Why Is Curation So Necessary?

Posted on 3/11/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I want to call your attention to a couple of comments to my recent story “Curated Collections: The Future.”
    Richard Gardette Posted Feb 15, 2016
    "Increasingly, customers that can’t quickly find what they want in a curated collection are simply using the time they would have spent on research to shoot what they need themselves". Jim, are you serious?

    Pat Kane Posted Mar 1, 2016

    Jim is dead serious. Our son is Manager of Digital Media for a division of a huge Fortune 100 company and has on occasion produced his own images with hired talent. Of course growing up with a full-fledged photo studio, a photographer father (Gabe Palmer), a producer mother and a full-time staff in your house prepared him for the challenge. Just a few weeks ago he was looking for a key image of a preschool-aged girl on a swing lost in delight with her head back and her hair flying. I helped him search and the choices were boring, without emotion and generally un-artful. He has to shoot it!
It is important to recognize that there are some great images on most of the stock photo sites with tens of millions of images. But as we shove everything that meets certain technical standards onto these sites it becomes harder and harder to sort through all the mediocre shots and find the few great ones.

Some think it is possible to solve this problem with better keywords, and customers learning how to better describe what they are looking for with keywords. Others think visual search will be the answer.

Pat Kane has clearly identified the problem with the description of the image her son needed.

“Preschool-aged girl, swing, hair flying, expression of delight,” and oh by the way, the general environment where the swing is located must be appealing.

Keywords alone are simply not going to help you find this image. And you’re going to get hundreds, if not thousand, of images that sort of meet some of the requirements. It’s also hard to imagine how a visual search is going to help unless you already have a copy of the image and all you want is to know where you need to go to license use.

We don’t keyword images with terms like “location or set, B+,” “Clothes, C,” “Expression, A-.“ Even it photographers did such detailed analysis and keywording of their images, they would lie and the descriptions would be meaningless anyway.

It takes an outsider, someone not directly involved in the initial production to make such judgments. That outsider (editor) also needs to have knowledge of the kinds of images customers want to use. Ideally, the editor will also know exactly what customers have been buying, and have enough regular contact with customers to understand what the new trends are and the new looks they are still unable to find.
It would also be really great if the editors could then guide the most productive photographers in their future production. That used to happen, but as far as I can tell it almost never happens today. There are few real editors; they are never told what is selling; and they almost never offer any guidance to image creators.

The creators are left to research what materials they can find to try to understand what buyers want. Reviewing the collections themselves tells them nothing about what customers are purchasing.

A couple decades ago Tony Stone, Richard Steedman and Larry Fried (Tony Stone Images, The Stock Market and The Image Bank) used to put out annual print catalogs that contained the premium quality images in their collections. Customers could go to these catalogs and quickly find images they could use for their projects. These agencies had millions of images in their collections. Experienced editors who worked for them combed through these collection and found the best, on target images for what their customers were requesting and buying.

Interestingly, a huge percentage of the images customers ended up buying were found in these catalogs. Occasionally, customers would do in-depth searches of the collections, or ask for research help in order to find other images that might work better for their projects. But images from the general collection tended to represent a smaller percentage of overall sales. The catalogs also enabled all creators to understand what the standard was for images that sell.

Print catalogs were severely limited in the number of images they could afford to show given the cost of producing these books. In the digital environment that limitation doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean that there is no value to the customer in editing.

For a while some microstock sites were allowing customers to order their search returns by downloads. This allowed customers to see what all other image buyers (unbiased editors), searching for the same subject matter, found most useful for their projects. Not surprisingly these best selling images sold over and over because this method of searching helped many buyers find the best images quickly.

But most sites have moved away from this strategy preferring to force their customers to scroll through what the site operators have determined are “Best Match.” Traditional sites have never offered this type of search.

In the digital environment it is not necessary to edit as tightly as was the case for print catalogs, but it would certainly be of value to use the categories the print catalog producers used and produce edited collections of 200 to 500 images on each of these subjects. These collections should be organized based on how frequently the images have been used. This would not only help buyers, but would also help creators understand what they should be producing.

There may even be value in developing a few more sub-categories than the print catalogs used.. There needs to be strict limits on the number of images in these collections. The collections need to be regularly reviewed by professional editors. An image shouldn’t be added just because it is newer. The oldest image should not be dropped from the collection just because of age because it may still be better and more appropriate than something that is higher up.

It should be remembered that a huge percentage of the buyers are also image producer. Camera technology has made it easier for many of them to produce what they want. They will use stock if it is as good or better than what they can produce, and cheaper.

But, the cost is not just in what they pay to use a stock image. It includes all the time it takes them to find that right image. Often they can use their time more wisely by producing the image themselves.

These buyers also have the option of hiring photographers to produce specific images. Rather than spending hours, or maybe days, looking for the right image and never finding it, they can hire a photographer to shoot exactly what they want. This seems to be happening more and more. They may not be paying as much for these jobs as they did 5 or 10 years ago because there are a lot of hungry photographers out there. But many of the best customers still have budgets that enable them to shoot projects when necessary.

Recently, I examined the 2015 sales of some major Getty Images RF contributors. The sales over $200 represented 80% of the gross revenue, but only 17% of total images licensed. The average sale price of this group of sales was almost $400. There are still customers out there willing to pay good money for images. They will hire a photographer to produce what they need if they can’t easily find what they need in stock.

The sad part of this story is that two-thirds of the sales of these photographers were for prices under $25 with an average price (gross sale price, not royalty) of just over $4.

The customers willing to pay high prices want service, and they cannot afford to waste their time. If the agencies can’t figure out a way to help them quickly find the best images the agency has to offer, then all that will be left is the low hanging fruit.

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.  


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