Free Research Fee Sham

Posted on 1/10/1997 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)


Free Research Fee Sham

January 10, 1997

The following article by Royce Bair, director of Stock Solution in Salt Lake
City appeared recently on the Stockphoto site on the Internet, and we have
printed it here with his permission. As a result a lively dialogue developed
over a period of days on that site. We have slightly edited some of those
comments and printed them below Royce's story for your convenicence.

By Royce Bair

Recently, another large stock agency, The Image Bank, joined Tony Stone Images
in announcing that they would no longer charge research fees. Ever since Tony
Stone eliminated research fees two years ago, other agencies have begun to
follow their lead in order to stay competitive.

This is probably perceived as a boon to photographers, as it now eliminates one
of the stumbling blocks many potential clients had against using traditional
stock agencies. Do away with that road block, and the number of photo requests
coming into the agency should increase. Sales will increase, and so will the
photographers bottom line. Right?True -- if you're already in one of the
agency's catalogs. It's my suspicion that few if any of the big agencies are
offering free "deep-file-research" -- they can't afford to do it because real
research is too labor intensive, and qualified researchers are expensive

TIB claims that free research has come about because they have been able to
lower operating costs, and those lower costs are attributed partly to a new
digital archiving system that allows TIB staff to search and retrieve images
using keywords. Most analysts agree that to keyword and digitally scan every
image in the file would be cost prohibitive (estimated costs vary between $2 and
$10 per image, depending on how elaborate the system). However, if you are one
of several large agencies with about 4 million images, and you have about 40,000
images that have been in catalogs over the years (that's a typical 1% of the
file), you already have a substantial group of proven "winners" that you can
afford to database.

I suspect that once this system is set up, even minimum wage personnel could
perform a "free" photo research and pull a selection of dupes from that search.
The agency's main job is to feed the catalog database with new images that meet
current mainstream demographics. They can't afford to put "unique" images into
the system -- something that might come up in a non-typical research request.The
"sham" in all this is that the photobuyer is made to believe that he or she is
getting a free "deep-file-research" -- and all your images, as a photographer,
are being considered if they fall under the subjects being requested. In
reality, it's just business as usual -- your only real chances for significant
sales come if your images make it into the agency's catalog.

This false perception of free deep-file-research puts pressure on smaller
agencies to offer a similar service in order to receive the left-over "crumbs".
The photobuyer has already bought the bulk of their mainstream images from the
big agency, and because they couldn't find the "unique" images there, they now
want the smaller agencies to match service on the more esoteric subjects!

Our experience has shown that greater than 90% of our clients who have a
research fee "hanging over their heads" (and our search fee is only a paltry
$20), end up purchasing an image license. Yet, when that research fee is
eliminated, fewer than 25% request an image license! A research fee is a great
qualifier and seems to weed out the "clip-art" segment or those who are not
serious about paying a fair price for good stock photography.

Nevertheless, The Stock Solution has matched Tony Stone Images' "free research"
challenge with our free "Online Photo Research." We actually began this service
four years ago. This is a true "deep-file-research." If photobuyers cannot find
the image or photo subject they want on our Web site, they can request a free
"Off-line Photo Research." Our researchers will select up to 12 new images not
found on our Web site, scan them, and deliver them as a group thumbnail e-mail
attachment. A free, low-resolution "design proof" can also be ordered from any
one of the images in the OPR group. Later, this thumbnail group is keyworded
and added to our Web site database, further increasing its diversity and making
more sales opportunities for our photographer's images.

Our Web site typically averages over 20,000 hits a day. That is the number of
image and text files (the vast majority are image files) being viewed each day
by potential clients!Last week, we picked up four new clients (one was Chrysler
Corporation), who either e-mailed or called while looking at our Web pages.
Each new client licensed at least one image with an average fee of about $1,200.
60% of these sales came through original researches, with the results uploaded
to the Internet. These images had never been in any catalog. And all of the
images displayed on our Web site are uploaded and maintained without any cost to
our photographers.

