Pray Your Images Won’t Be Used Online

Posted on 1/22/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

If you want to earn more for the images you produce, and for there to be less unauthorized use, maybe you should be praying that your images won’t get used by customers online.

For many this may sound like heresy, or at the very least, ridiculous. Doesn’t everyone want more people to see and use their images? Consider this analysis.

The organizations that track online uses of the most popular professionally produced images tell us that 85% to 90% of online image uses are made without being licensed, or even the permission of the creator. A significant percent of these uses are on personal blogs but an increasing percent are being made by people who use their blog or website as a way to promote a product or service that will earn them revenue.

One of the big unanswered questions is where do the people making the unauthorized uses find the images they are using? The general thought is that they find the image on a photographer’s personal website or a stock agency website. Then they simply grab them because they can.  

I’m sure some of this happens, but I’m not at all sure this is the primary way people find the images they want to use. I suspect -- but have no way verify -- that most of the people who go to stock agency websites realize that they must pay something to use any image they find there. They will try to pay the smallest fee possible, but they will pay something. They may eventually make more use of the image than the initial license allowed, but they try to be honest.

They don’t go the stock agency sites, or the sites of professional photographers, for the express purpose of stealing another’s property. Most people like to think of themselves as being honest and not thieves.

So Where Do They Get Their Images

I suspect – and again, I have no idea how we can ever develop factual information on this subject – that in most case the first use is legally paid for. The payment may have been $1.00 or less, but it was what the seller was asking for that first use.

At that point the image appears on the buyer’s website. It has no watermark and no photographer or agency name attached to the image. In most cases it is impossible to make contact with the person who chose the image or designed the website in order to determine where they got the image.

Many of the people who look at this website are engaged in the same type of business or activity. They see an image that they believe would enhance their own website. There is no way to ask anyone anything about the image, but it is very easy to copy and paste.

This new user may think that the costs of producing that image have already been covered by the initial user so nobody is hurt if they make some additional use of the image.

This might be OK if the initial user paid enough to cover the full costs of production and profit,  But we in the industry know that in 99.999% of the cases the fee paid is nowhere near enough to cover the cost of production. The whole theory behind the stock photo industry is that the fee one user pays will be significantly LESS than the cost of production. The creator will cover his/her costs and make a profit by licensing multiple users the right to use the same image.

Is There A Solution?

To make it possible for those people who are second and third image users to properly compensate creators there must be a system that enables potential image users to easily locate the creator – the copyright holder – of the image.

This is not as hard as it sounds. Check out these stories. Can Customers Find You? and Finding Photographers.

Based on the statistics, for every person who properly licenses rights to use an image, there may be 9 others who see the image and would like to use it on their own website. If we could convert one-third -- or less -- of these people into paying customers, we might double or triple gross industry revenue – even without raising prices at all.

If you’re convinced that everyone in the world is a thief – and will always steal if they have the slightest chance – then what I propose won’t work. I believe most people are honest and want to do the right thing, if you don’t make it too hard or too costly.

Where Are Users Really Finding The Images They Use?

With all the images available on stock agency websites and photographer’s personal web sites why would anyone bother go anywhere else to find an image for their next project?

I want you to consider the increasing number of people who use Google to search for images. In November, I did a story on Todd Klassy that I urge you to re-read.

Todd specializes in agricultural stock and pictures of Montana. These subjects are not what one would think of as being in high demand. He has his own website. None of his images are with agencies. When customers interested in using one of his images find his site he asks them to send an email identifying the image they want to use and answer 4 basic questions. One of the questions is: “How did you find my photo?”

In 2017 he made 147 sales. Most photographers won’t consider this number significant. Some Shutterstock photographers make that many sales in a day. But, the average price per license was $601.42.

He regularly posts images on Pinterest and Twitter. Of those 147 sales 5 resulted from the customer seeing his image on either Pinterest or Twitter. 142 of the sales resulted from customers finding his image through a Google search.

He has good images. He presents them well and he is a very good negotiator. My bet is that almost nobody initially found his site because they were searching for “agricultural stock photos,” “Montana stock photos” or They found his photos by doing a Google search. Maybe it was a visual search of an image they had seen somewhere else? Maybe it was because of his good SEO?

The important thing is that more and more people are finding the images they want to use at locations other than stock agencies. As an industry we are missing out on that market. The question is how do we get these users to start negotiating with either the creator or a stock agency.

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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