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Return Per Image (RPI) from My Microstock Portfolio – 3 Year Trends

12 June 2011 No Comment

RPI (Return per Image) is potentially very useful statistics for a stock photography portfolio. However, there is a lot of controversy around it. Some microstock contributor consider RPI completely worthless. Others are using to predict future earnings from microstock or to estimate how many pictures they need to add to a portfolio to reach a certain level of earnings. There is also a common belief that RPI has to go down with a growing portfolio.

RPI as any other statistics to be meaningful must be based on a sufficient number of data. So, it is not a really reliable for a small portfolio or for an agency with low sales. There is certain irony here, since it would be the most useful when we just starting submitting to microstock.

Calculating RPI is straightforward for a single agency – just divide earnings from sales by the number of pictures in your portfolio there for a given time period, e.g., a month. It is getting more complicated when you are submitting pictures to multiple agencies. You cannot calculate RPI separately for each agency and then add those numbers together. That would be mathematically incorrect. You need to use the same number of pictures for each agency, e.g., the average size of your portfolio.

To derive the total RPI for my portfolio I am using the total number of pictures prepared for microstock. After 3.5 years of my microstock adventure I have around 3400 pictures in my stock portfolio: 64% in iStockphoto, 82% in Shutterstock, 60% in Dreamstime and 64% Fotolia counting just the 4 top agencies. I do not analyze separately other agencies with lower sales, instead I am looking at total sales from them as “others” (Bigstock, 123RF, Canstock, Veer, Graphic Letfovers, Deposit Photos, Panther Media, StockFresh, FeaturePics)

Return Per Image (RPI) in microstock

The graph above shows the total RPI for my microstock portfolio and RPI for IS, SS, DT, FT and other agencies for the last 3.5 year. Thin lines represent monthly RPI, while thick lines are 5 month running averages to make trends more visible. I scaled values for each month to a 30 day month to eliminate influence of a month length. It also allows me to show data for a partial month (11 days of June 2011).

I wouldn’t pay too much attention for my first year with turbulent changes in RPI. It just proofs my point that it is difficult to make any predictions based on RPI derived from a small portfolio.

RPI for DT, FT and others are quite low, but they show some growth. Graphs for IS and SS which are major players in my microstock earnings are more interesting. During 2008/2009 I had a higher RPI from SS than IS, then IS took a leading position. Unfortunately, IS is experiencing clear downhill trend for a last year or so. It would be even much worse without the recently introduced photo+ collection. RPI for SS started to grow, but it still cannot catch IS.

My overall RPI (black line) is still growing (after the initial year), but can I use it to make any predictions? After filtering out the monthly variations this trend is pretty smooth. That’s somewhat encouraging in the current situation of microstock industry with many bad changes for contributors.

RPI doesn’t show the entire story. It ignores expenses and labor used to create images. In the past I made some attempts to include these in my statistics, estimating even my hourly rate. However, it is not easy, especially, when microstock photography is only my part time job. There is no problem with estimating expenses, at least, on annual basis since they are calculated for tax purposes anyway, but I am not so ready to record my time spent on photography.

Related posts:
6 months later UPDATE: Microstock Portfolio Return Per Image (RPI) – 2009-2011 Trends
Growth of My Microstock Portfolio in 4 Top Agencies
Earnings from Microstock Photography – 3 Year Trends
Big 4 in My Microstock Portfolio
Am I Really Making Money from Microstock Photography ? Part 1 and Part 2
My microstock referral links for photographers:
Dreamstime, ShutterStock, BigStockPhoto, 123RF, FeaturePics, Panthermedia, CanStockPhoto, DepositPhotos, Graphic Leftovers

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