Response from Brian Durell to Royce Bair

I have a (likely dumb question concerning this: If big agencies are operating with only
about 1% of their holdings, why are they holding the other 99%? To me it seems like a
disservice to their photographers and a huge eencumbrance to the agency. What kind of
business sense does this make for the agency?

Brian Durell

Response to Royce Bair from Jim Hargan


An excellent post (quoted below) on research fees, and you convince me
completely on your points. But let me suggest another perspective on
your information.

All offices run overhead -- rent, desks, paper clips, clerks -- and all
offices bury the overhead costs in their fees. It's just a cost of doing
business. Your client will pay what he must, but if his highest fee
doesn't let you make a profit after paying direct costs and overhead,
you won't do business with him.

What you are really asking is: should agents charge research costs as a
direct cost, in the form of a research fee, or bury them with the rest
of the overhead? Your experience is that a research fee, even a small
one, drives off the poor customers, the ones that will not pay you
enough to make up direct costs plus overhead and profit. This is good;
these customers waste your time and drive up your overhead. By billing
their costs directly, you can keep costs low to all of your remaining
customers. This is good for them and good for you.

But do your customers understand this? The folks at Image Bank and Tony
Stone think not. I guess they see a research fee as driving away good
customers as well as bad. They prefer to treat research as overhead,
burying its cost into their fee structure along with rent and salaries.
Then, with the research portion of their job safely out of site of their
customers, they can adjust the amount of research their customers
actually get -- superficial with newbees and bottom feeders, in-depth
with proven clients. The point is, the client doesn't pay a fee for
research, so the client has no legitimate claim for depth. You can give
him as much or as little as you think you can get away with. If your
client demands pics of left-handed polo players shot in North Dakota,
max fee $100, you can do your "search", give your apologies, and send
him away happy. If he pays you $20 in advance for research you actually
have to look for his images. You might even find some, and incur even
more overhead -- more good money after bad.

BTW, I think you can set up a crude keyword index on every image at
$0.13 to $0.40 per image. You do this by paying a data entry clerk
(semi-skilled labor with no decision-making: $6.50/hr plus minimal
benefits) to type in the index number and the photographer's caption of
every listed image. This should take one to three minutes per image at
$7.50/hr total cost plus $0.50 overhead. Your keyword index is then just
as bad as the photographer's caption (usually pretty dreadful), but you
can claim "I index every image." Of course, you will have a trusted
associate keyword and scan the really good images, at the costs you

Jim Hargan,

Geographic Photographer

Response from Jim Pickerell, Stock Connection to Brian Durell and Jim Hargan

In answer to Brian Durell's question about why big agencies hang onto non-
selling images, lets look at some actual statistics.

When Tony Stone Images (Getty Communications), probably the biggest
agency, went public in mid-1996 they reported that 89% of their 1995 sales
came from their 40,000 image master dupe collections. This produced
$53,627,000. The other ll% of their sales representing $7,312,000 came
from the estimated 2.5 million images in their general file about 98% of the
images they have on hand.

They keep those extra images because they want to make that extra $7
million in gross sales. They also want to be able to say to the clients,
"We've got everything you will ever need, so you don't need to look anywhere
else." The agency share of the $7 million may cover the cost of maintaining
that huge file, and if it doesn't they can use some of the profits from the
sale of those 40,000 images to make up any difference.

The general file is a "loss leader" to give them a promotional advantage.

Now while that works for the big guys, Royce Bair makes a very important
point about how it affects the small agency. The vast majority of agencies
have gross annual sales of under a million dollars a year. In fact if we
accept that there are about 2,500 stock agencies worldwide as was
mentioned by PACA at Viscomm 96, then the vast majority of agencies have
gross sales of under $100,000 per year.

If these smaller agencies could identify a segment of their file that could
consistently produce 89% of their gross annual income you do have to
wonder if it would be worthwhile for them to chase after that extra 11%.

