Improving Search For Buyers

Posted on 3/30/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Agencies need to think hard about supplying contributors with more detailed information about exactly what is being requested and what is really selling. It used to be enough to provide general information about the broad categories of subject matter in demand. At that point they would leave it up to the individual creator to guess at what buyers -- with whom they have no contact whatsoever -- might want. That is no longer enough. Shooting based on gut feelings no longer works.

With declining prices and huge oversupply, it is becoming increasingly impossible for creators to make logical business decisions about what to shoot when they have so little specific information about what buyers are purchasing.

This move would not only help creators, but it would make it much easier for buyers to find the right image quickly and improve the overall quality of the offering.

Today, there is such a huge oversupply of images in virtually every broad subject category that it is impossible for creators to identify specific subject areas where the world really needs more images. But, art directors still say they have trouble finding certain types of imagery.

For example, everyone knows that there is an increasing demand for ethnic and gender diversity, but working that into every situation can be challenging. And when customers talk about ethnic diversity what do they really mean? More Latinos, African Americans, Chinese, Asians, Native Americans, Middle Eastern and we could go on. What’s the proper balance? Exactly what is being purchased?

Creators need to see a broad cross section of the kinds of images that are being purchased in each of these areas and understand the relative demand for images in each category.

Some may think making this kind of information public will be unfair to those who created the images being sold. Once everyone has an understanding of the subjects in greatest demand, everyone will try to copy and improve upon those images. Then the likelihood that the original image will continue to sell will decline.

To counter that I would put these “popular” images in a separate collection at a somewhat higher price point. If, in the judgment, of an editor a newly produced image is a significant improvement over the one originally created then I would add it to the collection of images on this specific subject, but it would not be as high in the search return order (SRO) as the original one, because at that point it hadn’t earned as much money as the original. The images would be ordered in the SRO based on the gross revenue generated. I would keep these premium collections relatively small (no more than 500 images) and very focused.

For example, a popular request is couples. I would develop several categories of couples such as: Latino, African American, Chinese, Asian, Native American and Middle Eastern. Within each group would be young, 30 to 50, seniors, homosexual, heterosexual, mixed. A search of these groups would focus specifically on just people in the defined group.

I did searches on several web sites for “Latino couples” and “Asian couples.” In addition to the group my keywords indicated, I got a lot of pictures of family units (with kids), multi-couple groups, just children and two Panda bears. The grouping in the special categories I suggest developing would only have people that fit the group precisely. In all cases there would only be two people (not animals, or children) in the picture. If customers are buying family groups then there would be a separate category for families.

Being able to search targeted, curated collections of this type would be a huge, time saving benefit for many buyers. In addition to saving time they would also have a reasonable assurance that the best image in the category wasn’t buried at image 1,900, or 20,000 in the SRO.

Narrowly focused category groups of this type would only be created for subjects where there is significant demand and a huge number of images in the category. For example, on Shutterstock there would be no need for an “Asian homosexual couple” group because there are only 199 images with those keywords on the site. However, is someone was looking for just “homosexual couples” where there are 15,544 images there might be a few images of Asian couples included in that group.

The important thing is to identify subjects in high demand with an abundance of good images that have been purchased by customers. Bring the best of those image to the top of the search and make sure other great images of the subject can be easily found.

The Process For Achieving This Result

1 - When an image is downloaded record the keyword or phrase that was uses to locate that image.

2 - Index the phrases by those most frequently used. Determine the number of unique images downloaded when each phrase is used.

3 - Determine the gross revenue earned from the downloads using the phrase. (If a customer is willing to pay a higher price for an image that should be taken into account.)

4 - Create collections of up to 500 images of each phrase based on analyzing the images in both the most downloaded and most revenue earned groups, as well as other images in the general collection on the same subject. This will require human editors with some understanding of why buyers might choose certain images. Collections would not be developed for every subject ever searched, only those subjects that are in particularly high demand.

5 – There would need to be a regular review (probably monthly) of new images added to the general collection that relate to each “premium” category to determine if some of them should be added and others removed from the premium category.

6 – Image creators should have access to a list of the most in-demand categories, and be able to see the images in the category in order of demand. It would also be helpful if they were given some idea of the revenue generated by the category over the period of a year. From the creator’s point of view, it may make much more sense to spend time and production values for a category that generates $10 or $20 million a year than one that generates $500,000 or less.

An argument might be made that if this information were available then everyone would just produce the images that earn the most money. But, we have a huge number of amateurs that are not focused as much on maximizing earning, as on photographing things they enjoy, or working in areas where they have a particular interest and expertise. I believe those amateurs will continue supplying those areas where images are needed occasionally, but which never generate high amounts of revenue.

The important thing to keep in mind is that unless something is done to enable photographers trying to earn a living to better assess the earning potential of high production value images new, quality images of these subjects will begin to disappear.

Copyright © 2016 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:  


  • Christina Vaughan Posted Apr 2, 2016
    Hi Jim, thanks for the report but haven't agencies like Image Source being doing this for more years - we have people in creative intelligence and run our global workshops in London, New York, LA, Milan and Munich, enabling our photographers to have the latest and most professional guidance to steer their choice of subject matter and detail of execution. This is the reason Image Source is one of the longest established brands for quality and ROI in premium stock photography.

  • Christina Vaughan Posted Apr 2, 2016
    Apologies - that should read "many years" - I could not find an edit button!

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff