Archive Value Of News Pictures

Posted on 9/7/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I have a theory that a very high percentage of the uses of editorial or news pictures occur in the first month or two after they are shot. Newpapers, magazines and websites use the images when they are fresh and then move on to the next news happening. Of course, certain events will have historical value and key images from these events may be used over and over in future years – Iwo Jima flag raising, World Trade Center, Hindenburg crash, etc.– but it seems to me that such situations represent a very small percentage of overall use.

Do most of the images editorial photographers create really have any future monetary value, and are they worth storing? If most of the revenue an editorial photographer earns from a set of images is generated within 60 days after they are first shown, is there any reason to retain more than a select few in an archive?

I discussed this issue with Andrea Edmunds, Newscom Product Manager. Newscom manages an archive of about 130 million images.

JP - With all the images in news oriented editorial collections, I wonder if anyone has ever done any analysis of how many of those images are licensed later than a month or two after they are produced?

AE - Yes, we’ve done extensive analysis on this. While it can fluctuate from year to year, roughly 85% of the images we license each year are more than a month old. Most of these are news-related images, celebrity pictures (both of famous and obscure people) and sports images. I can’t easily get an exact percentage, but I believe that more than half of those images are from the last 15 years.

JP – It seems to me that a huge percentage of the images in a collection the size of yours (130 Million and counting), particularly celebrity pictures, are similars that are never likely to be used. Once you’ve determined which images were selected for use after initial submission, does it make sense to do some curation the collection and just keep the best images.

AE - Newscom views itself as the ultimate archive of digital media. We believe search technology will improve. We don’t move images around or remove images from our archive based on age, so every one is available for searches.

JP - Of course, there are some exceptions. There may be an individual who is photographed infrequently and months or years later they do something of note and someone wants the best picture they can find of them, even if it is not current. My bet is that doesn’t happen very often.

AE -This does happen. I think we licensed every single picture of Osama bin Laden on our site when he was found and killed. But I think this happens more frequently than you realize – obituaries cause big licensing events – but this also happens with famous, still living people. My theory is that clients want to find a picture that works, regardless of whether it’s someone obscure or famous.

For example, we license thousands of pictures of Obama each year. So far in 2016, the average age of images of Obama that we’ve licensed is 14 months old.

Another example: with the recent feud between Taylor Swift and Kim Kardashian, while the news was happening in July there weren’t many pictures to go with it, so many of the pictures licensed at the time were older images of Swift from earlier in the year (not the most recent pics of her, many were of her performing or walking with her new boyfriend), or pictures of Kim Kardashian from the previous year (before she was pregnant) – or years-old images of Swift with Kardashian and West at the Grammys. While we have plenty of pictures of Taylor Swift that go unlicensed, we keep all of them because it’s likely she’ll be feuding again with someone and our clients will be pulling images related to that. Many of our clients tell us they use Newscom because they find images on Newscom when they couldn’t find it anywhere else.

JP - Then there are truly historic events like the Twin Towers or Raising The Flag on Iwo Jima that get used over and over. But, in these cases it is usually a single frame, or a small collection of iconic images that get used. The vast majority of images that appeared at the time of the event are never considered again.
AE - I sort of agree on this. Major events only have a few images licensed for sure. With the Twin Towers, on the 10th anniversary and now coming up on the 15th anniversary, it’s a lot of the same, iconic images being relicensed. However, I think people are also looking for fresh perspectives and new images from the event. So some of the images recently licensed - related to news around the Twin Towers - were pictures of rescue dogs (with the last rescue dog dying in June). So we licensed a fair number of images related to that event that we had never licensed before.

Some events, like the BP oil spill, Haiti or Japan earthquakes, Michael Jackson death, Eyjafjollojakull volcano, Oklahoma tornadoes, or Iraq war, we license a good number of images (not a lot but enough to make you notice) every year regardless of anniversaries or significant events simply because they illustrate different points relevant to our clients today. Some are iconic, others are obscure. We recently saw a number of images from the Katrina flooding of people working to rescue pets. Again, they’re looking for fresh angles on stories that are still impacting us today.
Other events, like the Olympics, have athletes who are noteworthy and competing today who were obscure and background figures at previous Olympics or world events. So while we’ve licensed a number of the iconic pictures of Bolt or Phelps dominating, we’ve also got pictures of Son Yeon-jae – a rhythmic gymnast who got 5th in the 2012 Olympics and has since become a serious gold medal contender in Rio. There aren’t many US publications looking for her pictures, true, but we have a number of Asian publications that we work with.

JP - Also, in some cases there are feature stories that can hold their value for a long period of time, but my guess is that very few of the images produced by photojournalists fall into this category.
AE - We have a lot of feature stories that do well on Newscom. I can’t say they do better than the average editorial image because we don’t track licensing in a way that would make it easy to find out, but a number of photographers we work with have done some fantastic features on things like Syria, traveling in India, odd toilets around the world, and anniversary shots for major news events.
We do have beautiful and significant feature collections from our editorial partners and we do license from them, but I don’t know if they last longer than other editorial images.

JP - It also seems to me that the massive collections are becoming a big problem for customers. It takes too long to go through the massive number of returns to find a decent shot. In a lot of cases the customer is simply looking for the “newest” image. That’s easy. If they know the date (or date range) when a particular image was taken that helps. But, if the customer simply wants the “best” image, or an image with a particular expression that can be a problem.
AE - Based on Newscom’s licensing patterns (and my experience as a former newspaper editor) I believe clients are looking for an image that works, this is frequently not the newest image – or even the best image. We agree that massive collections can be difficult to search, but, again, we believe that the future is in improving search tools, not curating archive collections.