I would also like to deal with a couple points that Jim Hargan raised.

Stock photo businesses have certain fixed overhead in terms of rent,
stationary, advertising, basic sales and marketing staff, etc. These costs
have to be covered just to stay in business. But, depending on the size of
the file you pick up additional costs for initial filing of images, picture
research, logging and tracking large submissions, and refiling those large
submissions once they come back. These costs are almost directly
proportional to the size of the file. In addition, as the file grows you may
need more space to maintain it and your rent will go up.

The real question is are you making enough from these general file sales --
when compared to your catalog sales -- to cover the extra costs. One way
to offset that cost is to charge for "deep file" research. Another way is to
make absolutely sure you are not doing research for someone who won't pay
your price even if they find an image they would like to use.

Many smaller agencies often have trouble assessing the differences
between these two types of costs because the same people handle both
activities. They figure, "I have to have someone here to answer the phone,
so they might as well do picture research and editing while they are
waiting for the phone calls to come in."

Because there are different typesl of overhead in this business, it is really
dangerous to view all "overhead" as one unit as Jim Hargan suggests. You
can easily spend way too much money building a huge file of images that
never sell. At the very least I believe agencies need to look at overhead in
terms of at least two separate categories as described above.

Jim asks if customers understand why it is necessary to charge research
fees for "deep file" research as opposed to when someone calls and says
send me JHP1374 that I found in your catalog. Maybe the customers don't
understand that, but it still may be better to try to explain it to them than
to charge your best customers extra fees just so you can service the
customers who are not paying enough in fees to cover your costs anyway.
That's hurting your best customers, not helping them. Your best customers
will usually be the ones who make specific selections from catalogs and
seldom need research.

I also want to take issue with Hargan's suggestion that you should be able
to keyword for $.13 to $.40 per image, and that this work can be done with
semi-skilled labor. I can't believe he has done any keywording other than to
stick hundreds of images in one large general category. If you are going to
look for images in this way it requires a lot of search time.

In the last three years we have probably keyworded in the range of 10,000
images and supervised the keywording of a lot of others. Keywording
requires skill, experience, practice, and access to a good computer. Maybe
you can find people like this in Possum Trot, NC who will work for $6.50 an
hour, but you sure can't find them in Rockville, MD. In any event it is not the
hourly rate, but the productivity per hour that is important. We have found
some very bright people who are terrible keyworders because it can be
boring work and it is hard to stay focused.

The photographers caption is often useless from a keywording point of view
because it usually does not go into many of the details that are self evident
from looking at the image. The short caption assumes you are holding the
image in your hands and can the other details of the image. If you have to
use only the words that are in the caption to find the image more often than
not that image will never be seen.

I've spent time discussing keywording because I don't want anyone to come
away with the false conclusion that it is simple or inexpensive to do
effective keywording. Good keywording is a cost of doing business if you
expect to make money selling images in the future. Every photographer
needs to recognize that fact.

Jim Pickerell

Response from Royce Bair to Jim Pickerell

Once again, Jim, you're right on target! I often wonder too why we
chase after that "extra 11%"! Maybe it's because we feel a dedication and
responsibility to our photographers. But sometimes I wonder if we do them
a disservice by not spending the better part of our time & energy trying to
identify more of that "89%" segment that will produce the most income for
both of us.

(Royce Bair regarding Keywording)

Keywording is HELL, but very necessary, because the future is already
here for many of us. No one at our agency likes to keyword. We try to get
input from several staff members when we are keywording, because everyone
sees life from a different perspective. We typically have three people
spend a total of 11 staff minutes on each photo. The person in charge
spends about 2 minutes on each photo entering known data about each image.
After that, the other two keyworders are brought in and they brainstorm
together for about 3 minutes on each image, while one person enters the
keywords. This amounts to several dollars per image depending on the wages
of each employee --and we still haven't talked about the cost of scanning.
While the information on a photographer's caption is very important, it
takes a tremendous amount of effort to come up with words that can describe
the emotions and concepts within an image.

