Getting Images Seen

Posted on 1/3/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Getty photographer are complaining that their images aren’t being seen because over 365,360 iStock Exclusive+ images have been placed on the Getty site and are being given search return order preference.

iStock photographers are complaining because images from various Getty brands are being pushed into The Agency Collection on iStock. TAC now contains at least 58,546 images.

Here are a few of the TAC brands that can be found on iStock, the number of images each has in the collection and the number of iStock downloads since September 2010.

  Images Downloads
AlbanyPictures 1,770 6,500
Blend_Images 5,024 12,000
BlueJeanImages 348 200
Clerkenwell_Images 2,298 16,000
CSA_Images 8,875 4,200
fStop_Images 202 100
Huntstock_Images 590 600
Images_Bazaar 1,081 900
LifesizeImages 17,270 4,300
Moodboard_Images 314 4,500
Photo_Alto 530 600
Photo_Concepts 1,437 4,000
PlushStudios 914 2,400
Rubberball 2,761 12,000
SAKIStyle 216 300
SciencePhotoLibrary 39 80
WaveBreak 1,181 100
  44,850 68,780

To get a sense of what the successful Getty Images photographers are feeling I recommend checking out “Getty, Image Search and Participation” on John Lund’s very popular blog. Also be sure to read the comments, particularly those of Sean Locke and Don Farrall.

To hear what the iStockphoto contributors are saying check out here and here on the iStockphoto forum and here on MicrostockGroup

Is There A Solution?

There are two problems. First there are too many image choices. As of the middle of December Getty had 6,201,383 images on the Creative Stills section of its site. iStock has over 12 million stills and illustrations. Also keep in mind that back in 2007 Getty only had 2,138,919 images on its site. See here for more details.

In addition, Getty, its contributors and its customers all have different goals.

Customers want to “quickly” find an image they can use at a “reasonable price.” Mary Foster, Senior Director of Search Strategy for Getty Images, reports that most customers only look at 1 or 2 pages (that’s at most 200 or 300 images) before switching search terms or going elsewhere.

Since most searches on either Getty Images of iStock will deliver many more than 200 to 300 results a huge percentage of the available images will never be seen. Both sites offer ways for customers to focus their searches on images in various price categories, and in other ways. But, Foster claims that most customers don’t use these features and stick to the generic “Best Match” search.

All Contributors want their images to be among the first 200 to 300 delivered. Otherwise they have no chance of making a sale. Given the huge number of contributors and images that is impossible. Most contributors claim that many of the images being shown aren’t the best and their images are better. But there is no way to describe image quality with keywords and there is no way to develop a computer algorithm that would select the “best quality” image for a given clients needs.

For a minute I would like to go back 15 or 20 years to the era of print catalogs. At that time experienced editors scoured their collections for the most appropriate images based on their knowledge of customer needs. Then they would put 3,000 to 5,000 images in print catalogs and deliver copies of the catalogs to all their customers. Over a period of a few years it was not uncommon for customers to have a library of catalogs that contained 400,000 to 500,000 images sorted into categories within each catalog. Customers could pick their favorite catalogs and easily find the best images in a particular category from that supplier.  

During this period it was not uncommon for 80% to 90% of images licensed to be ones that could be found in these catalogs. And during this time both Getty and Corbis were claiming that they each had 70 million images in their collection – but only a small faction of selects in catalogs. Customers who needed something that was not in the catalogs could see these 140 million images, but few found the need to do so.

With the online model there seems to be no cost effective way to provide customers with this type of professional “pre-editing.”  Thus, while there may be a lot more good, print catalog worthy images in the collections today than there were 20 years ago finding them is a real problem.

Some contributors feel the answer is to indentify under supplied niches and produce images of that subject matter. But such niches are increasingly hard to find and when an underserved one is identified chances are there is very little demand for that subject.

Getty wants to maximize revenue. That means that upfront then need to show the more expensive images, and the images where they pay the lowest royalty. When the number of unit sales stops rising as fast as the company’s revenue goals require, then the only option is to raise prices. But, they have discovered that when they put too much of a push on high priced images some customers tend to go somewhere else. (See this story and here.)

At that point they can either, lower prices and try to get the customers back, or raise then in order to earn more from fewer sales. Getty appears to vacillates between these too strategies and neither is working. If customers do several searches and all the usable images they find are expensive by their standards they will go somewhere else. Once they move to another site it is very hard to get them back.

Getty also feels the need to regularly add new images in order to give the appearance of offering return customers something new and different from what they have already seen. But, as the revenue contributors receive declines contributors have less incentive to produce new images. Sources tell me that new submissions are way down which may be  another reason for moving images from one site to the other and constantly tweaking the search algorithm.

In any event, it looks like there is no simple solution that is likely to satisfy contributors no matter how much they complain.

Copyright © 2013 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:  


  • Laura Minh-hong Posted Jan 10, 2013

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