Struggling To Make Money In Stock

Posted on 3/20/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A reader wrote:
    Strikes me that there is so much fragmentation in the stock image space it’s hard for anyone, especially the photographers, to make money. Any guess on how many times a day people “right click save As” on Google images – i.e. if you predict the legitimate market is 1.4B what’s the total market if you could get paid for your content 100% of the time. Is the real issue that there’s no iTunes for Images yet that aggregates collections together and provide a single, simple way for people to search and license images? I like to think that the vast majority of people are honest and if there was an easy way to pay a few bucks for a legit license they’d do that over stealing images.
    I think the big offenders are actually people at work preparing slide presentations for internal and external use. Simply creating a pie chart or graphic is not sufficient. As more slide presentations get put online through Google docs, Slider, Slide Rocket etc they potentially expose the images within the presentation to PicScout like crawlers that might make it easier to collect.

    Any thoughts.

Yes, it is very hard for photographers to make money selling stock. There are some high volume producers earning significant money, but once you subtract their costs of production often it’s not all that profitable. Making ends meet is getting more difficult, even for the top producers. The best strategy is to approach stock as a supplemental income. Put forth some effort, make a little money, but don't plan to depend on it for your total livelihood.

A huge number of people are "right clicking," but there is no way to predict how much. However, it is irrelevant to even worry about the numbers. There is nothing photographers can do to stop it from happening.

Shutterstock, iStockphoto, Fotolia and the other microstock sites are very much like iTunes. You can access a very good selection of images for very little money. Lots of people get their images that way. There are also sites like PicturEngine and PACASearch that aggregate all the major collections, but they don't get much traffic because there are too many images to search through and they don't have the budgets to market their sites.

The iTunes analogy is a good one. Read this from a Digital Music News report last summer.
    There's more music being created than ever before, but paradoxically, musicians are making less. Which means there are also fewer musicians and music professionals enjoying gainful employment, thanks to a deflated ecosystem once primed by major labels and marked-up CDs.

    It's a difficult reality to stomach, especially given years of misguided assumptions about digital platforms.  But it's not really a revolution if it's not getting people paid.  And according to stats supplied by the US Department of Labor, there are 41 percent fewer paid musicians since 1999.
Just like music, there are more images available at lower prices. The big stock photo distributors are struggling just like the major record labels. Thanks to the digital environment more photographers have a chance to get their images where they might be seen, but given the volume of choice fewer of these photographers will make significant sales.

Who Are Unauthorized Users?

You're right, some of the big offenders are people at work who need lots of images but have small budgets. There is also a huge amount of infringement by individual consumers and people who want to make small personal uses. They might be able to license the image for a couple dollars or less, but given the minor hassle of going through that process; it is easier to steal.

Finding better ways to collect for unauthorized uses may not be the solution. PicScout and other crawlers find a lot of unauthorized uses. The big stock agencies are collecting a lot of money for such uses. In many cases it is major businesses using the images for major projects, not just multi-media presentations. But the cost of pursuing these infringers usually makes it not worth the trouble.

Is fighting for a principle worth spending more in time, effort and money than you can possibly collect? If so how long will you be able to do that before you are forced to give up and start focusing on other ways to make a living? Most little guys decide it is not worth the trouble. Major producers that are able to collect for these unauthorized uses are also seeing significant declines in overall revenue so that doesn't seem to be the answer either.

Copyright © 2013 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:  


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