How Much Is Too Much For Stock Video And Photography?

How Much Is Too Much For Stock Video And Photography?

Most of the readers of this site I’d wager fall into the category of content creators, not content consumers. That being the case, rants about not being properly compensated for the hard work put in to producing images comes up every so often. But have you ever been on the other side of that situation?

For those of us who want to do the right thing and acquire media legally and ethically, downloading from a google image search won’t cut it. Sure, no one cares when you embed dancing baby gifs on your mom's website or geocities page, but when you’re putting together a project (regardless of budget) that stands to have a bit more attention, enter stock image and video providers.

As a video editor, I’ve had to purchase stock media clips for corporate projects on numerous occasions. Flyovers of smokestacks or underwater welding were requested the by the client, and they weren’t looking to spend thousands of dollars to have me capture original footage (even though I have my SCUBA certification!) Finding and purchasing a clip from a stock website was a piece of cake.

Before I go further though, not all projects are created equal. In today’s world of affordable gear and online tutorials, anyone with a DSLR is a so-called filmmaker. Professionals and enthusiasts are both undertaking passion projects on their own dime and time, and while it waters down the industry a bit, I think it’s pretty cool to see so many people getting psyched to make films.

What got me really thinking about stock media was an article on Fstoppers about a week ago, noting that a media company called British Pathé released 85,000 newsreels onto YouTube for everyone and anyone to watch, or embed on their website. They also license clips for personal and other uses. I explored their library and discovered some great newsreels from the 1950s that would go great in a documentary that I’m self producing. The cost?

$2,619.73 per minute.

To elaborate, just one minute of newsreel footage, regardless of which clip it was, would cost me over $2,500 for usage in perpetuity, as an online stream only (worldwide.) So basically if I bought a clip for a video project destined to be only on YouTube, and just like their content library would be freely viewable, that clip would cost me more than a brand new 24-70 L II lens.


What British Pathé offers is a bit different from typical stock media, so this might be an apples to oranges comparison... In that case, you know what the Pathé media is actually more like? Public domain news reels, which are often clear to use non-commericially or come with a CC license.

To explore a little deeper into stock media price justification, I visited some of my go-to stock media sites and tried to gauge their pricing models.

Artbeats was simple, but offered no adjustment based on reach, usage, or budget. Their clips were royalty-free, and ranged from $200-$500 depending on the resolution you want (sometimes up to 4k.)

I found that iStockPhoto was close to Artbeats in options and pricing. Video clips were $100-$300 depending on resolution, ranging from 640x360 to full HD.

Shutterstock seemed to be the most affordable of the group, with plenty of HD media at about $80 for a single, royalty-free clip. Again, no specific options, just a single blanket license.

Getty presented the most unique offering. They have pricing for Rights-Managed (or Rights-Ready) and Royalty-Free. RF is a straight forward, but rather expensive set of costs for the clip in question, while RM lets you specify your needs and use, thus determining a price.


Depending on the selections, I could use a clip for as little as $230 in a web video, or $7,000 as part of a commerical advertisement. This is a fantastic approach and I’d love to see other media providers with options that gauge the facets of what you need a license for. $230 isn't the cheapest, but it's actually possible to afford compared to thousands of dollars.


I’ve started to see stock music sites using this approach, and it so happens that music is the media I purchase the most, both personally and professionally. I wrote an article a few years ago about the best sites for both pay and non-pay music, and I still reference it today. Look through those and you will see that the quality often matches the cost, with the free or CC licensed options being “just OK.” One of my favorite pay sites is The Music Bed, and while the songs aren’t free for personal projects, they actually inquire into what your budget is, which can make it a bit more affordable for starving artists such as ourselves.

Besides the aforementioned, I don’t see too many sites vetting a project's budget, or specifying use. I suppose it is easier to just sell media as royalty free and slap a price tag on it without other options for custom licenses or usage restrictions. To me, that’s a glaring omission, especially in today’s world of sites like Vimeo and YouTube, where literally thousands of content creators make interesting work, and share it FOR FREE.

Back to the question though– How much is too much for stock media? My corporate clients either budget for it when they need it, or I simply pass on the cost at the time of purchase. What about the self-financed filmmaker who wants to make a short documentary about green technology is his community, just because he thinks it is an important issue and he enjoys filmmaking? I'm seeing more and more of this type of creative poking around with their camera. So that begs the question: when doing a personal project, do you have any options besides scouring the web for Creative Commons licensed media? CC is fantastic for those creators who don’t have the money to purchase media for non-commerical or otherwise personal work. Have you ever used CC-licensed media? Searching for something decent isn’t always easy, and in the end I often find myself settling on an image or music track that is “just OK,” and rarely “great.” You might think that you get what you pay for, but I just don't think it's that simple.

