Textbook Market for Photographers Declines - Part 1

Posted on 11/5/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

From a stock photography point of view, the future is bleak for those trying to sell images for textbook use. This segment of the stock photography business is on what appears to be an irreversible downward spiral.

Though a few photographers and agencies have specialized in producing images for textbooks, it has been a secondary activity for most others. It is hard to point to anyone who has become rich by producing or selling images exclusively for textbook use.

To summarize the state of the textbook market as it used to be:

  1. Fees varied depending on the size of the use within the book.
  2. Fees varied based on the number of copies published.
  3. Fees were very slow to rise but did not typically fall.
  4. When publishers printed a new edition, they paid a reuse fee.
  5. When a book was modified, it became a new edition and a new fee was paid.
  6. Reluctantly, publishers were willing to pay something for electronic uses.

Today, it is very uncommon to receive a request that specifies the size at which the image will be used. In the 2001 edition of my book, Negotiating Stock Photo Prices, full-page uses were twice the quarter-page rate. While the vast majority of all uses are quarter-page, it is reasonable to charge more for images that are more prominent within a book.  The one-price-fits-all model would not be so bad if the average were somewhere in the middle between a quarter-page and full-page price, but that is not what has happened.

Currently, the price publishers seek for all uses regardless of image size is basically a quarter-page price. They are usually willing to pay 25% more for images used as chapter openers, but that 25% is of the quarter-page price. Since most chapter openers are of a much larger size, in the past, the additional 25% would have been based on a much higher number.

A press run of 40,000 copies used to be the standard. When a book went into a second printing, image uses received an additional fee of 75% of the original fee. Now, it is common for photographers and stock agencies to receive requests for rights to print 500,000 to 2 million copies over a period of 10 years. That would not be so bad if publishers were willing to pay correspondingly higher fees for larger print runs, but that is not the case.

A textbook use priced on gettyimages.com is $290 for an unlimited print run, for 7 years, at any image size. Corbis and Alamy still have online pricing templates that show breakdowns for image size and circulation. Quarter-page images at 40,000 circulation start at $300 at Corbis and $220 at Alamy. For the right to print 1 million copies—25 times as many—Corbis charges a 95% premium, and Alamy charges a 38% premium over the 40,000-run price.  

As unfair as these numbers appear, most textbook uses are actually licensed for much lower prices. The major publishers work with the major photo agencies on a “preferred provider” basis. These publishers will make every effort to avoid buying pictures from any source other than those with whom they have pre-negotiated preferred provider agreements. Such agreements vary slightly and are re-negotiated, usually downward in favor of the publisher, every few years.

One recent agreement sets the image price for a 40,000 print run at $135, down 18% from the previous $165 price. For print runs of up to 100,000, the publisher will pay an additional 11% on top of the base price. For print runs between 100,000 and 500,000 the publisher adds 38%, and for 500,000 to 2 million an additional 50% of the base price. For the most part, these are take-it-or-leave-it deals. If the seller does not agree to these prices, the publisher will not consider the seller’s images.

Another hint that textbook sales generate lower prices than those quoted in the online templates can be found in the quarterly figures Alamy provides on the average price per editorial image licensed. Textbook sales are a big part of Alamy’s business. In 2007, and for at least a couple of previous years, Alamy’s average price per editorial image licensed stayed at about $130—a lot less than the company’s $220 list price for a quarter-page use. That figure has dropped 21% in two years and is now down to $103. Some of this drop could be because Alamy licenses a lot of rights for newspaper uses as well, but clearly getting $220 for an editorial use is a rarity.

Alamy would not be pricing at these levels unless it were necessary to compete with Getty Images and Corbis. The big publishers get away with pushing the prices down because they purchase lots of non-news related editorial imagery and no one wants to lose that market.

So prices are falling and re-use fees have almost disappeared. More than a 10% change in the content of a book used to constitute a new edition and was subject to an additional image fee. Now, publishers have pushed that up to 25% of the previous—not original—edition, making it possible for them to radically change a title by removing and inserting chapters and still have it qualify as falling under the original license. Since the allowed print runs of current agreements are so high, publishers have tremendous flexibility in modifying the content of a given text before it becomes necessary to pay an additional fee.

Disturbing as these trends are, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Part 2 of this series will discuss electronic uses.

Copyright © 2009 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Jonathan Ross Posted Nov 5, 2009
    Yes, But before and after photos of people losing weight are on the increase as we all get fatter : )

  • Tim Mcguire Posted Nov 5, 2009
    What happens in an economic system where the costs and overhead associated with production are in no meaningful way linked to pricing?

    It seems we're about to find out.

    At least at Alamy the creator of the image gets 60% rather than 30-40% at Getty and Corbis (20% or less for RF at Getty / Corbis).

  • Maggie Hunt Posted Nov 5, 2009
    Another example of Getty relentlessly driving down prices...

  • Jon Feingersh Posted Nov 5, 2009
    Having withdrawn a large body of work from a major agency recently, I've been asked frequently for re-use licensing. In almost all of the cases, the researchers have been willing to negotiate prices higher than the ones listed in this article. Of course, it's worthwhile to negotiate with a sense of humor and reasonableness. But I've found these people, once they know they are dealing with an independent photographer, to be fair and generous. Decide on a price and don't be afraid (within reason) to stick to it.

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