Free Image Use: Is It Indicative Of What Paying Customers Will Buy?

Posted on 11/10/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Dreamstime, with over 50 million stock images, and more than 16 million users has added 10,000 new images to its now 20,000 image library of free images available at

Dreamstime also uses artificial intelligence-driven data from its companion site to dynamically adjust recommended image content based on user preferences. contains more than 1.5 million images from a dynamic contributor base of more than 50,000 photographers. They also have more than 1.1 million registered users.

In addition, Dreamstime operates Megapixl, a website that offers up to 750 downloads free during one month when the customer supplies credit card information for billing in the following months. However, customers can “cancel at any time.” So if they cancel their subscription before the first month ends, they can actually download up to 750 image for free.

Currently there are 18,760,251 stock photos available on Megapixl. Many of them are the same photos available on Dreamstime.

Questions Of The Day

    Does knowing what customers will download for free, really tell us much about what commercial users are willing to purchase?

    Does even knowing what customers download via an inexpensive subscription tell us much about what commercial customers will be willing to pay higher rates to use?
I believe the vast majority of people who go to the trouble of supplying images to online stock photo collections do so because they hope to earn some money from their work and time invested in taking and uploading the images.

I suspect users of free content may have very different motivations for what they want an image to look like, or how they intend to use it, than the motivations of commercial users who are willing to pay even $10, or certainly $100 to use an image. If that is the case, then considering every image download of equal value in determining interest in that image relative to all other images could lead to improperly weighting the interest in and usefulness of certain images.
In order to adequately service those willing to pay higher fees, it may be important to enable them to quickly review images other professional users have considered and purchased, and not flood them with images most would never consider using even if they were free.

Given the growing size of current collections (Dreamstime’s over 50 million, Shutterstock’s over 100 million, Alamy’s over 93 million) it is entirely possible that a significant percentages of the images downloaded for free -- or very little money -- are not what the more discriminating users (willing to pay higher fees) will buy. If free images with the most downloads are pushed to the top of the search-return-order, then paying customers may not be getting to see the images they could really use.
As collection sizes increase, virtually every search returns hundreds more images than any human will ever have time to review. What comes near the top becomes of critical importance.

One would hope that those developing search algorithms are taking this into account. After reviewing the early returns on various sites of certain searches, one wonders.

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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