Photo courtesy of Rasputin
I will give my own personal experience.
When I first started out as a photographer around say 1990, rights to pictures were priced according to usage. Magazine publication licensing was priced based on circulation. Publications with wide circulation paid higher licensing fees than publications with limited circulation. This was according to the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers, formerly the American Society of Magazine Photographers.) As I recall a typical licensing fee for a major magazine would be $250 to $2500 or more per image per use. It depended on whether the photo was used on the cover, back page, inside pages, etc.
The the new media came along. At that time I was offered a contract that paid royalties of 2 cents per view. The older ASMP members scoffed at this, saying it was too cheap. I decided to give it a go anyway.
After a few months I was doing OK with this arrangement. In fact I was making so much money the company cut my royalty to 1 cent per view, take it or leave it. I took it. Some pictures made only $5 and the highest ones made about $250. I ended up averaging about $25 per picture. But I was selling photosets of about 100 pictures. For many years I had several thousand pictures with them and was getting a $3000+ royalty check every month.
After about five years this eventually came to an end. By then I was shooting pretty girl photosets for websites that paid about $10 per chrome. Each photoset was 100 to 120 pictures. I would shoot two or three sets in a day. I shot about five sets each week for several years. It paid all the overhead for my studio plus put meat on the table.
Today one of the top internet sites pays just 2 to 6 dollars per image for up to 120 images. It is all top quality photography. They get so many submissions they can reject 95% of it and only accept the cream of the crop.
So let’s review. From $250 per image per use in 1989 for major magazines, to $25 per image in 1994 for online service to $10 per image in 1999 for websites to about $2.50 per image in 2009 for websites.
OK, I rounded off the numbers so it’s not exact, but the pattern is clear. Yes, I would say that photography has been devalued by a factor of 100 over the past two decades. Unfortunately the cost of living, rent, utilities, etc is about double with inflation, so it is really down by a factor of 200.