Response from Royce Bair to Brian Durell's comments.

That's a good question. Some agencies are better --only 95% to 98% are
being held without any real use! (That's because 80% or more of their
sales are coming from catalogs.) But in defense of agencies (and I'm one),
what are we to do with the rest of the images? (Yes, we are starting to
send back some file material to our photographers). In many agencies, 3/4
of these non-catalog images will never see the light of day because clients
are more prone today to order only from a ready-made catalog image (where
they can already see how it will reproduce). Fewer clients want to spend
the time for a research even if it is "free"!

When an agency begins to rely more on catalog sales and less on sales from
original research, then it also will begin to JURY TIGHTER on its original
submissions from photographers. This has already been happening at many
agencies. (Tony Stobe Images is one of the better agencies at making
tighter and more educated "guesses" for their future catalogs and "duping"
program.) Then of course, when agencies start jurying tighter, they also
begin getting complaints from photographers that they "don't hardly choose
anything anymore". You just can't win! ;-)

Hopefully, there will always be a place for the service oriented
photographer or agency that offers custom photo research. I know many
small agencies that continue to receive custom search photo requests (where
a search fee is charged) from a core of established clients --because the
client knows that the agency is not going to send them "junk". If the
agency does not have a good selection on the subject, they know the agency
will call back and cancel the search, rather than trying to send a padded
selection that will only frustrate the photobuyer and and cause them to
incur a research fee.

Unfortunately, fewer new photobuyers are willing to build up this type of a
relationship. We (agencies) have given them what they said they wanted
(catalog images), and now they are even more programmed to order "only by
the numbers"!

What to do with all those images that don't make it into the catalogs?
Flood the market by sending them to the "royalty-free" disc publishers?
They probably don't want them either, because they are trying to make their
discs look just like the images in the slick, traditional stock catalogs!

So what's a photographer to do? Shoot smarter. Think before you shoot.
Study the markets first, and plan your stock shoots based on "how" the
images might be used, rather than just shooting "from the hip" or shooting
what looks good through the lens. But unfortunately, you like us will
always end up making plenty of wrong decisions --ending up with a lot of
misses and dead wood cluttering the files. The important thing is that we
both keep excited about what we are doing. Keep trying, and continue
offering new and creative approaches (images) to all the emotions, events
and stages of life, and beauties of this world.

If you have specific interests, start looking for agencies or markets that
specialize in those areas rather than just sending all your images to a
"general" stock agency. Take part of the responsibility for your files.


Response from Jim Hargan to Jim Pickerell

I enjoyed -- and largely agreed with -- your excellent post on agency
overhead and keywording. I would like to comment on two minor points;
anything else would be too much like trying to teach my grandmother how
to suck eggs!

On overhead: What you say makes perfect sense to me. I did not mean to
imply that an agency should carry overhead as a single item. Of course,
your clients do not know how you keep your books. They only know if they
are being charged for research, or if research costs are buried in the
fee along with the rest of the "overhead". I was using the word
"overhead" very broadly, to mean "everything except direct costs and

On keywording: Your post was the first detailed discussion I have seen
on this important topic since I joined the list in May. I appreciate it
-- and agree with every word. But my original post did not discuss a
good keyword system at all. It discussed a bad one! My long postscript
on keywording and "digital systems" was meant to warn against computer
systems that functioned more for propaganda than use. I have had
experience with many types of computer systems, and what you say is
true: if you want usable categorization of real world data (and not just
image keywording), you must use skilled, highly trained personnel that
take a lot of time and cost a lot of money. There is no alternative. I
have fought this good fight with system owners on many occasions -- and
lost on more than one. DataOps types frequently look upon mere humans
with contempt, and bosses sometimes think that all production-level
personnel are lazy and stupid. You cannot convince these types to spend
$12/hour (maybe $20 in Rockport ) on someone who averages 7 minutes
per entry. They will want to transcribe a real world source into the
system, word-for-word, and the faster the better. In this sort of system
you do not need skilled people; anyone will do (maybe even an OCR
program). But such systems do not produce usable data. Their only
function: provide a subject for advertising copy. "MegaStock, Inc.
announces its fully digital computer system with over ten million images
on file!" My intent (then and now) was to warn agents, photographers,
and our clients, to take such advertising claims (mentioned by Royce in
his original post) with several grains of salt.

