Does Constantly Adding Images To A Stock Collection Make Sense?

Posted on 4/10/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (6)

If you’re goal is to earn a significant portion of your livelihood from the images you produce, and you already have a significant number of the best image you know how to produce with all the agencies and distributors who represent your work, does it make sense to regularly add even more images of the same general subjects to these collections?

Most stock agencies and distributors will tell you that the media partners that submit an average of 200-500 new images per month see the best results. Even when sales overall are down for the agency “they’re not hit so hard in the decline,” one distributor said.

A Few Things To Recognize

    1 - Agencies have virtually no production costs when adding new images. (Yes, there are upload and storage costs, but these are minor compared to the image creators out of pocket costs and time involved in producing new images.)

    2 – To entice customers to keep coming back agencies believe they must tell them that they are constantly adding new, better and more updated images to their collections. (They do this despite the fact that new is not always better, and there are a huge number of subjects like wildlife and still lifes where newness has very little relevance to the user.)

    3 – Most agencies that license RM and traditional RF (I’ll call these uses Premium) organize search returns delivered by including a certain percentage of new images mixed with images that have been in greatest demand recently. Microstock agencies do the same in their Best Match or Most Relevant searches, but they also give customers the option of organizing searches by “Most Popular.” In this case the images are ordered based on most downloads over a period of time. New images that have never been downloaded fall at the bottom of the search return order.

    4 – Art buyers are busy. They don’t have lots of time to look at every image returned with a given search. Getty has reported that very few buyers will look at more than three pages of thumbnails (roughly 600 images) before changing the search parameters or going somewhere else to find what they need.
If you’re a Premium shooter consider this. In 2006 Getty had 1,767,214 Premium images in its collection and licensed almost 1.7 million uses. In 2014 they had over 10 million Premium images in the collection. There is every indication that they licensed quite a bit fewer than 1.7 million uses in 2014. Their average price per image licensed in 2014 was probably less than half of what they charged in 2006. In 2006 total Premium revenue was $634 million. By 2014 Premium revenue had dropped to $280 million for the year. Getty’s Premium revenue has been steadily declining for the last 8 quarters.

Most other Premium sellers have seen declines, although in many cases not quite as bad as Getty. (For more info see here.) Many customers that used to buy Premium imagery are finding what they need for most projects on Microstock and Subscription sites.

Odds Of New Images Being Seen

Most agencies and distributors are growing their collections dramatically. I decided to check Shutterstock for a popular subject to see how many returns I received. Two years ago Shutterstock had 25 million images in its collection. Today, they have over 52 million. It is not hard to imagine the collection doubling again in another two years.

Using three keywords I searched for “woman, computer, office.” In the Relevant mode I got 130,956 returns.  In the Popular mode I got 131,133 returns that had all three words. Remember buyers may make their choice from the first 600 delivered.

Then I chose image 158856656 from Wavebreakmedia. Wavebreakmedia has almost 289,000 total images on Shutterstock. Probably most of these same images are on many other microstock sites.

There were 39 keywords attached to image 158856656. When I searched for each word individually, I got the following number of returns per word.

woman 7,545,479
business 6,114,904
swivel chair 4,312
tablet computer 657,329
attractive 4,185,483
corporate 1,208,147
sitting 1,387,397
well dressed 113,199
tablet 429,469
caucasian 4,583,290
female 6,525,552
touching 470,961
tehnology 3,215,658
computer 2,059,739
elegant 4,072,540
scrolling 441,673
brown hair 479,869
20s 631,578
pc 442,081
young adult 3,679,559
tablet pc 657,327
touchscreen 133,227
smart 589,605
classy 99,189
businesswoman 705,505
professional 1,531,601
electronic 714,383
stylish 1,416,425
workplace 219,768
beautiful 132,825
using 253,837
computer monitor 372,801
indoors 1,558,571
office 2,019,962
brunette 1,149,405
pretty 3,371,745
screen 631,652
long hair 667,630
digital tablet 235,398

If customers are only going to look at the first 600 images shown consider how many are unlikely to be seen.

Interestingly the word with the fewest number of returns was “swivel chair,” but if you look at the picture it is hard to tell that’s what the woman is sitting on. Also, how often will an art director care about that aspect of an image or think to use that word.

