Clients Speak Out

Posted on 12/6/2003 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



December 6, 2003

    The following article first appeared in PICTURE Magazine, published in New York
    for the semi-professional photographer community. The author, Pat Hunt, is VP of
    Corporate Relations at Index Stock Imagery, and a writer for various photographic

By: Pat Hunt

Photographers have a lot to say about the stock photo business. They're always
talking on chat lines and discussing issues in their various trade organizations.
Stock photo agents have a lot to say about stock photography: how to edit, how
to submit, what to shoot, how to style, what markets to chase, and what
represents quality. Photography publications churn on and on about the stock
business -- who's opening, who's closing, who's merging, who's moving, who's
suing, and who's making money. What do the stock licensing clients have to say?
Who are they? What do they license? How do they find it, and what are they still
in need of? Better yet, how do they visualize the future of the stock industry?

Sixteen clients helped draw a road map for today by responding to a current
survey. Two thirds of this group is editorially focused, and one third are more
commercial, but their needs and visions for the future are similar, and they have
a lot of insights to express, with wisdom to impart.

Stock clients burn through an incredible volume of imagery. One third of
these respondents use from 1000 to 5000 images per year. The commercial group
averages closer to 100 images per year, leaning more toward featured images for
advertising, signage, posters, packaging, and gift cards.

Subject categories and image styling remain as varied as ever. "Lifestyle",
in one form or another, continues to be the operative word.
Crabtree &
Evelyn describes this as: "luxury woman, spa and illustration". Weekly Reader
needs "up-to-date, fresh, multi-cultural, professional quality, colorful images".
Scholastic is looking for "classroom or children involved in various activities:
sports, family; natural history, to photo-journalistic; style - straightforward,
artistic, but not abstract". Christian Science Publishing is looking for "images
of people that are natural looking, plus current news and conceptual imagery".

Concepts and travel imagery are important to the industry. Acumentrics
(fuel cell business) needs images that portray "clean, efficient leading edge
technology- stand alone and apart from the rest". Citigroup (banking and
finance) needs to express "affluence". Avanti (greeting cards) needs to describe
"a specific positive sentiment: support, friendship, happy birthday/holiday and
sympathy". Steck Vaughn wants to say that "learning is fun and important", while
Scholastic tries "to open a child's mind". Frommers (travel) wants to describe
"how wonderful it is to go to a particular destination" -- "can't wait to go!!"

When asked which is more important -- image quality, subject or price,
virtually every client expressed that "all three" are important.
Quality and
subject matter seem to lean toward number one for the commercial clients, as
editorial publishers have very tight budgets. Steck Vaughn states: "we
illustrate the text, so #1 the photo must match the spec, #2 it must be a great
photo (composition, lighting, the 'wow' factor) and #3 affordable."

Do clients discern between Rights Managed images and Royalty Free images?
Some felt the choice of RF to still be "generic and bland". However it is
valuable for images that will be reused, projects with tight budgets, and images
used for thumbnails or layouts. As Avanti expresses: "we ask for industry
exclusive, for images used by themselves, but will buy non-exclusive photos for
use as 'elements' of a larger composite image". Fodors claims: "Rights Managed
usually has more variety to choose from, has more interesting composition and

The days of extensive research for clients by stock agents seems to be waning,
as most of them expressed that they prefer to do their own searching.
Pequot is still an example of one who would prefer to do their own, "but don't
have time". In this era of sophisticated e-commerce sites and extensive
keywording, most clients rely on agents only in time of tight publishing
schedules. Virtually all clients work digitally, employing lightboxes, and high
res download, but a few will still view transparencies. As the Frommers
representative claims: "I far prefer my own research. I usually have to redo it
when someone else tries to help. That has been consistently true for all

Comments vary on the stock agency sources available today. Acumentrics
claims: "I seem to be able to find what I'm looking for. Pricing is negotiable
and seems fair. Guidelines in determining prices seem a bit rigid for some minor
uses". Avanti states: "Not a lot of agency sources left, I'm afraid.
Exclusivity is a MAJOR problem with the larger agencies. There are many Royalty
Free sources, but content seems to be the same all across the board".