Jim Hargan,

Geographic Photographer

Response from Jim Hagan to Jim Pickerell on Keywording

Jim Pickerell wrote:

> Keywording requires skill, experience, practice, and access to a good computer.
. . . it is not the hourly rate, but the productivity per hour that is important.
We have found some very bright people who are terrible keyworders because it can be
boring work and it is hard to stay focused.

I enjoyed your post -- very informative, and very consistent with my own
experience with information systems. In addition to my public re:, I
thought I would take the liberty of a private response on this
particular point, which is off the list's subject.

I have never hired a keyworder, but I have hired many people to do
information categorization at least as complex. (The biggest stinker:
crime data straight from hand-written documents -- half million pages
per year. Ever tried to read a police report? Ecch!) Here's my method,
for what it's worth:

1. Recruit from experienced professional clerks. A professional clerk
has a lifetime's experience in retrieving, categorizing, and filing data
-- just what you need. A college kid may be good at writing theses on
Aesthetics, but lousy at filing.

2. Look for clerks who do not mix much with their fellow employees and
who are always bothering the boss with ideas about how to file better.
These are the ones that are job motivated and who work well alone.

3. Pay the same as an executive's private secretary, about $12 in Tampa
when I last did this sort of thing (quite some time ago). Pay less, and
your highly trained clerks will have their resumes out all the time
(they all have families to support). Pay more, and you will attact
college kids who will be treading water until they find a real job.

This worked for me.

Jim Hargan,

Response by Royce Bair to questions from photographers


> Do you have any suggestions for individual photographers to do a better job
keywording our own images before they go off to an agency? I try to do
fairly complete captions, but I know that they do nothing to help me find
individual images which convey some particular emotion or concept. My
captions are pretty descriptive.

I wouldn't try to do the keywording for the agency. Descriptive captions
are plenty good --if all our photographers would only be so helpful!

How to Maximize Income:

> should you (as an agency) spend more time identifying the profitable
89% vs chasing after the other 11% ... I've got real mixed feelings. I want
to maximize my income, but wonder what to do with all the images that don't
make that top tier. I'm selling directly into mostly editorial markets
while working to get some images into an agency to hit the ad market. Since
it's a numbers game I would want to see as many of my images as possible in
the agency, and as many of those as possible into the catalog where they're
most visible. On the other hand, some of the happy accidents that come
about from shooting what I like can end up being the best shots. If working
more directly to an agency wantlist I might not end up with those images.
Just a little more food for thought in this great thread.

Those "happy accidents" are the spice of life!

There are benefits to being exclusively represented by ONE agency, but
because not everyone thinks the same way in this world, not any one agency
is going to pick all the winners. There are definitely agencies that do a
better job at picking and marketing the few that they do pick. Anytime a
photographer can get his or her images chosen for a catalog by an agency
that has multiple worldwide offices, he or she is likely to make some good
money on those images.

A few of these mega agencies will allow the photographer to place
non-selected images with other agencies --if they are totally dissimilar
images. Some photographers have several agencies, and they move their
images from the highest producing agency (down the food chain) to the lower
producing agencies, until everyone has had a chance to make their
selection. Once an agency has made a selection for their catalog, all
similar images should not be shown to the other agencies at the lower end
of the chain.

