Search Innovations Needed

Posted on 1/21/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

More images are not the answer. The industry needs to find a better way to present the images already in databases for customer consideration. Customers find it harder and harder to dig out the right image for their needs from todays large databases. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the right images aren’t there. It’s just that customers do not have time to search through all the available options.

As a result, some customers are turning to better curated collections that specialize in the particular subject of interest. But these collections are often difficult to find, particularly by customers who only need the specialist material occasionally. To solve this problem, the specialist collections place their material with larger distributors where the images tend to get buried and heavily discounted in price when they do sell.

Increasingly, customers are producing more of the images they need themselves. Many graphic designers and art directors are accomplished photographers. Better to spend the time they waste searching in producing exactly what they need themselves. In addition, an increasing number of buyers seem to be hiring photographers for specific projects.

One Possible Improvement

Searching could be made easier if there were some way to reduce the number of similars that tend to pop up in basic searches. It is not uncommon to see five or six variations (and sometimes even more) of a particular shot in the basic search. All of these images have the same keywords and are uploaded at the same time. As this happens more frequently the first 200 or 300 images might really only show 40 to 60 different situations.

From the customer’s point of view, it takes a lot of time to scan through all these images if the general situations aren’t really what the customer needs. If the customer changes search parameters, the same thing will probably happen with the new search results. Either way customers are being required to commit more and more time to image research in order to find something they can use.

It would help if when there are multiple versions of the same situation only one image would be shown as part of that basic search. A small dot with a number indicating the number of similars available could be placed in the bottom corner of that image. If there is a 5 in the dot, then the viewer would know that 5 other variations of the shot are available. If the general subject is of interest, then the viewer could click on the dot and review the other 5 images. If none of them are exactly what the viewer wants, then with another click she could return to the basic search and continue on.

Such a system could dramatically reduce search time for customers. But, it would undoubtedly also increase distributor costs.

Distributors would have to do the work of identifying similars. It seems unlikely that they could lay that work off on image creators as they have done with keywording. Technology could be used to identify similars to a certain degree, but human curation would undoubtedly be required to make such a system really useful. Most distributors want to cut staff costs, not add to them.

It is worth reflecting for a moment on what made stock photography work in the 80s and 90s. The agencies had experienced researchers who did a lot of the work of narrowing the selection for the designers, based on actual conversations with specific customers. They also produced very tightly edited catalogs of their very best images. A high percentage of the images that tended to get used came from these catalogs because all the images in them were great and the very best the agency had to offer. Very little of the customer’s time was required to find something that would work.

Now, the solution is to throw everything possible out there and tell the customer, “The image you need is there somewhere. You find it!”

It seems likely that distributors will do everything possible to avoid research and curation costs. Instead, most will focus on solving all the problems with more technology, more marketing and more images. In the long run this is likely to lead to further sales declines as customers become increasingly dissatisfied with what seems to be available as stock photography.

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:  


  • Petri Oskari Rahja Posted Jan 23, 2016
    The whole search model is wrong. Why you need to search images, if you can ask/request one. The on-demand photography is the answer: You get exactly what you want without any search and actually with an outcome that is exactly what you look for.

    When I chat with people they claim spending hours (6-8) to find/search an "ok" image. When they find/buy one they spend extra 20+ hours to photoshop it, to make it perfect. This workflow is still from 90's and we are living 2016 already...

  • Mike Betts Posted Jan 29, 2016
    Back when I was a regular Getty contributor a few years back I remember them bringing in this exact feature, but I think it only applied to similars by the same photographer. It was quite frustrating from the photographer's perspective as you felt that in some cases quite different images were being linked together, and so you got less real estate on the search results page, but I'm sure it was useful for the buyers.

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