Who’s Got The Most Images?

Posted on 10/1/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Many stock agencies focus on the number of images they have in their collections. But does the customer really care? Rather than numbers, I think the customer is looking for where they can find (1) the right image, (2) quickly and easily and (3) at a price they can afford. Often sheer numbers don’t produce the best results.

Here are some numbers to consider:

Flickr has over 10 billion images and over 300 million of them are available for FREE use under 6 different types of Creative Common licenses. In addition Getty Images has been able to mine that collection for over 1 million images that they license for use through www.gettyimages.com.

Many Flickr photographers like Todd Klassy use Flickr as their personal portfolio site and earn significant revenue from licensing rights to the images customers find by searching Flickr. No one knows how many other photographers earn how much money from customers who find their images on Flickr, but the numbers are potentially significant.

Then we have:
    Picturengine with over 300 million unique images from stock agencies and individual
                            photographers around the world

    Pacasearch – Over 131 million images from PACA member agencies
    Newscom – Over 75 million images
    Getty Images – Has almost 56 million editorial images and an additional 10+ million Images on
                                the Creative Stock Images section of their site.
    500px – Over 50 million images and growing rapidly (but currently less than 1 million

                    images available for direct licensing on 500px.Prime)
    Alamy – Over 50.7 million images
    Shutterstock - Over 42.7 million images
    123RF - Over 32 million images
    Fotolia - Over 31.9 million images
    Dreamstime – Over 26.3 million images
    Corbis - Over 25.2 million images and over 6 million on Veer, but it is not clear if some of the
                    Veer images are also duplicated on Corbis
    ZUMA Press – Almost 21 million images, editorial only collection
    iStock – Probably over 20 million images, but less than Corbis, but it is unclear how many
                   images they really represent.
    Canstockphoto - Over 16.5 million
It is clear from this list that the web sites with the most images are not the ones that earn the most revenue either for themselves or the image creators. And it is not necessarily about the quality of the images. There are great images on all these sites, and there are also a huge number of images that have never been licensed and are not likely to be licensed in the future.

As the sites get more and more images the problem of surfacing the best images for any given customer’s need becomes more and more complex. It is not just about better keywording. Often it is difficult for the customer to describe in words what they are looking for until they see it, or at least something that is similar.

Some sites want to limit the number of words to only the most important aspects of an image. But then the right image may be missed because the word the customer used wasn’t one of the keywords. More words may result in raising too many inappropriate images to the top of the search-return-order.

Most sites tend to give newer images preference as well as pushing images that have been licensed before to the top of the search return. But the newest image isn’t always the best particularly when it comes to subjects like nature and wildlife where the date a picture was taken has no relation whatsoever to the quality or usefulness of the image.

The same thing can happen with people pictures. I remember a story back in print catalog days. One of FPG’s photographers produced a great picture of a group of young people which he believed demonstrated a trend that was developing. FPG put the picture in one of their catalogs, but it never sold. It was four years before that picture started to sell and then sold very well. The photographer had recognized a future trend long before the buyers started wanting it. Back then art directors had shelves full of print catalogs and they would look through all of them when they had a particular need. Now, there are simply too many images to look through. There is not enough time. And all the so-so images are mixed in among the few good ones.  

Editing by professional editors can be very helpful and some small, well-edited collections in specific subjects areas still sell very well. Some customers find these collections very useful. But at today’s prices, and with the volume of images coming in, no one can afford to edit.

Right now there doesn’t seem to be any real solution to this dilemma. Technologists want to believe they can solve this problem with technology. I’m skeptical. But, the databases will continue to explode in size. Without a different approach to search than our current one it will become harder and harder for customers to find the best images for their projects.

Copyright © 2014 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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