Image Buyers Using Google Search

Posted on 10/7/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Last month Africa Media Online conducted a survey to gain an understanding of how picture buyers and picture researchers use Google to find images. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of respondents use Google to help them find images for licensing.

It is important to recognize that a lot of real customers use Google to find images.

Only 52 people responded to Africa Media Online’s short list of questions. Twenty-nine respondents were from South Africa, 8 from the UK, 7 from the USA, 2 from Germany, 1 from New Zealand, 1 from Denmark and 3 unknown.

Of this portion 66% use Google Image search (search results displayed as images)  including Reverse image search (when you put an image into google image search),?20% use Google Text search (search results displayed as text) and 14% use both of these options.

The results also show that many picture buyers (22%) said they prefer to go straight to picture libraries. Libraries, of course, would hope that a much higher percent of picture buyers would turn to them first.
Respondents were asked what search term they would use to find images of Timbuktu, their answers were:

Timbuktu 37
Photos of Timbuktu 9
Images of Timbuktu 7
Pictures of Timbuktu 2
Images of Timbuktu for licensing 7

Unintended Consequences

If these survey results are anywhere near representative CEPIC, DMLA and Getty Images may want to re-think their approach to legislative action against Google.

I did a search for “London Eye” on Google and several of the most popular stock sites. Google showed less than 1,000 images, but to my way of thinking their presentation showed a higher percentage of pleasing, right-on-target images than the professional sites. (Alamy returns over 149,000 images with the keyword “London Eye.”)

Very few searcher review more that 500 images from a search request before changing the search parameters.

Creators may want to do some comparative searches on Google and the agency that represents their work. Look for subjects you normally shoot and see how Google results compare with your agency.

I’m not sure how Google does it since they are relying entirely on visual search, but for someone looking for images Google is certainly a place to quickly find options. The big disadvantage is that customer doesn’t know whether they can legally use any of the images, or how to contact the image creators.

To solve this problem a customer might find an image on Google that they like, download a copy and then go to Shutterstock and upload it via image search to see if the image is available there for licensing. Other agencies could implement similar visual search options without much difficulty.

There is no question that a lot of the images found as a result of Google searches are used without any compensation to the image creators. It would be great if that could be stopped. Getty is asking the U.S. Senate Judicary Committee to create legislation that would “rein in the practice of scraping proprietary content.” (See Image Creators Letter to U.S. Senators here.)

But, if images created by professional photographers are removed from Google searches, and a significant percentage of those who actually pay to use images continue to search Google for the images they need, it is unclear how professional photographers win.

It appears that images from the Getty Images collection can no longer be found by people doing Google searches. I’m hearing from some agents who are represented by Getty that they have seen a significant drop in their Getty sales (20% to 30%) in the last few months since Getty filed a complaint with the European Commission against Google in April 2016. These agents attribute this to the fact that Google user can no longer find their images when they use Google to search for pictures. (See the full story.)

In Europe CEPIC is working hard to get the EU to take actions that would provide more protection for copyright holders. (See here EU Draft Directive on Copyright.)

At the very least we need better data about the number of professional image uses -- those who actually pay licensing fees for the images they use -- who go to Google as a first stop, or a regular stop, to find the images they need. In our desire to prevent unauthorized use by non-paying users, we don’t want to make it more difficult for paying customers to find images produced by professional creators.

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:  


  • Sylvie Fodor Posted Oct 20, 2016
    The CEPIC and the getty images' claims request that Google Search returns to its previous format. Since 2013, Google Images does not re-route users to the source site but, instead, returns a high resolution version in a Google image viewer. Now, users can scroll through endless galleries of high resolution images without ever leaving the Google platform; as images are framed, users can browse these images and right click to download them without ever visiting the website where the image is stored. If most picture editors use GI to source their images, directing directly to the source website will ease their work will keeping piracy down.

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