Is Picture Research Dead?

Posted on 6/13/2019 by Robert Harding | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Robert Harding, CEO of Robert Harding Picture Library, recently sent a message to picture buyers asking the question “Is picture research dead?” Image creators need to carefully consider the implications of this message.

Is picture research dead?

25 years ago we were in the golden age of picture research. Today the industry is vastly different. The dawn of the digital age and introduction of big players changed the game. Picture professionals are feeling the squeeze, but it's not all doom and gloom. With every challenge comes opportunity. In this article aim to give you some tips and tricks from over 100 years combined experience of how to stay ahead of competition and make yourself indispensable.


    •    Outsourcing Picture Research. In order to cut costs big publishers are outsourcing the bulk of their image research to the developing world where staff are cheaper. Images that are difficult to source are left to in house staff.
    •    Less Opportunity. In house job roles are less common today, there has been a shift towards using freelancers
    •    Non-traditional Researchers. Research that was traditionally completed by a picture professional is now being completed by interns and editorial assistants
    •    Financial Pressure from Directors. Pressure to source images from a pre approved list of suppliers that have negotiated a subscription package


The dawn of the digital age resulted in easier access to images than ever before. Transparencies are out and JPEGS are in. This cut the time needed to source images, which had a direct impact on the researcher.

The publishing industry has seen a drop in sales there has been a scramble to cut costs to maintain profit margins. Instead of focusing on improving products and offerings to boost sales, companies have looked to save money elsewhere.


    •    Develop Relationships with Stock Agencies. By developing personal relationships with Stock agencies, you will be able to take this contacts with you wherever you go. Smaller agencies will be willing to help with free research, providing hi-res downloads and preferential pricing.
    •    Identify visual trends. Understanding where the market for photography is heading. Recently we have seen a shift away from traditional stock to a more relaxed Instagram style of imagery.

    •    Understanding Rights Managed and Royalty Free. Nearly every picture buyer has a painful story about the time they stepped outside a rights agreement and were chased for legal fees by a stock agency. Understand your rights, independent agencies are flexible, ask and you shall receive.
    •    Self Promote. Don't be afraid to shout about the value you add around the office. If you finding it hard to get your voice heard, create thought pieces on blogs and networking sites to highlight your experience and knowledge. Attend industry events, it's a great chance to gather information and have a gossip.
Picture research isn't dead. More images are being bought and sold today than ever before. Ask yourself who finds these pictures and where can you add value?

Implications For Image Creators

Here are some additional thought that I (Jim Pickerell) have.

Photographers may need to produce more volume, faster, at lower cost in order to profit from stock photo production.

If the people making buyer decisions are no longer searching and comparing what they find for the best possible solution, but simply looking for something that can be found quickly that does  the job, it may mean that photographers will be required to approach production in some radically different ways.

Photographers need to recognize that today most of those looking for pictures are told by the company’s accounting department which stock agencies to use because the accountants have negotiated discount pricing deals with the picture agencies with whom they prefer to work.

Most who are doing the research are low level employees who have been given a huge amount of work to accomplish in a short period of time. Their work product, and chance for advancement, are measured not so much in the quality of the end product as on the volume produced in the time allotted.

Therefore, customers are probably reviewing fewer and fewer images before they make a choice and move on. Thus, the photographer must be sure that his/her image is near the top of the search return. Often that not only requires perfect keywording, but perfect timing when the right person is looking for a particular subject category.

One assumes that images that have been licensed before will be pushed to the top of the search return because the seller knows that someone else has liked the image. This presents a major problem for new images. They will probably be shown near the top of the search return for a very short period of time if no one licenses them for use. The length of time will depend on how many new images with the same keywords are added to the collection. The length of time the image is found within the first 200 images delivered could be hours, days, or weeks if there are not many people use a particular keyword in their searches.

One way to solve this problem is to put your images with an agency like Robert Harding that carefully curates its collection and doesn’t overload it with a lot of similars. They may also keep images that haven’t sold, but they feel strongly about, near the top of the search for a longer period of time to give more customers a chance to review them.

Agencies with huge, and ever growing collections base their curation entirely on data – no professional human input. The downside for small and medium sized agencies is that fewer customers are continuing to search their collections.

An option for photographers dealing with the mega agencies to consider is to stage the submission of a shoot rather than submitting the entire collection at once. Suppose you have done a shoot that produced 100 good images of 10 situations. Instead, of submitting all 100 at one time submit 10 that include 1 variation of each of the situations. A month later submit another 10.

The photographer must spend more time editing and uploading, but if images that have not been licensed are positioned in the search return based on their date of upload there is a much better chance that something from this shoot will be seen by many more customers for a much longer period of time.

Copyright © 2019 Robert Harding. 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


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