New Image Marketing Strategy Needed

Posted on 6/28/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

One of the biggest problems with stock photography licensing today is that there is often no clear logic behind why a higher price should be charged for one image and not another.

Mostly it comes down to a photographer saying “all my images are worth more” so I’m only going to license them as RM. Or a photographer says “I want volume” and goes to microstock. Or an agent decides on a particular price point for all the images they represent recognizing that the higher the price the fewer sales they will make, but hoping they have found the perfect balance between price and volume to maximize revenue.

Seldom is there any logical reason, based on the image itself, for why the price for one image should be higher than another. As a result, I suspect we are leaving a huge amount of money on the table because we are asking less than customers would be willing to pay for many of the images they really want to use.

Pricing by file size delivered makes some sense because larger files are often needed for more important uses. Charging additional for certain larger uses makes sense as long as the rules are not too complex. I written about Stocksy as possibly one of the more successful models in today’s market, but I’ve got to wonder if those prices are right for every image in the Stocksy collection, or at some point they won’t discover that certain images in the collection would sell just as well at a higher price point, or better at a lower price point.

Then we look at Getty. They have RM and RF collections. Images are placed in these collections more or less randomly based mostly on creator preferences rather than whether there is something about a particular image that might make it worth more than another. Then Getty sets up a pricing structure that basically tells the customer, “You can have any RM or RF image for whatever you’re willing to pay.” I recently did an analysis of the sales of a major RM contributor. Over 70% of his images were licensed for under $25.

Getty actually sells many iStock images for more than they charge for RM or RF images found on On the other hand, in some cases they charge more for iStock images on than if the customer were to go to iStock to buy the image.

Then we have Shutterstock’s Offset. They charge higher prices. I think the average price per image licensed is probably higher than Getty’s average for RM, even when we include the very occasional multi-thousand dollar sales that Getty makes of a few RM images. The Offset collection is small and tightly curated.

But, my estimates is that around 90% of the Offset images never sell. Moreover, I believe there are a few images in Shutterstock’s 91 million image general collection that would be more likely to sell for the high Offset prices than many of the images now in Offset. Customers who find them on Shutterstock can get unlimited use of the image for $10 or $1.25 rather than paying $500 for a use.

So How Might We Solve Some Of These Problems

    Offer images at a variety of price points that meet the needs of everyone.
    Provide easy to search curated collections.
    Charge higher prices for image that have proved to be in greater demand.
    Make searching and finding the images they can afford easy for customers.
    Maximize revenue for distributors and creators.
First – Give up the whole idea of “licensing based on use” and change all RM licensing to an RF model based on file size.
    1 – Customers would have unlimited rights to use the images they purchase with certain standard RF limitation.
      A – Smallest file size 72dpi designed for web use only
      B – maximum 250,000 print circulation unless the customer purchases an extended license.
      C – Additional charges for products for resale
      D – Market Freeze pricing
    2 – Develop separate collections with different price points based on curation and demand.
Base collection:
    Price point between $10 and $100 (See the Stocksy model). These prices might need to be adjusted downward, but should include variations for file size.
    Single image sales only. No subscription option offered from this collection.
    All new images are placed in this collection.
Secondary collection:
     Once images sell from the base collection they are eligible to be moved to a collection of images at a higher price point. Say $25 to $250. An image might need to sell several times at the lowest price point before being moved while a single sale at the highest price point might be justification for moving the image. Distributors would set their own parameters and they might vary from distributor to distributor.
     The goal is to get a smaller collection made up of images that at least one customer had shown an interest in using.
     Agency curators would also be able to add selected images from the base collection to this secondary collection even if they had never sold, particularly if there was a lack of a particular subject matter in the secondary collection. However, care should be taken not to pump lots of new imagery that had never been seen by buyers into this collection.
     The idea behind this premium collection is to benefit from customer decisions as to what is the most useful imagery, and to provide a higher quality collection that is easier to search for customers who can afford the higher price.
     If an image remains in this collection for two years with no sales, it is moved back to the base collection.

Higher Priced Collection:
     As the volume of images in the Secondary collection grows, and many of the images in that collection are licensed frequently, a higher priced collection might be established.
     This collection should be carefully curated and only contain the most in-demand images.
     No search using more than 2 keywords should result in more than 500 images being found. Very broad searches using keywords like: Food, Travel, People, Animals, etc. might produce more than 500 results, but it should be very easy to narrow searches that would produce less than 500 results.
     The idea is that customers searching this collection should be able to very quickly review all the images in the collection that relate to the keywords they are using. This collection should contain the very best quality images based on (1) previous sales and (2) the judgment of experienced curators. Curation will be very important, some images with little of no sales may be moved to this collection based on the judgment of the curator. If the customer doesn’t find what they want in this collection they can search the broader secondary collection.
     Any image that sits in this collection for more than 2 years without a sale should be returned to the Secondary collection. The time period for remaining in this collection might vary.
Subscription collection:
     The subscription collection should be made up almost entirely of images that no one has ever shown and interest in buying at a higher price.
     If an images has been in the base collection for 12 months and made no sales it should be added to the subscription collection, but also allowed to remain in the base collection for another 12 months. If it eventually sells in the base collection, then it should be removed from the subscription collection.
     If, after 2 years, it still has never been licensed from the base collection it should be removed from the base collection and only remain in the subscription collection.
     Sales from the subscription collection are not counted for movement from one collection to another because many of those downloads are for reference purposes only and never used in an actual project. In my judgment the number of single image downloads even at a low price of $10 have much more relevance to actual usage than a subscription download.
     Subscription customers tend to have a very different psychological approach to downloading images than single image buyers. Based on analysis of Shutterstock and iStock downloads customer tend to download 8 to 9 times more images when using a subscription than when they pay a fixed price for each image downloaded. When trying to gage popularity or value of an image It is very difficult to determine how much weight to give to a subscription download.
     In a Subscription collection to images there may be similar to those that have sold in the Base or one of the higher collections, but customers will not be pointed to those images with a “Similar Search” option. The “Similar Search” option will only point to images at the same or higher price point.
     When customers only need images for reference purpose they can easily get what they need at subscription prices.

Customers should be able to easily toggle from one collection to another.

With such a system, distributors will be able to offer several collections at various price points in order to meet the needs of all potential customers.

The more expensive collection will have fewer images. Thus, they will be easier to search and contain images generally accepted by buyers to be more useful for their purposes, and of higher quality.

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:  


  • Tom Zimberoff Posted Jul 1, 2016

    You've missed a more cogent solution to the problem you posed. The answer is data analytics.

    All photographers are hired and paid OFF-line; STILL in the 21st century. If they can interact on the Web with their enterprise clients to electronically manage billings, deliveries, DAM, and payments, we can capture data that pegs the price of any given photograph to it's actual commercial value TO THE BUYER in realtime, transaction by transaction. This principle and its underlying technology applies not only to photographs (and videos) shot on assignment but also to continuously replenished residuals licensed as stock.

    Forget about what a photographer thinks a photo is WORTH. That's nonsense in a marketplace context. Right now, both photographers and the incumbent stock photo vendors rely on guesswork to price pictures. What matters is individual profitability for photographers and affordability for the buyers. Everything else is noise.

    This what we’re working on at Pixterity.


    Tom Zimberoff

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