When we started looking at the age of images licensed on our site years and years ago, we were incredibly surprised by how many “archive” images we licensed (I mean, our name is Newscom, we’ve always thought we were in the hard news business). But I’ve learned over the years that a lot of today’s news is recycled stories popping up every couple months or years, and while clients want to have the “best” or “newest” images, they’re also looking for the images that they can find quickly and work good enough for this story and then they move on to the next one.

JP - At what point will the number of images available get so huge that no one can find anything they want?

AE - We don’t believe that will happen. We believe that search technology will advance and improve metadata and that people will be better equipped to find the images they need. We recognize that’s not where we are today, but a lot of the major players in images – including Google and Facebook and new photo agencies launching today – are focusing on improving search technologies, so we’ll get there soon enough.
JP -While I believe search technology will improve, it seems to me unlikely that it will improve as rapidly as archives are growing. It seems to me that more and more customers are pressed for time and are increasingly looking for smaller, better curated archives.
AE - I disagree on this. Mainstream Data, Newscom’s parent company, works with some incredibly large and global editorial teams (whose names I cannot share) and these clients want all their feeds on one, simple, platform that normalizes search, rights, and download processes across all providers. They’re pressed for time, yes, but they don’t want to limit the number of images, they want to limit the number of different sites they go to. That’s one of Mainstream’s products – they essentially sell the technology behind Newscom to editorial teams so they can have one platform with multiple image agencies on it. Many of our customers like Newscom because they know what they’re getting on the site, they don’t like having to go to Zuma, then pop over to Reuters, check out epa, and then go to WENN just to make sure they’re not missing an image they need. Newscom saves them time because everything is on one search.
JP - I know that archives like Alamy license way less than 1% of the images in their collection. I have heard reports, although I have no hard data, that AP earns very little from its archive and virtually all its revenue comes from the daily news feed (although, since customers can store the images supplied in the daily feed they could be re-using them later). In conversations with Zumapress they have told me that 80% to 90% of their revenue comes from sales within a couple of months after the images are uploaded and a small percentage from archive sales. ?(In Zuma’s case the numbers were “top of the head” guesses, not based on the kind of ?in-depth analysis you have done.)
AE - Years and years ago at my college paper when we had an AP subscription, based on the way it was set up on our network (I don’t know if it’s different anywhere else) it was difficult to search for archive images on our feed so we used a lot of recent images from them. But we regularly accessed our archive of images stored on our own computer from our own photographers to accompany our stories. For example, we’d always use an image from the past year to preview an upcoming game against a specific opponent. At the technology blog, there were only one or two pictures of Steve Jobs that we’d use for like an entire year, then we’d get a new one.

JP - I wonder if the reason your experience seems so different from Zuma’s is that Zuma’s sales are based to a great degree on news feeds and customers thinking of Zumapress as their best source for breaking news. Alternatively, they think of Newscom as the best source for archive images because you have the most extensive archive.
AE - Zuma’s response, especially, intrigues me. I suspect because they are partnered with several different collections, it is difficult to easily see where archive sales would come from. But perhaps not. We are partnered with Zuma and license a lot of archive images from their collections. However, I think the biggest difference isn’t so much what people think of our collections as it is from market reach. We work with a lot of newspapers, online publishers, and magazines, but we also do a lot of sales with textbook clients. ALL of our clients are licensing archive images, but our textbook clients are licensing almost exclusively archive images.

JP - After looking at your list of contributors, I would think that most of the images in your collection are also in Alamy’s collections, as well as the collections of many other distributors. So whether or not a customer uses Newscom or someone else would seem to come down to search algorithm and other services provided.
AE - I have two parts to this response: First, we do believe we overlap with Alamy a fair amount, but we also feel that Alamy has made a conscious pivot toward a more creative archive and while they still serve editorial clients, we don’t hear about them as often on the editorial side and their website seems to be directed to creative professionals. I could be wrong on that, it’s just something we’ve noticed over the last couple years. Second, I think a lot of times it comes down to familiarity, subscriptions and price, and then other services provided and search algorithm. I feel like most providers are on relatively the same playing field with search algorithms, at least in the editorial field, so that’s not much of a competitive factor today. I could be wrong on that, but I’ve visited clients and prospective clients a lot and they most frequently mention price and ease of use for why they go to a specific collection.

JP - The one thing that seems totally inefficient to me is that photographers are shooting more and more frames of every situation, and every one of those frames gets into the collection. It is not unusual for there to be 10, 20 or more frames of a portrait of an individual with the only difference being a slight turn of the head or a slight change in facial expression. I can’t believe that all of those images ever get used. I can see why that might be useful for an editor who is trying to find an image of an event 30 seconds after it happened. Give them everything you’ve got and let them make the decision.
AE - True. There can be layout decisions where someone wants eye contact with the camera/no eye contact; they want an open mouth smile or no teeth showing; they want an arm up or an arm down. It is a lot, but there are a lot of considerations for layout, so we keep every image. One partner we work with that will be launching soon has worked on this problem by having their site create automatic sets so only one image from an event appears in the search results and the customer can drill down to see the 10-20 additional images from that event. Newscom will have that functionality when we roll out our new website.

JP - One thing that would be very helpful to photographers is to have a better idea of what kind of images fall into the category of having long term value and why. Many photographers think they have build these collections of thousands, or hundred’s of thousands of images, and that somehow they will have long term value. They think their archive is worth something.

AE - If you figure this out let us know! We know not every image is worth something, but we haven’t yet found a formula for what will sell in 10 years so we keep everything we can, just in case. I don’t have a good answer for you on this, because I agree that you’re right, but we’ve been studying that for years and we tell our partners to send us their entire archive regardless of how large (or small) it is.

On the creative side, we know that content has a shorter shelf life. So we have purged some creative collections from our archive that were older, not updated, and hadn’t been licensed in some time. 

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:  


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