Don’t Ignore Customer Needs

Posted on 1/3/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In response to the article I published last week where I suggested that what is needed is a system that enables photographers to deal directly with customers Macintosh Smith commented “Isn’t this what has tried to establish?"

Photographers Direct is a good first step, but in my opinion it has some major flaws. Consequently, I suspect it is generating very little traffic.

Think About The Customer

The biggest flaw is that when customers find an image they would like to use they must go to the photographer to determine what the photographer wants for such a use of the image and then negotiate, if necessary, before receiving delivery of the image.

I know this is the kind of control photographers would like to have, but most customers don’t have time to deal with this hassle. This is particularly true when you consider that if they find an image on Getty Images, Shutterstock or AdobeStock the customer can immediately determine the license fee and easily complete the whole transaction in minutes.

Sure, in a few rare instances, customers may need exclusive rights or have other special requirements and need to take the time to call and negotiate. But, for the vast majority today’s users these instances are rare. Usually, they just need to find an image, pay for it and download it as quickly as possible. Then they can get on with the rest of their busy schedules.

Price Schedule

Photographers Direct needs some system that enables most customers to immediately determine the license fee for, at least, the majority of likely uses of the images.

This means that when a photographer places an image on the site he or she must also agree to some basic prices he or she is willing to accept for certain popular uses. Ideally, each photographer can establish his or her own price list, but it would be better if there is some general agreement among site contributors of one or a few pricing schedules that apply to most images on the site. In this way customers can have a general idea of what to expect when they choose to look for images on the site.

Recently, a photographer asked me to assist him in setting up a pricing schedule for the images on his website. I encouraged him to establish separate price schedules for Online and Print uses.

In the last decade there has been huge growth in the number of uses that are only online while there has probably been little, if any, growth in the number of print uses. As a general rule customers making print uses are willing to pay higher prices than those who intend to only use the image online. That may not be fair, reasonable or logical, but it is a fact.

Unfortunately, Getty, Shutterstock and most of the other microstock companies have established the price for online uses at around $10 or less. Some customers are willing to pay somewhat more if they can find the image quickly and transact the sale easily. Check out Stocksy and the Signature collection on iStock as examples. But traditional prices are mostly out of the question for online only users.

Thus, here’s how I suggested the photographer structure his pricing.

Given the huge growth in a wide variety of online uses we have decided to offer separate pricing options for the Commercial Use of our images. They are Online Use Only, and Print Uses. A commercial use is one where use of the image contributes in some way to the generation of income for the user from either the display of the image itself, or income from advertising related to where and how the image is displayed.

Commercial Use Online Only

Recognizing that many start-up companies and online users have limited resources we have established four different price categories based solely on the gross annual revenue of the company using the image. All buyers will receive an unlimited, non-exclusive, worldwide usage license to the image file purchased. The image may be used in multiple online projects by the purchaser of the image, but it cannot be passed to other non-related organizations or individuals. The image may remain online for an unlimited duration of time. Posting on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and any website not totally controlled by the person is prohibited. Such uses can be arranged by negotiating an additional fee.

In the event that the person purchasing the image is an art director, graphic designer or other employee of a small company, but actually works on a project for a larger, end using company the fee should be based on the annual revenue generated by the large, end using company.
    The prices are as follows depending on the Annual Revenue of the end using company:
Less then $100,000 $10.00
Between $100,000 and $500,000 $15.00
Between $500,000 and $1,000,000 $20.00
Greater than $1,000,000 $30.00

The first reaction of many photographers to these prices will be, “My images are worth much more than this. I won’t sell them for these prices.”

But, if you are getting 80% (the non-profit organization handling the transaction must get something) how much better is that than the 20% or even less (if your prime agency is making sales through another sub-agency) of what you are getting now from your stock agency. How many of the royalties you receive through your stock agency are below $10.00 or $15.00.

Commercial Print Uses Plus Online Uses

The pricing schedule for print uses can be similar to any of the ones currently being used, but recognize that print uses are a very small percent of total uses. Since most customers who make print uses of an image also use the same image online I would suggest throwing in free, unlimited online use of the same image whenever a customer purchases a print use.

Advertising and product uses may need to be negotiated, but there are very few such uses compared to the total number of images used worldwide annually.

Keep in mind that in 2006 Getty licensed a little over 1.66 million uses from its Creative Collection (both RM and RF). In 2018 they may have licensed as many as 9.5 million uses but 77% of them were for prices under $20 and 55% were for prices under $10. There is no way to tell for sure, but my bet is most of the low priced uses were online, not print uses.

In 2018 Shutterstock alone licensed about 177 million uses at an average price of about $3.40 per image. Many of those customers would have been happy to pay a little more -- $10 or $15 – if they could have found what they needed quickly and didn’t have to wade through Shutterstock’s massive collection. It is very unlikely that they would be willing to pay $50, $100 or more just to save a little extra time.

Add the sales of just iStock, AdobeStock, Dreamstime, 123RF and Depost Photos to those of Shutterstock and my bet is total uses licensed in 2018 was well over 250 million – virtually all of them for digital uses and all priced under $10.00.

If we assume that Getty didn’t make any more print licenses in 2018 than in 2006, and they made more than half the worldwide licenses at anything approaching traditional prices, then print usage licensed at higher prices probably represent less less than 1% or total licenses worldwide.

If you are just going to focus on just selling to the high end of the market, then you are probably ignoring 99% of the total market.

Copyright © 2019 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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