Thursday, September 29, 2011

Lessons From Stock Photo Sales Reports

A baby boomer couple enjoy flying a colorful kite on an ocean beach in this lifestyle stock photo. 
This lifestyle image of a couple flying a kite on a beach is a best selling image...but why?

Everything Sells
Once again I have been studying my stock photo sales reports trying to glean some insights on how to grow my income based on what is and what isn’t selling. As I have reported before, my inevitable conclusion is that everything sells, some photos sell more than others, and it is just about impossible to predict which images will become best sellers.

Everything Sells, Predicting Winners Is Tough
When I say everything sells what I really should be saying is that in my experience images from every shoot sell, and images in every category sell. Predicting which images will do well is tough. Images that I don’t expect to make a lot of sales do, and images that I expect to sell well often don’t. To further confuse the situation, images may go for years before suddenly making a lot of sales, or conversely, can have an explosive start and then suddenly stop. I am regularly surprised, when I look at the sales history of individual images, at how some images that I assume have little or no sales, are suddenly up to a thousand, two thousand, or even more in revenue.  It happens frequently!  The image of a couple flying a kite at the top of this blog (with Blend Images) is a good example. Over the last five years that image has earned thousands of dollars…while other similar images from the same shoot have earned very little or nothing. I can’t figure out why. 

New Versions Of Best Selling Images
In addition to the confirmation that everything (all types of images) sells, and that I cannot predict which ones will be the best sellers, I have found that my attempts to create new versions of best selling images has virtually always failed.  Even if they do succeed, they are probably cannibalizing sales from the first image.  I have also come to the conclusion that whether an image is RF or RM is not nearly as important as the image itself.  A great selling image works in either RF or RM. Sure, in RM there are those images that sell once for several thousand dollars and then never sell again, and that’s fine, but a great selling image sells multiple times in whatever licensing model it is in. In terms of total revenue earned, my top earning images are about half RF and half RM.

OK, so to summarize:

All kinds of  images sell.

I cannot predict which images will be best sellers.

Sometimes images take years to “mature”.

It is almost impossible for me to successfully duplicate my best selling images.

The image is more important than the licensing model.

Sage Advice And Photographers Who Are Making It Work
When I look at those conclusions it helps remind me of some sage advice given to me by Tom Grill…who practically invented stock photography. He said “What ever your plan is…keep doing it.” My plan is to create compelling and creative images that either have a clear use in the marketplace, or are so fun to look at that art directors will find a way to use them, and to get those images in front of buyers. That last part is probably the most important part…get the images in front of buyers. Even the coolest image in the world won’t sell if nobody sees it. Obviously you want to make creative images with high production values and strong concepts. You want to diversify the imagery you make so you don’t cannibalize your own body of work, and you need to get those images out and into circulation. The photographers I know who consistently do this are doing well.


Gail Houghton said...

Hi John,

As a photographer, how do I get my photos in front of those who are buying or who may want to buy? I have a website which gets lots of action but that action comes from browsers, not buyers.

Thanks, Gail Houghton

John Lund said...


I make hundreds of sales a month by having my images with major stock distributors (Getty, Blend, Corbis, SuperStock, etc.). I supplement those sales (licenses?) with my web traffic.

Do you have any work represented by stock agencies?


Anonymous said...

I don't think that is true - the every categorie sells (well) - and I also don't think you shoot every category. I don't see you shooting landscapes, architecture, health & beauty, or at least these categories are very thin in your collections. I think you focus most on concepts and business, some of the best selling categories :)

John Lund said...


Good points...I don't shoot everything and I mainly create highly composited concept images. That being said, when I look at my sales reports I am looking at the work of ten photographers and 7000 images...which does give me a bit broader perspective. But, you are right in that those images are primarily lifestyle, business and concept images.

Thanks for keeping me on the straight and narrow!


Jaak Nilson said...

I understood that lot of topics are not a very good sellers. Like travel and landscape. Why. Because a photographer must create an images that your colleague can not do. You have to minimize a competition. If you are shooting main travel during your vacation trip then you have to compete with professionals and lot of amateurs too. Rivalry is too high. If a shooter can do a travel concept then a s/he could sell them very well.