Return Per Image

Posted on 9/21/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

The cost of producing images certainly hasn’t declined in the last 8 years. If anything it has increased. But, it is interesting to take a look at what’s been happening to the return-per-image on file based on Getty Images figures.

I went back to the period from 2004 to 2007 when Getty was a public company and reporting sales on a quarterly basis. The Revenue figures below are for the segment of their business that Getty calls Creative Stock Images (RM and RF). At one time this segment represented almost 80% of the company’s gross revenue. Today, it probably represents less than 25% of their business.

During the same period, near the end of each year, I also tracked the number of RM and RF Images in Getty’s collection. I did this by searching the collection for the number of images with the keywords: horizontal, vertical, panoramic or square. I made the assumption that all images were keyworded with one, and only one, of these four orientations. If there were images in the database with no orientation keyword then I missed them. This count does not include any of the images in Getty’s Editorial collection.

In May of 2012 when Getty was making plans for the eventual sale of the company to the Carlyle group Moody’s and Standard & Poors reported that Getty’s total 2011 revenue was $945 million. Based on other information that was available I estimated that the Creatives Stock Images segment of their revenue was probably in the range of $210 million. Check out this story to see how I arrived at that figure.

Below are figures for the gross annual revenue for each year listed, the approximate number of images in the collection during the year and the average Return Per Image calculated by dividing images into revenue. The figures under revenue are in millions of dollars.

Revenue (millions)      
  RM RF Total
2004 $297.30 $204.53 $501.60
2005 $315.72 $272.87 $588.60
2006 $325.70 $308.17 $639.10
2007 $305.00 $327.34 $632.60
2011 Est. $120.00 $90.00 $210.00
  RM RF Total
2004 434,346 252,161 686,507
2005 751,495 404,016 1,155,511
2006 973.933 787,281 1,767,214
2007 1,174,692 964,277 2,138,919
Sept. 2012 3,076,539 2,615,111 5,691,650
Return Per Image      
  RM RF Total
2004 $684.48 $811.11 $730.66
2005 $420.00 $675.39 $509.39
2006 $334.42 $391.44 $361.64
2007 $259.64 $339.47 $295.76
Sept. 2012 $39.00 $34.42 $36.90

    Keep in mind that the Return Per Image figures are average gross sales figures. Photographers who receives a 20% or 30% royalty will only receive that percentage of these numbers.
For some photographers who are producing new images things may not be quite as bad as these bottom line 2012 figures show. While there are way too many images in the collection (and in most other stock image collections), most of the images are never seen. Thus, the ones that are seen may return much higher figures than the overall averages. Newer images tend to stay near the top of the search returns, and certain collections are given preference over others. But as more images from any source are added older images, or those that weren’t quickly licensed when they were first added to the site, will be pushed down in the search return order.

Images from photographers that were added to the collection a few years ago, or even a few months ago if they are of popular subjects, are probably never seen by today’s customers, or going forward. Most customers don’t review that many images before they change the search parameters or go somewhere else. If there are very few images in the collection of the subject the photographer shoots, or with the keywords used, then the images may be seen for a longer period of time. But often there isn’t that much demand for such subject matter.

More precise keywording helps, but there is probably very little agencies or photographers can do to alter these trends. Agencies could edit tighter and be more selective in what they offer customers, but that would simply make it much harder for photographer’s to get any image accepted and probably raise the photographer’s average cost per accepted image.

Nevertheless, it is important for photographers to be aware of this trend as they budget for what they can afford to spend, not only in resources, but also in time, for new productions.

Copyright © 2012 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:  


  • Benjamin Peterson Posted Oct 5, 2012
    I have noticed this trend in my own images and in those of photographers I work with. The unfortunate problem this also ends up creating is that once you see a big sale or a trend in your sales as a photographer you naturally gravitate to creating more of that image. This cuts down on the "venture stock creation" or the amount of new creative imagery being invested in.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff