Conceptual Realism: Is That What Customers Are Buying?

Posted on 9/20/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Getty Images has just sent out a promotion – probably mostly to photographers – to show Conceptual Realism. The implication is that customers want more of this type of imagery and photographers should be shooting more of it and supplying it to the agency. Is Such Imagery Really What Customers Want?

I can’t believe that most of what is being shown in this gallery are images that customers are actually licensing for use.

Photographers are never shown a gallery of best selling images. Getty seems to even have eliminated the possibility of searching for “Most Popular” images so image creators can’t even tell if these images fall anywhere near the top of the most popular list. And, of course, when we go to other agency sites that do have a “Most Popular” search option, it is never clearly explained what that means.

About a decade ago (maybe a little less) iStock used to let customers search by downloads. They would also tell you how many times each image had been downloaded. iStock dropped that feature. It is believed that some photographer with best selling images complained because other photographers were shooting similar images and the photographer who had the idea first began to see a fall off in sales.

But, isn’t it better for the agency if photographers are producing more of the kind of images customers want to buy? Or, does the agency benefit if none of the creators have any idea what is in demand and just go out and shoot what ever weird idea comes into their mind.

Is the guidance Getty is providing misleading? Or have creators learned that when they follow the guidance the images they produce don’t seem to sell so they stop paying attention to it?

Getty – and everyone else – keep adding more and more images to their collections. And the percentage of images that are actually licensed keep falling.

Back in 2006 Getty had about 1.7 million images in their Creative collection and in that year they made almost one sale for every image in the collection. (Many images sold multiple times in the year so some images did not sell.) Now they have 27,349,333 images in their Creative collection, and I estimate that in 2017 they licensed use to about 4.5 million. And about one-third of those licensed were for prices of $5.00 or less. And the collection generated about half as much money in 2017 as in 2006.

A huge, and steadily increasing, percentage of the images in the collection are not being licensed.

It’s not just Getty. Back in Q4 2013 Shutterstock had 32.2 million images in its collection and downloads represented 86% of that number during the quarter. In Q2 2018 they had 215.1 million images in their collection and downloads only represented 21% of the total. (See story.)  Sure they had more downloads in 2017 than in 2013, but image creators are producing a lot more of what no one wants because they have no idea what customer do want to buy.

And, of course, when photographers discover that the pictures they are supplying to the agencies don’t sell, they stop supplying.

Most business try to produce more of what customers want to buy. When customers show no interest in buying a certain product, the smart businessman stops producing more of it, and turns to something else. Since stock agencies have zero cost of production, they don’t concern themselves with this basic business reality. They just keep loading their files with images no one wants.

If the goal is to see how fast they can go out of business, then they probably should continue to keep suppliers in the dark with regards to what customers really want to buy.

Copyright © 2018 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:  


  • Thomas Wear Posted Sep 21, 2018
    Getty DOES still have the "Most Popular" filter. You have to open the filters box to find it. Exactly what it means by it is still unclear. Views?

  • Grant Faint Posted Sep 22, 2018
    It may mean just show how many times a viewer has clicked on that image to see it bigger than thumbnail

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