HOW Design Live Take Aways

Posted on 5/16/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

I just returned from my first HOW Design Live conference, this year in Boston. The following are a few takeaways and insights I gained from the conference.

HOW Design Live is billed as “the biggest annual gathering of creative professionals, anywhere.” This year over 3,300 professional users of photography from all over the U.S. and Canada made their way to Boston for the five-day event. These are people who buy stock images. They came to Boston to learn from famous and successful designers, participate in workshops, network with their peers and get an injection of design inspiration.
Attendees included independent freelancers, people who design for churches and small poster projects, designers from book publishers and members of large designer teams that work for major industrial and financial corporations. The companies with large design teams often send different team members each year so there are a lot of new people to contact each year.

Stock Photography Expo

One aspect of this event was the 7th annual Stock Photography Expo. Stock photo vendors are given tables (for a fee, of course) in the main lobby of the event where they can meet designers and share information about their offerings. For me, one of the most revealing things was the stock organizations that exhibited, the ones that didn’t and how few stock agencies participated.

Those who had tables were: Shutterstock, Fotolia, 123RF, Offset (also a Shutterstock company), National Geographic, Bridgeman, Conde Nast, estockphotos and photographer Jim Erickson represented by Jesse Hughes. had a table in the main exhibit hall.

Getty had six murals hanging in a remote lounge area that always seemed to be empty. There was no evidence of iStock, Thinkstock, Corbis, Masterfile or Superstock to name a few. Traditional stock photo sellers seemed to ignore this opportunity to talk with customers.

On the other hand Jesse Hughes handed out Erickson T-shirts and catalogs in exchange for a name card. In the first day he got over 500 cards. He will follow up with all these individuals in the weeks ahead. All of the tables were handing out small gifts and collecting names and contact information.

Spotlight Sessions

Another interesting marketing opportunity occurred 15 to 20 minutes before the various keynote presentations in the main auditorium. It takes some time to fill up a 3,300 seat auditorium. The time while people are coming in is the perfect time for an entertaining sales pitch on the big screens to a captive audience with nothing else to do. Stocksy, Fotolia and 123RF took advantage of this opportunity before different keynotes. Check out Stocksy’s presentation here.

Given who is talking to the customers, it was easy to see why Microstock and Subscription offerings dominate the market. They are reaching out to the community.

RM or RF

When I asked designers whether they used RM or RF virtually everyone said RF. Drilling down to determine if they used traditional RF from companies like Getty, Corbis or Masterfile, most people said they had a subscription. Some had two or more subscriptions. They liked the ideas that they could download 25 images a day (which seemed much more than anyone needed) and not have to worry about how they used the image. This also makes it easy for them to show their customers a variety of design options at no additional cost, and let the choose which they like.

When choosing RF over RM, price didn’t seem to be a major issue. Rather it was rights. Many made the point that when they choose images for their projects they often have no idea what other types of uses the project might morph into. If they are part of a team of designers they have to worry that another team member might see the image they’ve chosen, “I want to use that for this other project.” They want to be sure that any image can be used in any way by any team member and there won’t be a legal problem.

If they think there is any chance they might want print more than 500,000 copies (the allowable amount with a basic license) purchasing an “Extended License” for another $125 or $150 in order to know they are legally covered for any use going forward doesn’t seem to be a big problem.

One thing that surprised me was the number of people who said they had a Thinkstock subscription. I had expected Shutterstock to be the dominant subscription product. While the majority of the people I talked with said they used Shutterstock it was not as dominant as I had expected.

One designer who uses traditional RF likes Masterfile because they make it possible for him to see similar images from the same photographer or the same shoot. Most other agencies don’t offer this option. Some sites have “similar” searches, but the images shown are not necessarily from the same photographer or the same shoot. Despite liking Masterfile this designer doesn’t use their RM images.

Copyright © 2014 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:  


  • Jose Azel Posted May 17, 2014
    Aurora Photos, as a higher end stock agency with no microstock or subscription service, has attended the HOW conference and found a very similar experience and take away. Interest in RF predominates and much at the lower end of the price points. Assuming that 10% of the attendees are values targets for premium RF and some RM, is this an opportunity missed by those of us not attending?

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