Time: A Factor In Creativity

Posted on 4/6/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Time is becoming an increasing important factor for art directors and image buyers. Bosses and customers are demanding more output and giving the art director less time to produce results. The time it takes to find the right (well maybe, just usable) image is an increasingly important factor to be considered.

If an art director earns $40,000 a year in wages and benefits and works 2,000 hours (40 hours a week for 50 weeks) then the art director is being paid $0.33 per minute. Of course, this number can be reduced if you cut the annual pay, or convince the art director to work for 50 or 60 hours a week for the same money. But for the moment let’s assume art directors don’t want to work such long hours and the cost to the end using company is $0.33 for each minute of his/her time.

If it takes the art director 10 minutes to search a web site and find a usable image the true cost to the buyer is whatever the image costs, plus $3.33. Even if the image is free it still costs $3.33.

Now, consider the cost if it takes 30 minutes or an hour to find a free image compared with maybe 10 minutes on a well curated site. At this labor cost it may be worth paying $10 or $20 for an image that you can find quickly rather than spending a lot of time searching free sites where the image costs nothing.


I’ve spent a little time searching “user generated” sites that offer images either for free, or at very low prices. While it is possible to occasionally find a more “real” image, that might be useful in a marketing project, the free sites are usually so cluttered that it takes a huge amount of time to dig through the dross. Keywording is usually very bad and the search process usually leaves a lot to be desired when compared to sites that charge money to use the images they offer.

Turn to an established microstock site, and you usually find that keywording is better, the site is better organized and search is more efficient. While these sites do charge a small amount to use their images, in the long run the overall cost to the end user is less because the image is found in less time. It is hard to imagine that any customer who places a value on their time would spend any of it searching Free sites.

There are people who search for images that give no thought to the time it takes to find something useful. But, give the number of inexpensive, better options available I believe in the long run most people who need a regular supply of quality images will discover that Free image aren’t a great bargain.

At the upcoming CEPIC Congress a questions to be discussed will be, “Is Free content grabbing increasing audience attention and will it be the next game changer in our industry.” My answer is NO, Free is not likely to provide a serious threat to licensed content.

Collection Growth

However, the race to add more and more images to professional collections could make them as difficult to search as those that offer free images. In the past year we’ve seen more and more dross and similars creep into the leading microstock collections, and even into the bigger traditional collections. That could make Free collections more attractive since the customer will now have to spend a huge amount of time, regardless of where they choose to search.

However, there is another option that could make finding good images even easier. That’s well curated collections. The customers might pay more in image fees, but their overall cost of operation would be less. More customers seem to be turning to curated collections.

It was reported in Microstockdiaries last year that “One art buyer contacted Cavan to express his gratitude for their collection, stating that Cavan was literally saving his marriage.  He had been working 80-hour weeks, spending a large portion of his time combing through stock photo collections in search of high quality lifestyle images. Once he discovered Cavan he was able to significantly cut down his time spent searching – by over 8 hours each week – allowing him to get home in time for dinner with his wife and daughter.”

This is not an isolated instance to be ignored. It is a trend facing all image buyers. To save time buyers will seek out curated collections that allow them to find the image they need more quickly. This is particularly true when budgets allow the buyer to spend some money for images.

In addition to Cavan Images, some of the other tightly curated collections include: Offset (by Shutterstock), Caiaimage, Hero Images, and Blend Images. The list prices for these companies tend to be $50 for web use and $250 to $500 for print use. While these prices are much higher than microstock, a significant number of the better customers can afford them, and the search time saved tends to be a more important factor. In some cases, it is possible to purchase the images from these brands for less money at Gettyimages.com, but finding the image on Getty is much more difficult.

Stocksy is in the middle ground. This collection is tightly curated and the prices range from $10 for web use to $100 for the largest file size for print use. Stocksy also offers a more favorable royalty share for the image creator. Another middle ground may be Shutterstock’s Premium Selects collection. However, this is only available for searching by enterprise customers. We have no idea of the collection’s size or how well it is curated. We believe average prices are much more in line with Stocksy prices than with Offset.

As collections grow the time it takes to find a usable image will become a much more critical factor for buyers. Curation costs money and the leading sites are reluctant to spend that money. Technology will not solve this problem. Only humans can do the kind of curation that is needed. The companies that figure out how to offer a tightly curated product at a reasonable price are likely to be the winners.

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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Arman Zhenikeyev Posted Apr 7, 2016
    by the way Hero images says me that not accept new authors(

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