Stock Photography: Passive Income Source

Posted on 1/23/2020 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

I just read a story on Passive Income. The writer suggests that stock photography is one way to earn passive income.

The writer defines “Active Income” as “the salary you get from the work you do by investing time and effort directly in return for money; if you don’t work, you don’t earn. Whether you are a teacher, a builder, a banker, a software developer, an athlete, an actor, or a doctor, you have to work to earn a living.” The time you spend working is tied to the income you receive.

“Passive Income” on the other hand, “is income you earn from things you would normally do in your spare time, or when you’re not working at a salaried job.” Passive income sources include: investment property, dividends from owning stock, interest income, royalties from publishing books or music. (I guess you don’t have to do any work to write those books or create the music.)

Also included in passive income is Stock Photos and the writer asks, “Is photography your hobby? Do you take awesome photographs? If so, you can put them up in a gallery of stock photos and they will sell your photos as stock photos.” (It is just that easy.) And then they say, “There is a huge market for stock photography.”

I think the writer assumes that you’ve taken these photos with your phone – there are no addition equipment costs --(you have a phone with you all the time) and anyway taking photos is just a “hobby” – something you do when you are not “working” to earn part, or all, of what you need to support your lifestyle.

I don’t think the writer has considered the other things a photographer may have to do once they have taken those “awesome photographs” in order to get them into a gallery that will handle the marketing. The photographer may need to edit, crop and make color adjustment to get the images to that awesome level. Then there is keywording so the image can be found when someone looks through that gallery of millions of photos.
But then you’ve got to decide which gallery you want to work with, and upload the files one by one to the gallery. Chances are some will be rejected and you may have to spend more time dealing with, and trying to fix the problem, and then upload them again. This is always a fun way to spend your free time away from that salaried job. But, you are going to make some passive income from this effort.

So how much are you likely to make?

Let’s take a look at Shutterstock -- one of the largest galleries – to try to answer that question.

Shutterstock has a collection of about 313 million images – and growing. They added about 60 million images to their collection in 2019 and they will be adding an ever increasing number annually going forward.

During 2019 they licensed use to about 186 million image which sounds like a lot, but that means that at least 127 million images (roughly 40% of the collection) weren’t used even once.  Actually, because the images that get used tend to be licensed multiple times by different customers, the percent of images never used is probably closer to 85%.

So how much can you make when your image is used? The average price the customer pays Shutterstock for each image used is about $3.40. Shutterstock pays the creator about 23% of that number or roughly $0.78 per image licensed.

Over one million creators have images in the Shutterstock collection. So on average each creator has about 313 million images in the collection. This means that the average creator is currently grossing about $150 annually, but that number has been steadily declining as more and more new creators are added and they all add more and more images to the collection. A few experienced creators, who really study the business and work very hard, earn more than $150 a year, but that means that the vast majority of creators earn a lot less than the average.

Of course, one thing a photographer could do to earn more money is put the same photos in several galleries. Some photographers put their photos in 10 or more galleries, but even when they have the photos in multiple galleries Shutterstock tends to represent 30% to 50% of their total annual return. And remember there is a lot more work getting the photos into all those galleries.

Stock photography may not be as good a way to make extra income as some people make it sound. Maybe it is a lot of work to do well.

Copyright © 2020 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


  • Linda Huhn Posted Jan 26, 2020
    Obviously the writer did little research on the subject of stock photography in her quest for material. Many writers just want to write and they seem to beat the bushes for facts and subjects. Some photographers are not much different. We should all remember a quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald, a good writer: "There are people who have something to say and people who just want to say something."
    Linda Huhn, Minneapolis

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