Selling Stock: Purpose And Goals

Posted on 9/28/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

A month or so ago a reader wrote, “When you write articles you must be impartial. The problem is you are very close to the Picture agencies that are destroying Photographer’s jobs. So its very difficult for you to be impartial.”

Since then I have been doing a lot of thinking about “impartial,” It may be time for me to provide a clear explanation of how I see my role as editor of Selling Stock.

Selling Stock has always been about trying to help photographers understand trends in the stock photo business and make realistic decisions about future production. A particular goal has been to help those photographers who are trying to earn a living from the images they produce. This is not to say that the work of amateur photographers is inferior or unimportant. Many amateurs produce great images. But when the income generated from production is of minor, or secondary, importance an amateur can afford to make very different decisions about what to shoot and the time and cost involved in producing such images.

The big problem for stock image producers is that there is no way to determine, prior to taking a picture, whether it will ever generate any revenue, and if so, how much and when. Thus, when revenue is important, the photographer must have a good understanding of industry and market trends. A photographer cannot blindly shoot what he likes, when he fells like it, and spend countless hours preparing the work for market and expect to consistently earn good revenue.

Unfortunately, there are very few “hard facts” available relative to what photographers need to know. I try to report the facts, but much of what I have to say is my interpretation based on closely following this industry for over 50 years. There is no guarantee that all my opinions are correct. Readers will need to decide if what I have to say is right often enough to be worth considering.


Early in my photographic career an agent told me “Everything we do benefits the photographers we represent.” I quickly learned that agents and distributors can, and do from time to time, make decisions that benefit their businesses, but not their photographers individually or collectively. That doesn’t mean the agents are bad people, they just have different economic motivations from those of the photographer’s whose work they represent.

Photographers need middlemen to help distribute their work. If is very hard for a photographer who produces stock images to earn a reasonable amount of money from those images without employing some type of middleman operation to aid in making customers aware that their images exist.

Some photographers have been able to successfully deal with a small segment of the market via their own websites. But none have developed an effective way to make the entire universe of potential buyers aware that their websites, or their images exist. Some middleman system is needed if there is to be any hope of maximizing sales.

But middlemen also need to have profitable businesses to survive. Some activities and decision that can help grow their businesses may not in the long term be in the best interests of their image suppliers. Actions that benefit one or a few image suppliers may not be good for all suppliers.

Since no one is perfect, on occasions middlemen can also make decisions that turn out not to be in their, or anyone’s, best interest.

When this happens it does little good to blame, or find fault with, the middleman. But it is important for the supplier to understand the implications of such decisions and determine how they may need to modify their own actions in order to maximize their future returns.

My goal as editor of Selling Stock is not to be an advocate for either photographers or stock agents. Rather, it is to supply information that will help both better understand developing industry trends and manage their businesses accordingly.

Over the years the stock photo business has changed dramatically. What worked 10, 20, 30 years ago no longer works today. I try to help photographers see and understand the changes, understand where we are today and where I think the trends will take the business. It is my hope that armed with that information each individual will be able to make an informed decision about how to approach the future.

We’re not going back to the old ways. The important thing is to figure out how to move forward.

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, 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:  


  • Linda Huhn Posted Oct 1, 2016
    Well said, Jim. Through the years I have appreciated your presentation of the facts and your realistic conclusions, even though none of this is what any of us would really like to hear. Linda, Minneapolis

  • Andreas von Einsiedel Posted Oct 1, 2016
    i completely agree with Linda's comments and stress how important your often lone voice is to photographers and image creators like myself; the comment critisising your 'partiality to picture agencies' is unfounded and plainly wrong. is he/she reading the same newsletter as we are ?
    Andreas von Einsiedel, London

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 1, 2016
    Jim, I have known you a LONG time. We have butted heads several times, but I know that you mean well. My only complaint from your reporting is that you often think the "sky is falling". Stock is not as good as it was in the 90s, but it is not as bad as you say it is. RM is NOT dead altho you think it is. And video clips are growing in price & usage, but it takes a LOT more work & a longer learning curve. The best way to make a good living is to shoot great pictures and know what to shoot --- and have your work with multiple agencies. I have given many seminars and weekend workshops, and I have started many people to succeed -- yes, even in today's climate. Try not to sound so solid that Microstock & RfFis the only way to survive, I still get quite a few big RM sales each month, along with so many average sales... which you don't think happen anymore.

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