Stock Photography: An Amateur Business

Posted on 3/6/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Can the stock photo industry survive if it is only a business of amateur suppliers? It is certainly on road to becoming that business.

Gross sale rates have declined so much that most photographers who need revenue from the images they produce to support themselves and their business can no longer justify continued production. (Check out stories here and here.

Back between 2003 and 2007 when Getty Images was a public company and supplied detailed sales statistics the average gross sale price of each RM image licensed ranged from $585 to $536. The average RF image license was about $256 to $240. There were also a lot fewer images in the collections at that time than there are today so the chances that any accepted image might sell were much higher.

After that it became much harder to get a handle on the average price per image licensed at Getty, but in 2014 I analyzed the 2013 sales of some of Getty’s major producers and came to the conclusion the average prices for an RM license had dropped to $298. The average for RF had dropped to about $130.

Recently, I was able to analyze 2016 sales for several major Getty producers. The average price for RM ranged from $134 to as low as $41. I want to emphasize that these are “major, experienced producers” with lots of sales. Given that roughly 70% of RM sales were for prices below $100 the main difference in the averages was in the number of rare, over $500, sales and the sizes of those sales. The average price for RF was in the $80s with about 80% percent of sales under $100.  It was not unusual for over half of both RM sales and RF sales to be for prices under $10. Remember these are gross sale prices. The royalty paid the photographer is a share of these numbers.

One Getty contributor told me recently, “I have been at this biz since 1985 and earned over a million from the images I have produced. Its been great BUT now it is impossible to carry on making new images. Sellers are giving the images away and with the move to almost entirely RF sales where a shooter gets only 20% what’s the point.”

Another leading Getty Images photographer said, “In the past I would spend a large amount on production costs – stylists, models, hair and make up, staff, retouching, locations etc.  I would think nothing of hiring a supermarket, a fire station, a medical laboratory, a private jet, a car showroom, exotic animals etc. for a shoot.  But to do that now would be financial lunacy! I don’t know how the next generation of creators will be able to afford to create! Yes, there will be millions of iPhone and Flickr pictures. But where will stock imagery with high production values come from?”?

What about Shutterstock?

Based on Shutterstock’s recent quarterly report the average gross annual revenue per image in the collection (and this includes higher priced video) was about $4.25. The creator gets 28% of that or $1.19 per-image per-year for all the images they have in the collection.

I estimate that Getty generates about $100 million annually from images in its Creative collection. Given that the collection currently has 17,962,387 images that would represent annual gross revenue of $5.57 per image in the collection. I estimate that the company licenses way less than 3 million Creative collection images annually, despite the fact that probably half of those licenses are for prices of less than $10. Thus, maybe one out of every six images is licensed. The rest earn nothing. Take that into consideration and image creators may not be earning much more by being with Getty than they would earn with Shutterstock. And neither is paying the average image creator enough to justify continue production.

Who Will Supply Stock Images In The Future?

Given these numbers, the only people likely to produce stock images in the future are amateurs who are just taking pictures for fun.

The money earned is unimportant to them. They are happy with a little recognition. (They may not get much of that because few, if any, of the images most produce will ever sell. But when they get tired and drop out other amateurs will take their place.)

Many of these producers will be willing to spend much more on equipment than they will ever recover from the licensing revenue they receive.

These producers will be willing to spend a great deal of their time, not just in taking pictures, but in administrative activities to make their images available for marketing.

An increasing percentage of these producers will be residents of lower cost of living countries where it may be more difficult to get a good paying job and some money is better than none. It is interesting that more of the Shutterstock producers come from the Ukraine than from the U.S., United Kingdom and Germany combined. (See data) In addition more contributors come from the Russian Federation than from Ukraine and more come from Thailand than the Russian Federation.

These amateur producers will be happy to support large corporations and investors who profit handsomely from their efforts.

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:  


  • Tibor Bognar Posted Mar 11, 2017
    Former Corbis photographers finding themselves with Getty are experiencing a sharp drop of their income. Yes, a large part of the sales seem to be for less than $10, of which they get 25%. In addition the Getty submission process is much more cumbersome and time consuming. Maybe it's time to sell our cameras?

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