Business Opportunity: Isolated Subjects

Posted on 1/27/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Some sellers and customers argue that photos of a single subject on a white background should be less expensive than more complex shots that require models, props and additional time to produce. One of the driving forces behind the development of microstock was the buyer desire to have access to such shots for prices that are lower than traditional. Isolated subjects have since become the domain of microstock agencies.

Customers often use such images as building blocks of more complex images—rather than as the primary image in a promotional piece—and consequently cannot justify high prices. However, customers also find that the simplicity of such images makes them very effective as stand-alone illustrations, particularly when used in small sizes.

In times past, such images were, for the most part, not available in traditional stock collections. In those rare cases when buyers could find the right image, it was much more expensive than they were willing to pay. Still, while customers were reluctant to pay traditional rights-managed fees, many would have been willing to pay much more than microstock prices.

Instead of accommodating customer needs by finding a way to price certain images differently, rights-managed and traditional royalty-free sellers ignored the opportunity and, in the process, may have turned over a very important segment of the market to microstock. Despite the fact that isolated imagery represents a significant segment of the stock-photography market, it is often difficult to get such images accepted into traditional collections, which have defined such images as “microstocky.”

A cursory examination of the iStockphoto and Getty Images collections illustrates how much of a market may have been surrendered to microstock.

An iStock search for “food” returns 293,559 images. Over a third—410 images—of the top-selling 1,000 of these food images were of isolated subjects shot on white backgrounds: there were 172 of these among the top 400 food images, 156 among the second 400 and 82 of the final 200 images. The top seller was an image of an apple, which has sold 3,183 times. The 500th image had sold 440 times, and the 1,000th image—269 times. The gross sale price on average at iStock is around $6.50; though this is not much per unit, the volume makes the total generated revenue substantially more interesting.

The same search produced 94,464 rights-managed and 112,371 royalty-free results at Getty Images, with no way to determine which images sell best. Among the first 500, only 12 were isolated subjects shot on white. Royalty-free performed a little better, producing 63 desired images among the first 500 results. Yet variety was lacking: 23 of these were Digital Vision photos that showed an arm holding up various foods.

Food is only one of the many categories where demand for single-subject shots is huge. If that is what customers need, it is obvious that microstock is the place to find it—even when price is not a factor.

The development of separate collections that offer this type of imagery exclusively, priced based on use, but at prices that are not as high as traditional rights managed images may be an opportunity for an enterprising seller and a way to generate significantly more revenue for producers.

Copyright © 2009 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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