Digital Railroad Launches Marketplace

Posted on 4/11/2007 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



April 11, 2007

Digital Railroad has announced the much anticipated launch of the public beta version of its online Marketplace (

The company has online collections from more than 1,000 individual photographers and 50 agencies or groups of photographers from more than 60 countries. Until today, in order to view images in any one of these Digital Railroad collections it was necessary to go to the specific URL of each collection. If you knew the address and went to the specific collection of someone who specialized in Italy and searched for "Vatican" you might find a few images. But there may have been 50 or 100 of the other Digital Railroad collections that also had images of the Vatican. You could not see, or be aware, of any of these images unless you also knew the URL's of each of the collections and went to them one at a time.

Marketplace allows the buyer to find all the available images across all of these collections with a single search and to place images from many different collections into a single lightbox. This makes it as easy to search through more than one million images as it is on any of the other major portals. Not all who have chosen to use Digital Railroad to host their own site will be represented on Marketplace. Each supplier has the option not to participate. However, only those who believe (1) that they are already in contact with every potential buyer of images, (2) who fear their buyers will choose someone else's images if they know that other images exist or (3) do not want to give up the 20% transaction fee for all Marketplace sales, will not want to take advantage of the tremendous potential Marketplace offers to increase sales.


Marketplace also enables photographers to maintain a control over pricing that is not available through any other major portal. Marketplace provides an Express Licensing e-commerce option that uses PLUS Packs based on the PLUS Coalition's standards. Buyers who prefer to pay on account, or have other reasons to negotiate may choose the Custom option.

If an individual image supplier is not happy with the Express Licensing prices he may set his own prices. This throws the transaction into a Custom situation that will be handled by a Marketplace sales representative. The disadvantage to this is that the image provider will probably make fewer sales, although one would hope that the sales made would generate more money.

Through Marketplace individual photographers are also able to participate in Preferred Vendor Agreements (PGA's) that are usually only available to large organizations. In these cases large users of images have an agreement in place specifying the prices they will pay for various usages making it unnecessary for these buyers to negotiate each sale individually. Usually, the prices are at some discount to normal rates. Unlike most other portals where all images on the portal are automatically available to all preferred vendors, whether the supplier likes it or not, Marketplace image suppliers are given the option to choose whether they want to participate.

One advantage for individuals and organizations that choose to participate in PGA's is that they usually tend to make many more sales. It is also important to recognize that as more and more of the major image users sign PGA's with Getty, Corbis, Jupiter and Alamy the only way for photographers not represented by these companies to compete and get their images seen is to have them represented by someone who also offers such agreements.

Digital Railroad already has preferred vendor agreements in place with Thomson Learning, Discovery and Scholastic and a number of other agreements are in the works.

Marketplace photographers may also restrict their images from being sold in certain territories or for certain types of use.

Search Return Order

Another thing that is becoming a big issue in the industry as more and more images are added to collections is search return order (See 897). Digital Railroad has developed a unique system that should bring the images deemed to be of the best quality and in greatest demand to the top of every search return. It also seems to be a fairer system to all contributors than any of the other systems currently in use by other portals although it does give some advantage to images that have been in the collection longer. The three factors that go into determining where images will appear in the search return order are: marketplace activity, search relevancy and ratings.

Marketplace activity is an algorithm made up of the number of times a thumbnail has been viewed, the number of times a preview has been downloaded and the number of actual sales of each specific image. Some portals look at these figures relative to the total number of images an agency or individual has in the collection. Digital Railroad does not.

In theory, the advantage of relating these factors to total images in the collection is that it will encourage suppliers to edit tightly and thus limit the size of the collection making it easier for buyers to search. Digital Railroad ignores this issue and uses another strategy to bring the best images to the top.

Based on marketplace activity the suppliers who have had their images on Digital Railroad for a longer period of time will have some advantage because their images on a particular subject are likely to have had more thumbnail views, previews downloaded and images actually purchased than someone else's images that have only recently been uploaded.

Search relevancy is based entirely on keywords and captions. If the word is there it is relevant. If it is not there, it isn't. Buyers can also search for images based on licensing type, date range, release status, location, photographer, image size, and orientation, but only if the image supplier has entered data in all these categories.

The unique aspect of the way the company determines search return order is in their Rating system. Above each thumbnail is a box that offers any viewer the opportunity to rate an image with one to five stars. Everyone who visits the site has the opportunity to rate any or all images. Each person will only be able to rate an image once so no individual can come in and rate a particular image many times in hopes of moving that image up in the search return order.

The hope, and the key to success of this initiative, is that the community of buyers will take the time to rate images. One of the reasons buyers might do this is that the rating system will help them organize images in their own light boxes as they narrow their selections to their final choice for the project. According to Evan Nisselson, Digital Railroad founder and CEO early indications are that buyers like the rating idea and will be rating lots of images. In addition, in the advanced search buyers have the opportunity to search for only those images that have been rated high by other viewers. This system is similar to the community rating system used by Netflix and Ebay and it seems to be widely accepted and appreciated in those environments.

Many of the micropayment sites have rating systems and the option to search for the best rated images, but it is believed that this is used mostly by photographers to rate each others images and it is not clear whether buyers are rating images or search for images based on their ratings.

One clear advantage to the rating system, if it really works, is that the images that move to the top are those buyers think are the best, not those the photographer loves, or a particular agency is trying to push, or a portal is trying to sell because they wholly own them. After all, it is buyers needs we must satisfy first.

The weight given to marketplace activity relative to the rating system has not been made public and is likely to change as time goes on. Nisselson has said that they will be monitoring these relationships carefully and making adjustments whenever necessary to keep the system as fair and impartial to all suppliers as possible.

"The launch of Marketplace marks an important milestone in the evolution of the professional photography industry, delivering buyers unprecedented access to great photographer and agency images previously unavailable in one online destination," said Evan Nisselson, Digital Railroad founder and CEO. "The combination of the Marketplace as an extension to individual archives gives photographers and agencies a seamless marketing opportunity on one online platform."

John Holonitch, Sr. Photo Coordinator at Macmillan/McGraw-Hill, who has already licensed several images from Marketplace notes, "As a participant in Digital Railroad's Marketplace beta, I was impressed with the quality and diversity of the photography, and will be back for more."

"After learning of Digital Railroad's global community of photographers available through Marketplace, we immediately set out to establish a partnership with Digital Railroad to provide our photo managers with access to the unique content available," says Michael Baynes, Director of Digital Content Partner Management, Thomson Learning. "Thomson Learning is keen to leverage Marketplace to innovate our acquisition process while supporting independent photographers via one channel."

Unlike any other online system, buyers have one membername and a personal, "portable" workspace, which travels with them to the Marketplace as well as to any archive powered by This online workspace has unlimited lightboxes, tracking of received and sent lighboxes, and one cart with pending images to be licensed from any of the networked Digital Railroad archives and the Marketplace. In addition, Image buyers only need to register once for free access to the Marketplace and thousands of member archives.

Digital Railroad is aggressively developing product features. Included among those now available are:

  • One Integrated Selling Platform: Members have the option to sell images via an aggregated Marketplace while simultaneously selling images directly via their own branded online archive.

  • RSS Photo Feeds: Images submitted to Marketplace are delivered to buyers' desks in real-time via RSS Photo Feeds.

  • Referral Network: Image buyers are easily connected with photographers and agencies while photographer members are paid bounties for helping to refer successful sales to the Marketplace.

Copyright © 2007 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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