New Search Term Needed - Used

Posted on 3/23/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

If stock agencies really want to help their customers the most important thing they could do is make it possible for customers to search for just those image that have been previously “Used.” The biggest problems facing customers today is too much choice. Only a very small percentage of the images in the major agency collections are ever licensed, but customers have no way to distinguish the used images from those that have never been used.

Some photographer report that no more than 10% of their images are ever licensed. For many contributors the percentage is much smaller than 10%, but customers have no way of determining which ones. Consequently, every customer is forced to waste time looking through hundreds, if not thousands, of images that no one has ever found useful in order to stumble over a few gens.

One of the biggest issues for image buyers today is time. They are being asked to do more things than they have time to accomplish. The more they can reduce the time required for image search, and get on with other tasks, the better for them.

Shutterstock has over 195 million images in its collection. Alamy has 125 million. Gettyimages has 22,553,850 Creative photos, and 106,321,800 Editorial. The last I heard Adobestock had about 80 million. iStock doesn’t supply any information about total images, but they have 16,222,980 “people” images compared to 12,780,510 for Alamy and 24,159,149 for Shutterstock. Thus, iStock’s collection is probably somewhere in the range of 100 million.

Organizing Search Returns

Some agencies allow their customers to organize their searches based on “Popularity,” but they never clearly define what that word means. Are the images downloaded the greatest number of times shown at the top of the search returns, or is it the most popular in the last week, month or year? Is popularity based strictly on downloads, or are there other factors involved? When reviewing the first page of search returns it is often hard to believe that some of the images shown have ever been popular.

The vast majority of customers are unconcerned about whether or not the image they choose has ever been used by someone else as long as it fits their particular need. In fact, most would be happy to benefit from the decisions other professional users have made.

Occasionally, a customer might be looking for an image that has never been used by anyone. In such cases allowing the customer to use the search term “unused” would produce only images that had never been used.

Another factor relative to popularity is that all the images in the collection with certain keywords are always shown. Presumably, there is a point somewhere in the list of returns where none of the images below that point have ever been used. But no one is allowed to know where that point is.

What About New Image?

One of the concerns would be how to make customers aware of new images that have just been added to the collection. The existing “Best Match” and “Popularity” algorithms that include some images that have been licensed and some that are brand new and never licensed could still be used. The customer would just not use the terms “used” or “unused” in their search terms. These two terms would simply give customers two important addition options for organizing their search returns.

Organizing The Used Images

Agencies could continue organize the search returns of used images in any way they choose. It could be based on licenses alone, or by number of times clicked on in the last week, month, year, etc. They could use their “Best Match” algorithm, or “Popularity” whatever that means, within only the “Used” part of the collection. But the customer would have the knowledge that all the images had been licensed by at least one customer when they included “Used” in their list of search terms.

Finding Similars

I some cases a customer might find a used image that had some of the characteristics they were looking for, but they need the subject matter from a slightly different angle or perspective. In such a case a visual search of the collection might help them discover the right image for their needs. Alternatively, some collections have already enabled customers to search for similars of most images in their collection.

Contributors would not be allowed to include “used” in their list of keywords or tags. Only the selling agency would be able to attach that term to the list of keywords for a given image. It would be automatically attached whenever an image is first licensed.

An image might be placed on Shutterstock and licensed there. Later it could be placed on iStock or AdobeStock, but there would be no record on these new sites of the image ever having been licensed until the particular site actually licensed its use.  “Used” relates to the particular search engine.

It is conceivable that there might be some searches for subject in little demand where zero images would be delivered as having been licensed. The customer could still see all the images in the collection of that subject simply by removing “used” from the keyword search list.

Such a strategy might not work well for smaller, specialized agencies because it could reveal how few images are actually being licensed, but for the larger agencies it would seem to give an indication of the most popular imagery in their collections without disclosing any proprietary information.

Copyright © 2018 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:  


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