Posted on 6/25/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Customers are becoming increasingly unhappy with being asked to search through tons of images and still not finding what they want. In many cases it is not that great images are unavailable, it is just that they are buried under tons of less desirable images. Curation is the answer.

Last week I presented arguments for why technology is unlikely to solve the curation problem. Last January I offered a solution for removing some images from the main collections when an image had been sitting unsold in the files for a long period of time. This issue must be addressed.

On iStock there are currently 3,217,960 images with the keyword “People”. Only about 45% of them have ever sold. A lot of the approximately 1,768,000 images that haven’t sold may not have been on the site very long. But my bet is that a huge percentage of these unsold images have been on the site for 2 years or more.  

On top of this another 15% have only sold once and an additional 7% have sold twice. Thus, less than one-quarter of the images they are offering to customers have been selected more than twice. This is on a microstock site where it only costs a few dollars to purchase rights to an image.

I also searched for the keyword “Nature.” iStock has 4,546,760 images. Only 26% of them have ever sold. Another 11% have only sold once and an additional 4% have sold twice. That means that over 4 million of the 4,546,760 images on the site seem to be images no one wants to buy. Again, some are relatively new, but a huge percentage of these images have been on the site for more than 2 years.

Improving Customer Experience

How much would it improve customers experiences if they could go to a site where all the images were either really new or had been selected for use by more than one or two other customers?

I’m not proposing that distributors throw the non-selling images away. But put them in a different collection – (iStockA and iStockB for example). That would provide customers with a choice. They will find the newest and best images in the “A” collection, but if they want to do a deeper search they can go to the “B” collection. The images in the non-selling “B” collection could also be made available at a discounted price. Or better yet, charge slightly more for images in the “A” collection.

Traditional Sellers

The problem is even worse for traditional agencies. There is very little good data available on the number of non-selling images in these collections, but the number is huge.?
Alamy has 47.73 million images in its collection and we know that they license rights to less than 1% of them a year. And many of the same images are licensed the next year. These percentages are undoubtedly the same, or worse, for most of the other large traditional databases.

Does it impress customers to be offered 4,000 or 40,000 returns on a search or would they rather see a return of 400 images that includes all the images that someone has actually used along with image on the subject that have been uploaded in the last year or two?


Subscription sellers would have more trouble in narrowing their searches by images downloaded because so many of the images downloaded are never used. Certainly a much smaller percentage of images on Subscription sites are never downloaded than is the case where a separate fee is paid for each download.

On the other hand offering customers a site that is better curated may be one way for microstock to take share away from the subscription sellers.

Something Needs To Be Done

Ask yourself, is it better to keep every image ever accepted in these growing files and chase customers away, or would it be better to try to provide a useful service to customers?

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, 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:  


  • John Lund Posted Jun 25, 2014
    Kind of like back to the a sense Tony Stone was offering a very highly curated collection...a novel idea at the time!

    John Lund

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