Some photographers just divide up the images in the beginning and send
what they think are the better images to the best agency, and the 2nds,
3rds and so on to the other agencies. Then if any agency picks an image
for their catalog, the photographer proceeds to tell all the other agencies
that the similar images they have are no longer available for catalog use,
or that they must now return those images to the photographer. This latest
method is the most common among photographers and agencies that allow
multiple representation, but I have seen some serious problems.
Photographers either forget to tell all their agencies, or the some
agencies have already entered the images into their catalogs before telling
the photographer. In either case, there can be multiple agencies claiming
exclusive power of attorney for an image, which can cause some real legal

Response from Paul Henning of Third Coast

Dear Royce:

I edited down your commentary so as to address a few key points you bring up.

First of all, we at Third Coast like to think that we were actually the
first ones to drop research fees (Tony Stone followed suit at least six
months later). Since we are a relatively small agency compared to TSW and
TIB, this runs somewhat counter to your theory that the little agencies are
pressured by the "big boys" (it was the other way around in this case!). We
dropped the research fees for several reasons. First of all, when we
analyzed our revenue we realized that we were, in fact, invoicing very few
research fees anyway! Much like yourselves, we have a very high ratio of
sales to submissions (in other words, the vast majority of submissions sent
out actually result in at least one image being licensed, and thus no
research fee is charged). Second, and in light of the preceding, we felt
that if the research fee was, in fact, a deterrent to some picture buyers,
it made sense to do away with a practice which was rarely used anyway.
Finally, we believe very strongly that an agency should make its money from
charging healthy reproduction fees, not "research", "service" or any other
bogus additional charges (by the way, how, in good conscience, can an agency
charge a "service fee"? Isn't that why clients call us, because we are
expected to provide great service? We don't run restaurants where we expect
tips for speedy service, so why tack on a "service fee"? And, if an agency
is charging decent usage fees to start with, why do they need an extra
"service fee"? If I were a client I would really be put off by that).

Now, you stated that the research fee can act as a qualifier to separate the
real picture buyers from those seeking clip or cheap photos. I think that
argument has some legitimacy. However, our belief is that it is the job of
our licensing personnel to engage in the kind of dialoge with callers which
achieves this type of qualifying. A well-trained licensing specialist
should be able to determine within a very few minutes whether a caller is a
truly legitimate potential client or a "bottom feeder".

I am in agreement with you on the subject of "deep file" searches. An
agency cannot engage in these on a regular basis if they have a no research
fee policy. However, it is our experience that in the vast majority of
cases this applies to editorial, not commercial, clients. The search fee
policy, then, seems to be directly related to the type of images the agency
keeps on file and the types of clients it seeks to serve. Again, in our
case only 15% of our business comes from editorial clients; our very large
base of commercial clients are infinitely easier to conduct searches for
(and, they pay a lot better, too!). Finally, the size of an agency's files
also have a bearing on the cost of doing a search. If you have a couple of
million images to sort through the task is, indeed, complicated and
expensive. We maintain a much smaller, tightly edited file of about 300,000
images which makes our picture searches relatively simple and efficient.

Now, since you brought up the word scam: with all due respect to you and the
many others out there who continue to promote the number of "hits" to their
Web sites, I think this is one of the greatest scams perpetrated today!
What a totally meaningless figure! It makes about as much sense as saying
"our magazine has a circulation of 50,000". If I want to place an ad in
that magazine, what good is that number? Absolutely NONE unless I know WHO
those 50,000 people are. Do they, in fact, match the target demographics I
am trying to reach? Are they decision makers? How much do they spend
annually on the services I provide? And I would ask the same questions
regarding Web site hits. Unfortunately, "number of hits" doesn't answer any
of those questions. So, let's please not call them "20,000 potential
clients" since I believe that a very, very small percentage of those have
any real potential of licensing a stock image from a legitimate agency such
as your own.

Happy New Year, and all the best to our friends at The Stock Solution--

Paul H. Henning, Director

Response from Royce Bair to Paul Henning

Dear Paul:

Thanks for your New Year's greeting and your thoughtful feedback on the
subject of photo research and search fees. It's great to get a response
from someone of your background. I must agree with many of your points.