It is possible for an art director to dramatically narrow the search by getting more and more specific with each search request. But the more words they have to enter to get a manageable number of returns the greater the odds that one of those words the AD uses won’t be on your list of keywords for that general subject. Here are a few examples:

woman tablet computer 60,741
woman tablet computer indoors 13,838
woman tablet computer office 15,477
woman tablet computer scrolling 3,342
woman tablet computer office brunette 859
woman tablet computer office classy 369
woman tablet computer office 20s 1,521
woman tablet computer office 20s sitting 686
woman tablet computer office 20s swivel chair 131
woman tablet computer office 20s scrolling 150

And the art director knows that the more they narrow their searches to see just a few images, the more likely they are to miss seeing good images that didn’t happen to have one or more of the keyword they used.


If you don’t continue to add images on a regular basis there is a high likelihood that most, if not all, of your images will be buried so deep in a very short period of time that they will be seldom, if ever, seen.

If you happen to have an easily identifiable niche that few others shoot and your images are well keyworded with words that only buyers of your niche use then your images may have a much longer useful life. However, there are very few such niches. To determine if you niche is one of them search the major agency websites for your niche.

If you determine that you must constantly add new images in order to generate a reasonable number of sales, then the key question is can you produce those new images at a low enough cost (remember to include your time) to cover your expenses and turn a profit. More and more top revenue producers from the past are discovering they can’t.

Copyright © 2015 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:  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Apr 10, 2015
    Jim. you are always about doom. We add a lot of new images & video clips every three-four months. And they often sell right away and seem to have a long shelf life.

    You seem to think Getty rules --- they don't! There are many other good agencies.

    I often think of stopping your newsletter because you are always so negative. I do not live my life that way. I am giving a Weekend Seminar on stock on April 24th and it is sold out. I have helped others be successful -- perhaps you need to take one of mine!

  • Tibor Bognar Posted Apr 11, 2015
    I'm working with several major agencies and I do find that if I reshoot a subject I've done a long time ago the new images have a better chance of being sold. Most agencies have search filters enabling the client to see recently uploaded images first. One also often sees clients requests like "not more than 2 years old image". Finally, the world does change very rapidly: I shoot worldwide travel destinations, and - for instance - if you go back to a major Asian city like Shanghai or Singapore after a 3 year absence you barely recognize the place so much it has changed.

    Having said that, we all know that stock photography is rapidly declining and I certainly wouldn't recommend a promising 20 year old to embark on a stock career. I'm sure Bill's seminar is excellent, but how many of his students will actually end up earning a living from photography? If I was 40, I would sell my cameras and start doing something else. I'm much more than that and at a certain point in your life it's too late to become a brain surgeon... So, I keep shooting and try to hang on as long as I can. It all depends on your individual situation.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Apr 11, 2015
    Good comment, Tibor. I do realize that almost all of my students will not reach the level of success that I have --- hey, I have a big head start!

    My goal for them as I start the seminars (and I tell them that) is to get 10 good agencies and have those 10 sell -- at minimum --- $2000 per year! That is not too difficult to start in the first 1-2 years. But that is an EXTRA income of $20,000 per year. They have other sources of income then also, but that $2000 may grow to $3000 per year per agency, etc.

    That continues and they have nice income, even if they are close to retirement. And they love photography, so they are doing what they love, seeing their work published and paying for all the new cameras and traveling, etc. Some will go way past that, but that is our starting goal.

    And it has worked for so many of my people over the years. It is not the "Golden Time" that is was, but I tell them not to go to Microstock EVER! Their work is worth more than that!

    Jim is my friend, but he speaks only of DOOM. Then he tells people to go send to Microstock and wonders why these photographers can't succeed! I think positively and have my entire career.

  • Richard Gardette Posted Apr 12, 2015
    I don't look for " positivity " or negativity in a newsletter, I look for reality.
    The business of image stock has been in a permanent crisis for a decade and one of the reasons is overproduction which has acted as a weapon of mass destruction.
    I think Jim is perfectly in his role to tell us the truth.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Apr 13, 2015

    I like Jim, please understand. Yes, we are not making what we used to --- but it is not as bad as Jim declares all the time. The worst part is that he constantly tells people to go to Microstock for sales because there are more sales. Yes, more sales, but t=for so little! Even the Microstoack guru Yrui Arcurs now says you can not make a living with Microstock.

    Yet Jim thinks that RM and RF is not the way to go. I have NEVER done one image in Microstock and do not do stills in RF (I do in Video Clips). I do fine with RM and think if you shoot the right stuff and get good reps, you can do well.

    So the truth is not to go into Microstock .... period!

  • Richard Gardette Posted Apr 14, 2015

    I have stopped producing stills in 2006, without external warning, just watching the evolution of content and market. Never been in micro.
    And I still get some income from 10 or 15 year old RM stills.
    I try now to produce video (animation) and it works not so bad, but I would never spend a penny in producing again stills, never !

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