Jones and Bartlett says: "we can usually find what we need through government
agencies and stock agencies. Price is the first consideration". Weekly Reader
laments: "our tight budgets keep us from searching some photo vendors all
together". Steck Vaughn relates a current trend of the times: "we are moving
into using a one-size-fits-all for interior pages, basing the price on the print
run instead of the size it runs on the page". Creative Publishing claims:
"bigger agencies are definitely easier, quicker and more convenient to work with
-- quality is not as consistent and the rights less predictable".

Frommers warns: "agencies need better editors! Some sites are hard to navigate,
or simple word searches become huge piles of photos to wade through". Fodor's
concern is that "Getty and Corbis have too much of a monopoly --I favor smaller
agencies and photographers". Cook Ministries complains: "Getty has increased
their prices mostly beyond our means". Heinemann Publishing is concerned that
there are "not enough historical agencies and not enough agencies with full
online research capabilities".

To name a few names, Scott Haag, freelance photo researcher, enjoys "Index,
Superstock, and Nonstock". His favorite RF search site "Creatas and
Picturequest". Creative Publishing names Baeateworks, Index, Brandx, Corbis,
Getty, and Veer. Frommers' favorites are Getty, Corbis and Alamy. Favorites of
Cook Ministries are Corbis, Index and Superstock.

Insights into the future are very telling from the client's point of view.
Acumentrics imagines that: "the pricing and selection/ease of use will improve
as the technology permits. Perhaps a yearly fee for use of any imagery up to a
certain number of images" will be available. Avanti foresees that: ""more and
more photographers will shoot digitally and film will be a thing of the past".
Frommers fears that: "photographers are going to get squeezed out of the market,
in favor of hugh corporations without character, dictating the look and feel of
images". Jones and Bartlett foresees "more images available online, better
quality and selection, and fewer stock houses!"

Christian Science Publishing notes that there will be "easier ways to enter
complex search requirements so that you don't end up with hundreds of images that
have nothing to do with what you're looking for". Fodors predicts: "everything
will eventually be converted to digital format and all research will be done

With that in mind, I asked three of the large agents to express the five top
attributes of their e-commerce sites, where everything is done online. The
answers are as follows:


  • Overall appearance, navigation, and ease of use.

  • Quality and quantity of images.

  • Number of thumbnails displayed per page (controlled by user).

  • Ease of viewing image enlargements.

  • Superior Lightbox functionality-including ability to preview, share, and
    e-mail lightbox contents.


  • Advanced search capabilities help customers find the most relevant images
    to fit their needs.

  • Creativity throughout the site promotes new potential for creative

  • The industry's most innovative search, download and purchase capabilities
    are featured.

  • Service is always available and hassle-free.

  • Customers have digital access to the world's largest selection of images


  • 650,000-image library covers extensive lifestyle, travel, nature, abstract
    or scenic.

  • Users customize the site to their tastes -- how many images,illustrations,
    B&W images, panoramics, RF or RM, PC-style interface or brushed-chrome

  • Large customers who want custom pricing can have it built into the site for

  • Search works well with both long strings of complex text and successive
    "narrows" of single terms.

  • The Customer Awards Program gives users points for each dollar spent,
    redeemable with coupons at merchants.

Thank you to the following for their participation in the survey:

Scott Haag -- Freelance Photo Researcher

Nick Leoutsakos -- Acumentrics

Bridget Hoyle -- Avanti Press

Candice Stern -- Citigroup

Holly Burk -- Crabtree & Evelyn

Julie Caruso -- Creative Publishing

Louis Bruno -- Jones and Bartlett Publishing

Julie Alissi -- Weekly Reader

Alyx Kellington -- Steck Vaughn

Melanie Marin -- Fodors

Sondra Robbins -- Cook Ministries

Richard Fox -- Wiley/Frommers

Iris Wong -- Heinemann Publishing

Yvonne Silver -- Scholastic

Wendy Rankin -- Christian Science Publishing

Saralyn D'Amato -- Globe Pequot

Corbis -- Erling Aspelund, Dir. Of Web Productions

Getty Images -- Deb Trevino, VP of Corp. Communications

Index Stock Imagery -- Bahar Gidwani, CEO

Copyright © 2003 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 301-251-0720, 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:  


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