So, here I sit complaining about the cost of media, when I’m a producer of the exact same kind of content. Am I hypocrite for doing that? I don’t think so, but as a purchaser and creator I understand both sides– and when there is a value and when there isn’t– something most stock sites seem to only loosely grasp. I'd be perfectly willing to license a photo or video clip at a huge break, or even for free, when I know that the project it will end up in is only destined for free public consumption in a short online film (or some other limited, free to the public venue.)

Mike Wilkinson's picture

Mike Wilkinson is an award-winning video director with his company Wilkinson Visual, currently based out of Lexington, Kentucky. Mike has been working in production for over 10 years as a shooter, editor, and producer. His passion lies in outdoor adventures, documentary filmmaking, photography, and locally-sourced food and beer.

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My contention is that the way to think about stock photography is to consider that the industry functions on a "search engine" type of business model. There is the possibility of an infinite number of available stock images, just like there is the possibility of an infinite number of possible queries that could be made to a search engine. The way that an image gets attention in stock is the same way that certain links get more hits from search engines. Popularity is based on how "generic" and "common" the query is in the first place.

So what does this mean for photographers when dealing with stock photography? It means that any subject matter that is generic enough to be easily searched for and found is essentially so generic and bathed with competition that it's worthless as an individual image. Images must be able to stand on their own in order to have value. Any type of picture that can be easily defined simply by it's content (like smiling children, falling skateboarders, beach sunsets etc) can only essentially be valued at "bargain basement" type of prices.

The point is that the only way photographers can compete and create work that is worth purchasing for lots of money are images that cannot be easily found in a search. This can only be accomplished by the form or way in which the photograph appears rather than the subject matter contained within it. In other words...FORM TRUMPS CONTENT.

Form is the personal signature of the photographer. So, the only way to find it is to search for the name of the photographer rather than the names of the subject matter in his/her photographs. The bottom line is that form is king in the digital era. Content is dead. If a potential client can only find a photograph by using something other than the name of the photographer then the image is essentially too generic to command any kind of serious dollar value.

In the digital era, the rules have been reversed. Content is dead. Form is now king.

This is one of those articles that you read and then walk away thinking: what was the point?

I had never heard of British Pathe before the announcement they were making their entire catalog available on youtube. And so I watched a few of them and they were awesome. And it is fantastic that such an amazing resource has been put online for us to be able to enjoy for free.

But if you want to licence footage to use in one of your productions? It shouldn't come as a surprise that you would have to pay for it. You can purchase video downloads from the site for personal use for only 30 pounds. Or you can go watch them for free on youtube. But $2,619.73 per minute doesn't sound like that much at all to use it in your own production. British Pathe have their reasons for pricing their footage at the price that they do. And probably one of them is that they don't want their footage used by every Tom Dick and Harry who wants to make a movie.

So I'm not sure what you are asking for. Stock agencies are out there to make a profit. And those profit margins are getting slimmer every day. Its all very well stating that you personally would be happy to give away stuff for free. By all means: give your stuff away for free! But if you expect stock agencies and places like British Pathe to help you make your personal project with discount prices or even offering freebies then you really have to come up with a better argument than "I can't afford it." They not only have a duty to their shareholders, but also have a duty to the people who shot the footage and upload it to the stock site in order to make money. They aren't running charities.

Some agencies (Getty) give you different prices depending who you are, what is the use, where, how long/big etc. Nike will pay $5000 for a video, and someone like Mike can get the same video for $400.
There is no way a private person can afford to pay $2000 for 1 minute of video for a personal project.

But Mike wanted worldwide usage in perpetuity. To get that you pay the Nike price. British Pathe isn't a normal stock agency. They have a unique range of footage and images that no-one else in the world has. They are entitled to charge what they like and what they can get. If Mike really needs the footage he will find the money and pay for it.

How much is too much? When it's out of your particular budget. Generic stock footage of smokestacks or underwater welding can be found almost anywhere for a couple hundred dollars. Specific events from 50 years ago that fit your project are rare and valuable to both the supplier and consumer. So you are correct in the apples to oranges theory.
Just because someone wants to use some footage in their small (low or no budget) project about something they are a supporter of or for their hobby doesn;t mean they should get other peoples stuff for free...

I am looking for representation for my stock footage. Ive shot stock photography for decades and the revenue has continually dropped. I think footage certainly hasn't yet been overly stocked yet. Anyone have any suggestions on who is a good agency to submit to. i am thinking of RM instead of RF this time.

Cheers David