Curation By Customers

Posted on 9/13/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In the last few months I have argued that the stock photo industry needs smaller, better curated image collections. However, many of the major image collections have consciously decided that a totally opposite strategy is the best course of action.

They are asking reviewers to accept as much content as possible and NOT edit anything submitted unless it does not meet very basic technical requirements. Part of this is to combat irregular reviewer policies when it comes to rejections. Some reviewers like certain types of subject matter and tend to accept a lot of it while being more stingy on other types of content.

Agencies want to leave the curation process up to their customers.

The theory is that when buyers click and view or buy the agency records that “data.” Then they organize future search returns based on that data. This leads to a huge cost savings because reviewers can work more efficiently and accept more images in a given amount of time. It is left up to the buyers to determine what goes where on the site.

However, there are a few potential problems with this strategy.

1 – A lot of the people clicking on images may not be buyers, but photographers doing research to try to determine what to shoot next; what keywords others are using so they can better keyword their own images, or just trying to improve the search return order of some of their images by giving them more clicks

Maybe the number of photographers doing this is insignificant, but I would think it would be very difficult to determine who is an image creator and who isn’t, particularly if the person doing the clicking doesn’t happen to be represented by the agency.

Since many creators are also buyers the agency wouldn’t want to disregard all clicks from individuals on their “creator” list. They could also be buyers.

Creators intent on “gaming” the system could buy a couple photos and jump to the creator/buyer list. From that point on, one would think that any time a photographer clicked on his own image it would be considered the action of a buyer. Of course, the data tracking could be so sophisticated that it would know whenever an image creator clicked on his own image and disregard that click. To get around that a creator would need to use a different computer and a different log-in name.

2 – As I have discussed before, one of the biggest problems in relying on data to determine which images are in greatest demand is how to relate clicks and downloads from subscription customers with those from single image buyers. Should they be given equal weight; if not how much weight should a subscription download be given relative to a single image one?

We know that subscription customers tend to download a lot of images that they never intend to use in a finished project. They use them for reference purposes, or research because it costs them no more than their basic subscription fee to download extra images. Unfortunately, NO ONE how frequently this happens. When the customer pays a specific fee for each image downloaded it’s a reasonable assumption they intend to use that image in a project.

3 – Assuming that all downloads are actually being used, when trying to determine which images are most popular should you base it entirely on number of downloads, on revenue generated, or just single image downloads? If the customer is willing to pay more for an images does that mean it should go higher in the search return order.

Recently, I examined a list of downloads of one Shutterstock photographer with a very large collection. In a six-month period virtually every image in her collection was downloaded at least once as part of a subscription. A relatively small percentage of total downloads were downloaded at higher single image prices. There were 97 different prices at which images were licensed. How does one determine the weight to place on each one of those downloads?

4 – Adding over 100,000 new images a day to a collection as Shutterstock is doing can lead to a very short useful life for an image. If the image doesn’t get clicked or downloaded right away, particularly if the image happens to be of relatively high demand subject matter that everyone shoots. it will quickly get buried so deep in the search return order that it will never again rise to the level where it will be seen by a customer. An image of a less commonly used subject, or one with unique, but sometimes used keywords may be able to avoid this fate to some degree.

The problem might be that the person who could really use that subject matter might not be looking for it a few days, or weeks after it was uploaded. A month or two after it was uploaded a buyer came looking for that perfect image and it was already buried where no one could find it.

One interesting static would be the number of images that are not clicked on, or downloaded within two months of initial upload. The likelihood that everything will have been downloaded at least once via a subscription may give images a somewhat longer life.

5 – Are the buyers from the big organizations that use the most images picking the images everyone wants to use? Maybe those top buyers are choosing to use images that would not be the first choice of many of the smaller organizations with low needs and low budgets. But, it would seem that data based searches would always show the most clicked on and downloaded images first.

6 – Part of the issue is the degree to which buyers understand that they are being used in this way and willingly participate. Most buyers are not anxious to participate in a research project every time they go to look for an image. They simply want to quickly review a small selection of images that are exactly targeted to their immediate needs, choose one, and get on with the rest of their day. I’m not sure buyer curation is what they want to do with their time.

The big question is how long will buyers be willing to live with doing the curation before they ask for help or go somewhere else to buy.

Factors To Consider

Buyers seem to be turning to Stocksy (  ) and other smaller specialized collections.

Shutterstock may be saying, “We’ve created the curated collection Offset. And while a small percentage of images are selling at high prices the vast majority of the images in the collection have never sold. Yet, nearly all the images in our main collection are being downloaded via subscription. This proves that the best human curators aren’t very good at selecting the images customers want. Thus, we should rely on data.”

Other Curation Stories To Review

New Image Marketing Strategy Needed

Stock Photo Marketing 2.0 – Part 2

Curated Collections: The Future

Why Is Curation So Necessary?

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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