Beating The Summer Heat

Posted on 7/13/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

The summer heat in Washington has got me thinking about air conditioning. That brought to mind a story I did back in 2006 about air conditioning photos and microstock.

It all started when a customer asked for a stock picture of an air conditioning repairman working on a home system to use in a small yellow pages ad. I didn’t have such a picture and the customer didn’t have much of a budget so it certainly wasn’t worth shooting. It was also the kind of picture that I believed would be hard to find in stock because the subject matter would be of such limited demand.

I thought it would be interesting to see what Getty had on the subject. They had one picture of a man working on a large industrial system. Corbis had three pictures, two on industrial systems and one very nice one on a homeowner’s system. (Today Getty has 4 images and Corbis has 5.) Then I went to iStockphoto. They had 20 images, from two different shoots showing guys working on home systems. One of the images had been downloaded 171 times. In the 16 months since the first one had been uploaded the combined total downloads for all 20 images was 829. (Today a search on iStock for air conditioning repairman produces 138 results.)

While the iStock images were good illustrations given the general subject matter they were not the kind of images that were likely to used in major print ads. Nevertheless, there was obviously a huge demand for this subject matter. It also seemed likely to me that if either of these photographers had shown their images to the editors at either Getty or Corbis they would have been blown off with the comment, "The subject is not something our customers need."

In 2006, Lisa F. Young (Lisafx on iStock) was the photographer who had shot the best selling repairman picture.  She started uploading images to iStock in January 2005 and loaded her repairman pictures in April of that year. Today she has 9 air conditioning repairman pictures on the site and those pictures alone -- from what was obviously less than a day shoot -- have been downloaded from iStock between 2070 and 2790 times. (Given the way iStock reports downloads today I can’t be more precise.) She also has the same images on other web sites on a non-exclusive basis generating a lot more revenue from that shoot.

Another photographer with air conditioning repairman pictures is Frances Twitty (ftwitty on iStock). She uploaded them in September 2005 and currently had 17 images in that collection. Her combined total downloads of this subject are between 3230 and 4210. These figures include one image of a generic “repairman” standing beside a truck that has been downloaded between 900 and 1,000 times.

Twitty is exclusive with iStock and has been contributing images since March 2005. She currently has 2717 images on a variety of subjects in the collection. Her images have been downloaded between 100,000 and 110,000 times. Young has 6890 photos in the iStock collection with total downloads for her iStock career of between 250,000 and 260,000. Young also has other air conditioning repair images shot at a later date that have sold over 1,000 times. These can be found by searching for “air conditioner” alone. They do not contain the keyword repairman, even though there are definitely repairmen in the pictures.

It is amazing to me that there is this much demand from people who are willing to pay a reasonable amount for pictures that clearly illustrate the specific point or real people repairing air conditioners.

Evidently, the photographers who shoot for Getty and Corbis, and the editors at those distributors, are of the same opinion about the demand for such pictures as I was originally because they are not offering a competitive product. Even if they did offer the same type of imagery at their higher prices it is questionable whether they would make anywhere near as many sales. There are customers with different needs and different budgets that macrostock shooter are unwilling to address.

Something to think about as you sit in your air conditioned offices and homes.

Copyright © 2012 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • John C Hills Posted Jul 13, 2012
    Interesting spotlight on demand for long tail niche subjects. Studying the Yellow Pages opens up a panoply of shoot ideas in the "tradesman" sector hitherto dismissed as slow sellers but now perhaps solid earners with fix-it services, locksmiths, lawn carers, pool maintainers waking up to the marketing pull of a strong image on the web.

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