Better Search Algorithms Needed

Posted on 4/8/2020 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Stock photo agencies need to pay more attention to the time limitations of their customers and provide more efficient search options. As image collections get larger and larger searching for the right image becomes harder and harder for the image buyer and requires more and more of that buyer’s time. The problem with the current default search procedures is that customers must look through too many irrelevant images before they find one they can use.

Years ago there used to be professional editing of image collections. That is all gone now. In the color slide days, stock agencies had professional editors who would receive a telephone request from a customer. Then they would go through their files and select a group of images they though might best fit the specific customer’s needs. They didn’t send the customer everything they had that might marginally relate to the customer’s request. They sent a limited, manageable selection for the customer to review. Customers then needed to spend very little of their time choosing an image that would work for their project. This left the customers plenty of time for the other daily activities required to complete their projects.

Recently, in cleaning my office, I went through some old print catalogs from the mid 1990s.

Because it cost money to produce these catalogs all the images in them were flawless. There were no so-so images. There were no several versions of the same situation. Catalog editors carefully picked the best images they had for these catalogs. They were limited in the number of images they could select given the costs of printing these catalogs.  In some cases, the images had already sold a number of times. But in many cases they were new images that had been submitted in the last year, but illustrated the same concepts that had previously sold well. Often these new images had never sold prior to the catalog release.

The amazing thing was that once a catalog was released 70% to 80% of the agency’s revenue came from catalog images and the vast majority of those images were licensed many times.

Agencies like The Image Bank, Tony Stone, The Stock Market and FPG published new catalogs annually for a decade of more. Catalogs normally had a total of between 2,000 and 5,000 images covering the whole range of in-demand subjects. These agencies had millions of images in their file drawers, but most of their sales came from this very small percentage of catalog images. Occasionally, buyers would ask for a deep search of the film files, or a different angle of one of the images they liked. But most of what they bought were images found in the catalogs.

Customers kept all the old catalogs and often chose an image from a catalog that was several years old.

Technology Arrives

Then technology arrived and the strategy became forget about editing. Show the buyers everything we have and let them do their own editing. Let technology do the work.

The agencies liked this strategy because human editors cost money. If they could do away with their agency editors that would increase their profits. The strategy worked alright for a few years when the files were relatively small. But now the files have become so large that buyers must spend a huge amount of their valuable time trying to find something that will work for their projects. The frustrating part for the buyer is that they don’t have time to review all the good images that might work for any given project because they must spend so much time looking through irrelevant images.

New Search Algorithm

Stock agencies have access to FREE professional editors – their customers. Here’s how they could use them.  

Create a New Search Algorithm that would only show Images Previously Licensed (IPL). Here’s how it could work.

1 – Record the date and time every images is licensed.
2 – Only the newest date and time is attached to each image. An image may be licensed several times in a given day, but with each new license the old time is thrown away and the new time is attached.
3 – When a customer does a keyword search the returns include only those images that have been licensed at least once.
4 – Whenever a customer does a search the images are delivered in the time order of when they were licensed.
5 – Customer would know that the images in the IPL database had been licensed by some user at least once.
6 – The first image shown may have been licensed earlier that day or many days earlier if there is not much interest in images with the same keywords.
7 – One image may have been licensed 10 minutes before the current search, and another 2 minutes earlier. The 2 minute images will appear first and one that was licensed only 10 minutes earlier will appear second. The next customer doing the same search may re-license the 2nd image. It will then jump back to the first position for the search of the following customer. If a customer licenses image 45 in a search delivery sequence that image will jump to position number one for the following customer using the same keywords. ?
8 – Agencies could still offer their default “Most Popular” search, which include a certain percentage of new, never used images.

How This Helps Customers

1 – On their initial search customers would not need to review images that had never been licensed. The would know that at least one professional user had purchased the image previously. If the image is found in the first few pages of a search return the customers will wll also know that it was probably used fairly recently by someone.
2 – If the customer wants an image that has never been used by anyone they would still have the option of searching the “Newest” or “Never Used” collection.
3 - If a customer licenses an image from the “Never Used” collection it will appear at the top of the IPL search return order for the next person doing a search using the same keywords and will no longer be found among the Never Used images. If no one else decides to use that image it will slowly work its way down in the IPL search depending on its time stamp.
4 – Some of the images at the bottom of the IPL search may have been licensed multiple times, but the last time was years earlier. If these older images are in a collection of only licensed images it is more likely that new customers will see them than if they are buried among all the never used images in the current “Best Match” searches.
5 – If the “last time licensed” information is attached to each Preview image, the buyer would have some idea of the demand for the general subject matter (with the same keywords). The buyer could look at the 10th or 100th image in the search return order and determining the license date for those images.
6 – Most customers would spend much less of their valuable time searching for an image that fits their needs than they are required to do now.
7 – Agencies could still offer their default “Most Popular” search, which include a certain percentage of new, never used images.
8 - Because an IPL search would generally be more efficient for most customers the agency might be able to charge a 20% (or more) premium for images found using that search.
9 - Another IPL feature could be to allow customers to search for more images like the one found in the IPL collection. This search might pull up several different variations of the same situation that had never been used.
10 - Customers might also be given the option to search for other images by the same photographer. This could include all of the photographer’s images with the same keywords.

Copyright © 2020 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


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