Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) recently released preliminary information from its 22nd annual Stock Visual Survey of picture buyers. (Full details will be available in its September issue.) One question on the survey every year concerns the categories of imagery most in demand.
Over the years the top three categories have always been People/Celebrities, Lifestyle and Business/Industry. The positions of these three vary from year to year, but they have always been in the top three slots.
For 2008 the top dozen categories were:
1 - People/Celebrities
2 - Business/Industry
3 - Lifestyle
4 - Abstracts/Backgrounds
5 - Medical/Scientific
6 - Food/Beverage
7 - Nature/Wildlife/Agriculture
8 - Travel/Tourism
9 - Music/Entertainment/Sports
10 - Fine Art
11 - Historical/Vintage
12 - Homes/Interiors
As a result of such surveys, many of the industry's leading photographers tend to shoot images in the most in-demand categories, and shy away from shooting other things. Agencies and distributors reinforce this practice by refusing to accept new images in some of the categories where there is lesser demand. They argue they already have too much over supply in these areas. When it comes to model released People, Lifestyle or Business images, distributors are always willing to accept more good images.
It is interesting to compare this data with the figures supplied by Shutterstock, a subscription site that makes images available at microstock prices. On their site they list the top 100 most frequently used keywords. The most used keyword is "flower, "backgrounds" is number 3, "family" is number 5 and "business" is number 11. By examining the complete list you'll find many of the subjects that are low on the GDUSA list are near the top of what customers look for at Shutterstock.
Obviously, Shutterstock customers' needs are very different from those graphic designers who are GDUSA subscribers. Microstock photographers shooting model released people might earn more by aiming at the GDUSA customers who, on the whole, probably have the budgets to pay a lot more for the right image than is the case with the Shutterstock customers. On the other hand. if you're shooting pictures of flowers, backgrounds or objects. you may have a much better chance of making repeated sales of such images by offering them through microstock sites. Very few of the people who need this type of image will pay traditional prices for them, particularly when there are so many satisfactory solutions available in the microstock environment.
These statistics point to the fact that not only are there huge differences in price between microstock images and those offered by traditional distributors, but customers tend to go to these sites for different needs. Microstock is not just cheaper imagery. It is a different type of imagery