Volume Can Make A Difference

Posted on 1/25/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Many who license their images at Rights Managed or traditional Royalty Free prices believe it is impossible to earn significant revenue licensing images at microstock prices.

Recently, in a blog post on Yahoo’s Stockphoto group, Sean Locke commented that his average return for his last 20 downloads was $7.66 per download.

Rick Becker-Leckrone, CEO of Blend Images said, “Average download return of $7.66 for your last 20 licenses? Sounds like that's a good number for you. That's great. I don't know what a good "rpd" is in micro, but with volume I'm sure that's pretty good stuff. I'm seriously not trying to bust your balls. Just pointing out that everyone has a different threshold and expectation of ROI for their stock imagery. There are plenty of micro photographers receiving .10 "rdp" at Shutterstock and other resellers. Even iStockphoto.”

To a Rights Managed producer $7.66 doesn’t sound like much -- until you understand that Sean had between 60,000 and 70,000 download in 2012. If his average for all of 2012 was $7.66 he would have grossed at least $459,600. It’s also possible that his average for the year was higher. In 2011 I talked with another photographer with over 50,000 downloads for that year whose average per download was $8.60.

Sean joined iStock in August 2004 and has been exclusive since the company started offering exclusive contributors a higher percentage. He has had over 890,000 downloads in his iStock career. However, his downloads were off in 2012 compared to earlier years. In 2011 he had more than 120,000 and in 2010 more than 140,000.

The fact downloads were down doesn’t necessarily mean he earned less than in the previous year. iStock has been steadily increasing its prices. It’s entirely possible Sean earned the same or more in 2012 than in 2011 due to rising prices. But, many iStock photographers, saw significant drops in downloads in 2012, and thus the revenue of Sean and other iStock contributors might have been down as well.

How Many Sales Do Macro Photographers Make?

While $7.66 doesn’t sound like a lot my bet is that very few Blend photographers licensed even 1/10 as many uses as Sean in 2012. An average of $76 per image licensed may not sound that bad to most Blend photographers – even when a few multi-thousand dollar sales are factored in; and considering all the sales being made at Premium Access prices. (See articles here and here.

Sean Locke is the fourth highest earning photographer on iStock. There are dozens of photographers and illustrators on iStock that earn in excess of $150,000 a year. Blend has some of the world’s best and highest revenue producing stock photographers, but I suspect that if we matched revenue earned by the top Blend photographers with the revenue earned from an equal number of top microstock shooters we would find that they are about the same.

My point is that you can choose to license your work as RM, traditional RF or Micro, but in today’s market, that choice is unlikely to have much impact on the revenue you can earn.

Rick Becker-Leckrone’s Additional Comments

I sent a draft of the above to Rick Becker-Leckrone and asked if he had any additional comments. He sent the following:

I think my quote is not being represented as intended in your article.  At least let me clarify my thoughts.

"Sean Locke is a very accomplished and talented stock photographer.  In fact, he will be successful in any licensing landscape - micro, traditional RF, traditional RM, etc.  My point was that there ARE different ways to make money in stock these days.  And that while one photographer might look at "rpd", another might look at "RPI" Ultimately, what each photographer should look for is ROI - regardless of sales system.  My statement was in response to the Google Docs deal, which is entirely similar to other software image bundling deals from years past.  My experience tells me images in the Google Docs collection will have a very low utilization rate.  

“Ultimately, the $12.00 license fee Sean, and Blend, received for this license through Getty's Premium Access will be perceived differently by each photographer.  I thought it was peculiar that a photographer who does well at $7.00 rpd would be upset with a $12.00 rpd on these particular shots.  While we can have arguments about merits of particular licensing deals, what is not in doubt is that Sean and many of his iStockphoto compatriots are extremely accomplished commercial artists.  I meant no disrespect.  Note that Blend, too, has imagery represented at micro prices, at micro agencies.  We do not feel that any one form of image licensing is necessarily superior.  Ultimately, our goal is to match the right image with the right buyer with the right license."

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 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.  


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