Is The Customer Always Right?

Posted on 9/27/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

In a speech at PhotoPlus Expo in 1998 Jonathan Klein told the stock photography community, “We also know that the stock photography industry has not historically focused on the needs of customers and, frankly, needs to in order to SURVIVE!, That is where we are now.”

He went on to say, “The stock business that does not care deeply about customers and does not drive quality and creativity will not survive the next five years, let alone the next century. … The stock photography sector has undergone a period of rapid change in the last few years, the most fundamental of which is that the customer now expects more and more service values at the same cost to him or her as in the past or even at a lower price.” See here.

For the last 20 years Getty Images has basically operated on the principle of giving the customer everything they want, no matter what. That seemed to work for the company for a while, even if it wasn’t necessarily always in the best interest of image suppliers, but around 2006 it began to fall apart.

Getty’s gross creative revenue in 2006 was $634.1 million. The average price per RM image licensed was about $536 and the average price of a RF image was about $242, but they licensed about twice as many RF as RM.

In 2016 gross Creative revenue had dropped about 56% to roughly $280 million. Based on an analysis of sales of some of Getty’s top producers the average license fee for RM was in the neighborhood of $90 and the average for RF in the neighborhood of $45.

At the end of 2006 Getty had 1,767,214 images in its collection, with RM representing 55% of the collection. During 2006 they licensed rights to 1,660,208 uses of creative images.

Today, Getty has 20,313,712 images in its collection and 32% of the images are RM. It is unclear how many image uses they licensed in 2006, but if we estimate the average gross license fee at around $65 it would have been about 4.3 million images licensed, a significantly smaller percentage of their collection than in 2006.

Reasons Why Customers Aren’t Always Right

    1 – Customers Always Want Better Quality And Service For Less Money

    2 – Customers Sometimes Have Unrealistic Expectations
    3 – Giving Customers Too Much, For Too Little, Can Hurt Suppliers
    4 – Declining Revenue Can Result In Poorer Customer Service
    5 – Some Customers Are Bad For Business
    6 – Customer Demands Can Affect Employee Morale
    7 -  It Gives Abrasive Customers an Unfair Advantage
There is a need for a balance between the best interests of: Customers, Suppliers and Employees. Suppliers and Employees can't always be ignored in favor of Customers.

More customers are not necessarily better if the prices they want to pay and the demands they make are unreasonable.

To succeed, in addition to providing top quality and excellent service, a business must find a way to establish a bottom line and in a friendly, non-threatening way to tell certain customers NO.

Also see here.

Copyright © 2017 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:  


  • Peter Dazeley Posted Sep 28, 2017
    Are we being told that historically Getty has not been focusing on the needs of customers? AN UNBELIEVABLE STATEMENT. What were all those senior VPs , who have come and gone, been doing?

  • Tom Zimberoff Posted Oct 1, 2017
    The crux of the question, Is the customer is always right? depends on how one defines "customer."

    With two sides to a marketplace, sellers and buyers, some marketplaces benefit from a middleman, a distributor. The incumbent distributors (e.g., Getty) — who, shrewdly, literally bought their market position many years ago, recognize only buyers as customers. They abrogated the role middlemen used to have in the Commercial Photo marketplace: acting as agents for the sellers. But in a sui generis marketplace like Commercial Photo, the sellers (photographers) still own the intellectual property rights (i.e., copyright) — for the most part — to what they "sell." The incumbents took to paying out so-called "royalties", also early on, instead of accepting commissions FROM sellers. At least, that's the way it's accounted for in their bookkeeping. That started the ball rolling—downhill.

    After so many years of revenue consolidation in the distribution channel, the incumbents are, now, feeling the inevitable pain of ignoring the seller/supplier side of a dynamic marketplace. The best sellers — i.e., 80% of commercial photographers worldwide, defined as those trusted and hired by Enterprise clients to shoot jobs —simply do not contribute to the stock photo pipeline. Stock photo revenue is stagnant because content is both stale and overused. That's what the buyers say. If a good photo gets found, floating in a sea of crowd-sourced content, it's pounced on by lots of different buyers. That's as bad for buyers with a brand identity to protect, as it is for photographers trying to earn a living. There's no economic incentive for pro shooters to join the crowd, so to speak. That means buyers get what they pay for.

    So, who's paying? Well, 70% of stock photo revenue comes from shopkeepers, plumbers, dentists, bloggers, Web designers, and startups, all looking for cheap pictures to enhance their landing pages. Enterprise — i.e., advertising, corporate, and editorial media — have been increasingly underserved by the distributors. Consequently, stock photo revenue (including what dribbles down to be split between too many contributors who don't work directly with buyers by shooting jobs) has been static, if not declining, for the past decade. The incumbents can't raise prices because, of course, the quality of content is already stale and overused; but they can't increase quality because prices are too low to attract better content contributors. They're circling the drain.

    So, yes, the customer is always right. The point is, photographers are customers too.

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