Less and Less of Less: The Stock Photographers Problem

This image above was licensed through one of my stock photo distributors. The license granted to the client was for the cover of a textbook, on up to 100,000 printed copies and unlimited e-books (no # given so it seems it was just thrown in to the deal and they could sell as many e-books as they want), English language only, the image would be across the whole cover, and the duration of this license is for 10 years.

For all of that use of my image I will get paid $135 which is 60% of the gross license amount of $225. The other 40% goes to the distributor. This is one of the best revenue splits in the stock industry among the large distributors of imagery (most big distributors take at least 70% of the gross fee). So for 10 years use of my image on up to 100,000 book covers and seemingly unlimited e-book covers I get $135.

I then did the math to see what I would get per printed book cover if they printed as many as they legally could, which is 100,000. It turns out I would get .00135 cents per book cover (135 thousandths of a cent per printed book). The textbook publisher would be paying .00225 cents per printed book cover in total. Even if the publisher only printed 20,000 books they’d still only be paying .01125 cents per book for the cover.

I then asked myself what an average textbook is sold for these days. With a little online searching I saw that printed textbook costs have been spiraling upward in recent years and that e-books through Apple are coming in at $14.99 for an electronic version of the book (no printing no paper and online delivery). That $14.99 is 11,103 times more than what I received to provide the cover art for one printed book. I found that in 1999 the average cost of a college textbook was $61.61 (that’s 12 years ago). I also found that ” A General Accounting Office report in 2005 noted that textbook prices rose 186 percent in the U.S. from 1986 to 2004″. That is certainly not the case for textbook photo licenses in that same time period.

For fun let’s say this printed textbook costs a student or consumer $25.00. This is very cheap by textbook standards. The publisher would have to sell 10 of these books to cover the license to use my image on the cover of 100,000 books and unlimited e-books for 10 years. So if they sell 1/10,000 of the total they can sell they will have covered the cost of my photograph. If the book retails at the average cost of a college textbook in 1999 then the publisher would only have to sell 4 printed books to cover the cost of licensing my photograph.

My point is that considering the potential number of books being sold (both printed and electronically), the license fee for my image is an extremely small amount and would still be low if the license fee were doubled. If it were doubled, I would be happier with the license and be able to have a sustainable stock photography business and career. My guess is that the publisher would also still have a sustainable business especially with the lower costs of producing e-books coming into the mix.

Low price points and lowering revenue splits for photographers by the major stock image distributors (in order to keep their businesses viable) are the two biggest problems for pro photographers in the stock photography business.





2 Responses to “Less and Less of Less: The Stock Photographers Problem”

  1. Doing the math, it could really make one spiral downward.
    On the other hand, how do you get that image out to
    the world at a better price. With agencies that take 70%
    for out of home country, it is a real challenge to forge ahead.
    It is an exercise for the innovator to come up with new ideas
    of marketing. Even when Photographers needed to stick together
    new blood came in and undercut. Corporations grew so fast
    that it swept us.
    You love what you do and have day jobs(!) and still pursue
    your passion.

    • Tim McGuire Images Says:

      Hi Mary Kate,

      When I was confronted with the irrefutable facts that I could no longer expect enough of a return on my image production to make a profit, I spent a few months brainstorming and eventually wrote out a way to move forward as a stock photographer and I’ve been working for over two years to make that plan work. It is called Evostock. Anyone interested can learn more about it at http://www.evostock.org. The searchable site is at http://www.evostock.com.

      The basic premiss of evostock is to eliminate the middleman, meaning creators of imagery receive the great majority of gross licensing revenues if not 100%). There’s much more to it than just doing away with the middleman (distributor) but that is the main change that makes the price points being paid in the market today become a sustainable amount for professional photographers trying to run profitable businesses and maintain a liveable lifestyle.

      The idea of Evostock and the implementation of those ideas present many hurdles to clear before it becomes viable but it is moving forward and we (94 us us so far) intend to start marketing it this year if enough support can be garnered from our growing membership of professional photographers.

      Please join us!

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