You wrote some excellent replies to my posting of 'Is "Free Research" a
SHAM?'. I especially liked these points that you made:

> We dropped the research fees for several reasons. First of all, when we
analyzed our revenue we realized that we were, in fact, invoicing very few
research fees anyway!

> Finally, we believe very strongly that an agency should make its money from
charging healthy reproduction fees, not "research", "service" or any other
bogus additional charges (by the way, how, in good conscience, can an agency
charge a "service fee"? Isn't that why clients call us, because we are
expected to provide great service?

It is this part of your posting that I'd like to respond to:

> Now, since you brought up the word scam: with all due respect to you and the
many others out there who continue to promote the number of "hits" to their
Web sites, I think this is one of the greatest scams perpetrated today!
What a totally meaningless figure! It makes about as much sense as saying
"our magazine has a circulation of 50,000". If I want to place an ad in
that magazine, what good is that number? Absolutely NONE unless I know WHO
those 50,000 people are. Do they, in fact, match the target demographics I
am trying to reach? Are they decision makers? How much do they spend
annually on the services I provide? And I would ask the same questions
regarding Web site hits. Unfortunately, "number of hits" doesn't answer any
of those questions. So, let's please not call them "20,000 potential
clients" since I believe that a very, very small percentage of those have
any real potential of licensing a stock image from a legitimate agency such
as your own.

Note, that the subject of my message was 'Is "Free Research" a SHAM?' --the
word I used was "SHAM", not "scam". Just a little technicality I thought
I'd like to clear up before going on. :-)

Royce Bair Response to Paul Henning on Online Hits

I must agree that the term "hits" has been misused by many people, but you
misquoted me again. ;-) I did not say "20,000 potential clients". I

> Our Web site typically averages over 20,000 hits a day. That is the number
of image and text files (the vast majority are image files) that are being
viewed each day by potential clients!

There are about 500 unique visitors (potential clients) per day who view
these 20,000 files (hits) on our site. What is valuable and unique about a
Web site is that we can see which images are being viewed --a magazine
publisher cannot give you that information. But you are certainly correct
when you say that this information is of no value unless I know WHO is
doing the VIEWING! We know much of that too! (Not everyone, of course,
but we can we are able to get a pretty accurate profile of our Web surfers
in several of our important areas).

Our Web stats show that about 52% of our visitors leave after only viewing
the first page that brought them into our site (I guess we didn't want
their "type" after all). That leaves about 240 visitors who stay and
navigate around the site for a while. Of these, about 60 (25%) take the
time to fill out quite a lengthy questionaire. (Questions like COMPANY
YOU OBTAIN IT?, and HOW MUCH DID YOU PAY FOR IT?) From this sampling we
are able to get a fairly good profile of our Web site viewership --and a
super mailing list! BTW, it's interesting to note that of the people we
determine are "qualified" to remain on our mailing list, over 80% of are on
the Macintosh computer platform (I just had to add that little stat for all
you Mac lovers).

I think this is an extremely high response rate. I know. I've tried
direct mail (using very expensive and "qualified" lists) and specialized
trade magazine advertising with response cards and toll-free "800" numbers;
and none of these methods have come close to this kind of response. Can
you imagine how expensive it would be to obtain this kind of information
with previous methods (not only the advertising costs, but the staff time
to field the response and enter the information)? With a good CGI mail
form, the Web surfer's responses will merge right into your computer
database. The Web provides an EASE of INTERACTION (at both ends) that is
not possible with any other media.

Sophisticated "Interactive" (Web development) divisions within some of the
largest ad agencies (like Ogilvy and Poppe Tyson) are using this
interaction to take test marketing to new heights. They are able to get
more accurate feedback in a shorter period of time, than with any other
media. This information can save them millions in their final ad campaign.
Which is probably why the better agencies have no trouble paying big
licensing fees for key images that may only be viewed online for one to
three months.

Copyright © 1997 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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