What Sells: Part Two

Posted on 5/29/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In a comment to my previous story, Sarah Fix of Blend Images pointed out that technology solutions alone may not provide photographers with the information they need to make the most productive use of their time and resources.

At Blend, “we make significant investments in providing experienced editors, sharing data, webinars, and in-person meetings with our contributors because often important details are overlooked that can make the difference between an image being licensed 25 vs. 225 times,” she continued.

This type of information is very important and I did not mean to indicated that it is unnecessary. Many agencies provide regular “trend reports” with indications of what is in demand based on their sales experience. While useful, and an important part of the total picture, such information only provides part of the information needed. It should not be a substitute for hard data.

For example, most images from the Blend collection are licensed through other distributors who have much larger image collections gathered from a wide range of stock agencies, production companies and individual creators. Blend only has access to sales of images from its collection,  not the whole universe of contributors represented by the larger distributor. Blend has no way of knowing how their “top selling images” compare with the top sellers of the distributor.

Take, for example, Getty’s list of “trending search terms” that I published last week. What the photographer doesn’t know is “how many” of the images shown in each of the sample collections, or “which” ones, have actually been used.

Maybe none have been used. Maybe customers using these terms want something totally different from anything found among the images shown. What photographers may be to go out and shoot something totally different. But, photographers can shoot a wide variety of different things that might relate to the general concept and never hit on anything a customer will really buy.

Moreover, if the photographer were to know what hasn’t sold, that would be a good indication not to waste time trying to copy a non-selling ideas that can already be found in the collection.
On the other hand, if the photographer knows what has sold - and sold well in the past - shooting new images around that general approach to the concept might offer a much greater chance of success.

Ideally, stock photography should be more than a crap shoot. For the professional, given the buy in to participate in the game, the odds of success must be better than they are today or the gamblers won’t play.

What is needed is both trend reports and data related to actual use.


I regularly hear comments like the following from experienced, top selling photographers with huge collections. This photographer has been in the business more than a decade and has a collection of over 10,000 images with multiple agencies. He says, “I'm still receiving sales and can live from my earnings, but they aren't providing near as much income as before. I can't afford to invest as much in shoots as I once did. It is no longer worth the kind of investments I used to make.”

He is definitely, not alone.

It is interesting that I am not only hearing such comments from image creators in North America and Western Europe, but from those in Eastern Europe and Asia where the cost of production and cost-of-living is much lower. One would think that the revenue earned from stock photo production would go a lot farther in the Eastern world than in the West, but even in the East it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Maybe agencies don’t need photographers who “invest in shoots.” Maybe they don’t need photographers who hire models, get model releases, rent locations, build sets, find and rent props, etc. Maybe they have enough of such images. Maybe all they need are images produced by new photographers who only shoot “real” situations of things that happen in front of them as they move through their daily lives.

If that’s what the customers are using, then it’s not a big deal if photographers who have invested in shoots in the past stop producing

For several years now the mantra for what is needed has been more “real,” “natural” and “real life” images. I think much of what is actually being used  in this category are images that have been carefully planned, orchestrated and directed to look like real life. But maybe I’m wrong. The problem is that I don’t believe the major distributors know how much of what they are selling is unplanned, real and natural compared to shoots where there has been significant planning and investment.

The big agencies have the data. They just aren’t analyzing it and feeding the information to the image producers. I can understand why agencies resist and may not want to share some of this data with producers. But internally, for their own survival, they ought to be doing a better job of analyzing their data themselves.  

What is needed, is data from the big 4 – Getty Images, Shutterstock, AdobeStock and Alamy – that provides a broad cross section of everything that is being used.

Until that is available – or unless prices rise significantly – more and more of the top producing photographers will be saying, “I can't afford to invest as much in shoots as I used to. The return is no longer worth the investment.”

Copyright © 2017 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.  


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