Archive for photography income

Rant – Free Stock Photos

Posted in Controversy, Rants, Stock Photography with tags , , on May 23, 2009 by Darwin

One of the big pieces of news this week in the stock photography industry is the announcement by Fotolia, a micropayment stock photo site, of free downloadable stock photography. They have branded their free stock site as PhotoXpress where registered users can download as many as 10 free images a day. Fotolia hopes to bait new users into using stock photography by offering free photos. The move will likely also drive traffic from competing microstock sites. More and more web users expect to be able to download free music, videos, and pictures. Many companies are meeting this expectation and are now offering free stuff to drive traffic to their sites where they hope they might hook customers to buy ‘higher end’ products, in this one, two or three dollar images.

Now you might suspect that as a stock photographer myself I would be outraged by this business practice. I am not. I can totally understand the Cocaine Tactics used here (give em free photos, get ’em hooked’ on the idea of using photos and hopefully they will become addicted and start paying for their habit). Is this idea good for photographers? Probably not. But neither is access to free music downloads or file sharing and most photographers I know are happy to take free music and other goodies off the web (legally and illegally) yet complain that agencies are giving away their photos for free! I guess musicians don’t deserve royalties but photographers do?

When this story broke on PDN the comments from photographers were predictable – see here. Almost all the photographers were outraged, but guess where they directed their outrage – to wanna be’s. Most pro stock photographers blame amateur, part-time, newbie photographers for all the ills of the industry. The pros curse these ‘low life scums’ for taking money out of their pockets. The solution according to many pros is to ‘educate’ the wanna be’s so these newbie’s don’t give away their photos for free. What a Utopian and naive notion! That somehow human behaviour can be regulated, that in a free market you can get everybody to agree on a minimum price, or that there won’t be somebody willing to sell their stuff for less than the next person. C’mon, really?

The old school of stock pros long for the days of film, large license fees per image, and a healthy monthly royalty payment (totally understandable, I wanna go back myself!). The fact is the world has changed. The good old boys are looking for someone to blame for their dropping stock sales and the easy target is the weekend warrior. The old business models in stock are forever gone, either you change, adapt and innovate yourself or you watch your income die each month. Lamenting the old model and blaming the wanna-be’s is a waste of time IMO. There is still money to be made in photography, you just gotta be open to new ideas, new revenue streams and creative innovation.

As far as microstock goes, most small business owners I know regularly buy images from places like Fotolia and iStockphoto. Hell, if I did not make my own photos, I would get stuff from these sources as well! Offering up free photos likely will get customers who never bought stock before to test out the market. As a business move, I think value added services like a line of free photos is a move more and more stock agencies will adopt. As a photographer, you can decide if you want to be part of this movement, or go off on your own tangent. The wanna be’s are not responsible for either your success or your failure, you are. So stop moaning and move on, rethink your business!

Image supplied free from PhotoXpress

Image supplied free from PhotoXpress


The Starving Artist – A Painful Reality?

Posted in Marketing with tags , , , on February 13, 2009 by Darwin

The Artist in Canada

The poor starving artist–a cliche for sure, but what is the truth? Do artists really live in their tiny basement suites, eating instant noodles, and wearing the same black jeans and shirt for months on end? According to the results from the 2006 Canada Census the stereotype is pretty accurate. In a report released in February of 2009 by Hills Strategies Research Inc it was found that artists make significantly less than the average Canadian working wage.

Here are a few interesting facts from the report:

  • 62% of artists earn less than $20,000 per year
  • the average earnings of artists are $22,700 per year
  • only 13% of artists make greater than $50,000 per year
  • a typical artist in Canada earns less than half the typical earnings of all other Canadian workers
  • between 1990 and 2005, the average earnings of artists decreased by 11% (after adjusting for inflation)
  • on average, female artists earn 28% less than the average earnings of male artists

For the complete report go here:

Although the census results did not specifically include photographers, I am pretty confident that as a group photographer’s incomes would be similar to other artists. 

What about Photographers?

In May of 2007, Photo District News published a summary of stock photography income. Keep in mind that since then the economy has gone downhill, the percentages paid to photographers have decreased, and the health of the stock photo industry is poorer. So take these numbers as optimistic!

Here are a direct quotes from the survey:

  • Those who reported that the majority of their stock income came from sales made through a traditional stock agency earned an average of $85,400 (from all types of photography) during 2006, and just under half of that ($40,600) came from stock photography sales. Self-distributors—those who earned the majority of their stock income selling directly to clients—earned $68,700 on average and only about 35% of that ($24,000) came from stock sales.
  • For any given distribution category, men earned more on average than women. The difference was most pronounced among agency photographers, where stock incomes for men were twice as high on average as those of women. ($45,750 v. $22,780).
  • Photographers who reported that the majority of their income is from royalty-free sales earned $63,200 on average from stock sales last year. Those who reported the majority of their income was from rights managed sales generated an average of $38,500 in 2006 stock sales.
  • Comparing the performance of various agencies, those that appear to provide the most stock income to their contributors are Getty and Corbis. Respondents from those agencies averaged $63,100 and $58,600 in 2006 stock income, respectively. Masterfile photographers were a distant third, averaging $38,300 in 2006 stock income, and Jupiter Images photographers were fourth at $26,900, which was barely ahead of self-distributors’ 2006 stock income.

Remember that most photographers that get into stock agencies like Getty and Corbis are top tier shooters, they are consistent producers that are driven and motivated so I think the numbers above represent a higher return than we would see with general photographers.

The Department of Labor in the US actually lists incomes of photographers, with the most recent data coming from May 2007. The mean annual wage for photographers is roughly $34,000! This includes all types of photography from commercial advertising shooters to photojournalists to fine-art photographers. I think the US results portray an accurate reality based on what I know my friends and colleagues make. 

So… you wanna be a photographer? Well, you’ll need to do it for love, not money. If you think it is a wise career decision to put food on the table, then maybe try applying at the Golden Arches, at least you get all the fries you can eat!