do care. For them there is an additional cost in time and out-of-pocket expense for every new image produced. They can’t afford to waste their time producing images that no one wants to buy.  

Over the years I have made reference to this issue in several articles, but it may be time to draw some of these bits of information together in an effort to provide a clearer picture.

Back in 2013 James West reported that Alamy licensed rights to about 360,000 images in 2012, up from under 200,000 in 2008. Some of those licenses may have been for the same image so 360,000 is not necessarily the number of unique images. In 2012 Alamy had over 30 million images in its collection. They have over 90 million today and I don’t think there has been a proportional rise in use. Another interesting link.

In 2014 I analyzed the 2013 sales of several of Getty major contributors. The average price for RM was $298.71 and for RF it was $133.20. At the time I estimated that Getty’s average gross Creative revenue was about $150 million for RM and $150 million for RF. Assuming these averages held for all Getty contributors, they would have licensed rights to 502,159 RM uses and 1,126,126 RF uses during the year. (See here.) Many of the images licensed were licensed by multiple different users. At the time Getty had about 8 million total images in its collection.

The above numbers represent a total of 1,628,285 images licensed in 2013. Back in 2006 Getty reported that they licensed rights to 607,945 RM images and 1,053,751 RF images for a total of 1,661,696 for the year. One take away from this is that there has been very little, if any, growth in images licensed (at non-microstock prices) despite huge growth in the number of images available for licensing.

Since 2013 Getty’s gross Creative revenue has dropped to no more than $280 million and at least 60% of that is RF. Currently Getty has 17,205,949 images in its Creative collection. In the last three-years contributors have reported that the average price pre images has continued to drop and that the number of images licensed has also dropped. The decline in sales for the average contributor could be because sales are spread among more contributors now, but I don’t think Getty has seen any significant growth in units licensed.

If we assume that Getty licenses about the same number of images in 2016 as 2013 (1,628,285), and that they will continue to add images throughout the rest of the year, at best 9% of the images in their collection might be licensed once this year and 91% will not be licensed. However, we know that some of those that are actually used are licensed multiple times so the number of “unique” images used is probably less than 9% of the total in the collection.

I believe Getty represent at least one-third of all sales worldwide. So we can estimate worldwide downloads at roughly 1.5 million RM and 3.5 million RF. Most other agencies license rights to a much smaller percentage of images in their collections than is the case with Getty because their images don’t get as much exposure.

When we get to microstock the approximate numbers are quite different.

  Number Percentage
Subscription 185,000,000 77.0%
Microstock Single Image 50,000,000 21.0%
Traditional RF 4,000,000 1.5%
Rights Managed 1,500,000 0.5%

There are some indications that a high percentage of the images in microstock collections are downloaded, at least once, as part of a subscription. That’s where I got my percent-images-in-the-collection-licensed number for Shutterstock. See here, and look at “% Image Lic” in the chart. If you go back to Q2 2014 it was 84% and in the last quarter it was down to 47%. Clearly, Shutterstock is adding images to its collection much faster than downloads are increasing.

While this figure represents total images downloaded in the quarter vs. total images in the collection, it doesn’t tell us how many “unique” images were downloaded. The same images may have been downloaded many, many times.

The big problem is with subscriptions. Subscription customers can basically download as many images as they want without additional cost. Consequently, they tend to download a lot of images for consideration purposes that never get used in an actual project. When customers have to pay an additional fee for each images downloaded, even if it is a small fee, they tend to download only images they actually intend to use. The problem is that nobody knows – and no way of determining -- how many, or which images, that are downloaded via a subscription are actually used.

About 90% of Shutterstock’s downloads are via subscription. My guess is that something in the range of 1 in 8 to 1 in 10 of the images downloaded actually get used. But, anyone can guess at this number. I believe a lot of customers download all the similars of a particular situation and later make a decision as to which to use. It is also important to realize that many microstock collections are tending to accept a lot more similars from shoots than was the case a few years ago.

Picture Engine says there are over 500 million unique images available for licensing in the various collections around the world. If we assume my numbers above are correct, then a maximum of 11% of the available images (where customers pay more for each image used) might be licensed in a given year. But that doesn’t account for the same image being licensed multiple times.

We know from figures iStock reported a few years ago that many of the most popular images were licensed hundreds, or thousands of times. At one point it was reported that Anna Bryukhonova’s image 3781332 had been downloaded over 25,000 times.

What’s The Answer?

So is the percentage of images downloaded 1% or 10% or higher. I know of some smaller agencies that are lucky if they license 1% of the images in their collections in a given year. Certainly, a huge percentage of image creators with all agencies will not see 1% of their images licensed in a given year. A handful will do much better than that.

Individual image creators may feel frustrated that more of the images they produce aren’t selling.
The above numbers may help them understand that they are not necessarily alone. The numbers may also help them understand just how much they need to produce to have a reasonable chance of making sales.

Tomorrow, I’ll provide some statistics from 430 of iStock’s leading contributors that offer more specific indications of the number of downloads per image in the collection that some of the best selling photographers are receiving.

Copyright © 2016 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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