July 2004 Selling Stock

Posted on 7/1/2004 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



Volume 14, Number 6

(c)2004 Jim Pickerell - SELLING STOCK is written and published by Jim Pickerell six times a year. The annual subscription rate is $120.00 to have the printed version mailed to you. The on-line version is $100.00 per year. Subscriptions may be obtained by writing Jim Pickerell, 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, fax 301-309-0941, e-mail: jim@chd.com. All rights
are reserved and no information contained herein may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the editor. Jim Pickerell is also co-owner of Stock Connection, a stock agency. In addition, he is co-author with Cheryl Pickerell DiFrank of Negotiating Stock Photo Prices, a guide to pricing stock photo usages.

Thought For The Month

"In an moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing."

Theodore Roosevelt


June 21, 2004 (Story 644) - The stock photo industry is on the verge of the next major change in the way images are searched and found online. This change could make it easier for small player to get more of their images online, and significantly change the playing field for larger players depending on how quickly they adapt to, and promote, the new technology.

Visual search, coupled with keyword search, has the potential to make it much easier and quicker for customers to find the right image for their needs in any database that offers a broad range of image options. It is also likely to dramatically change many of the current assumptions about how photo databases should be structured.

At the recent CEPIC International Congress in Copenhagen I saw two examples of this visual search technology in action -- Espion from Idee Inc. ( www.ideeinc.com ) and VIMA Technologies ( www.vimatech.com ). Two other companies with visual search offerings are www.pixlogic.com and www.ltutech.com .

The one that most intrigued me was VIMA's VisualSearch product. Here's how it works. First of all it is designed not as a totally stand alone product, but to work in conjunction " with existing keyword searching software as a type of "Advanced User Option". The larger the database of images the more useful this search technique is likely to be.

For example if you enter a keyword like "couple" on Getty you get 31,225. On Corbis you get several thousands (they don't tell you how many). On Alamy you get 38,955. You may be able to narrow these grouping by adding other keywords to your search such as: senior, young, minority, ethnic, latino, European, happy, beach, etc. However, the user is still likely to get a lot of images to search through. And if some of the images are not keyworded properly will these qualifying words you may miss seeing them altogether.

Rather than scrolling through such a large group of images, page by page, VIMA gives you a side screen with 12 examples of images picked randomly from this entire group. The user then clicks on one or more of these 12 to indicate those images that most nearly have attributes she is looking for. The important thing here is not necessarily to find exactly the image she is looking for, but to identify those images (by not clicking them) that are not at all close to what she wants. In all likelihood none of the images will be close to what the buyer finally chooses - but some will be a lot closer (have similar attributes) than others.

The total selection of images is then automatically re-indexed putting at the top of the search results images with characteristics similar to those chosen. One of the important factors in this process is that images with characteristics similar to those not chosen drop to the bottom of the search results, or they can be removed entirely from the search results.

VIMA has spent a decade researching the most perceptually-sound and statistically useful visual features from over 500 possibilities. The software has narrowed the attributes considered to between 100 and 200 and indexes each image at the time it is added to the database. This index file takes up less than 1K of space. After the customer makes a selection, the software determines in milliseconds all the other images that have any similar characteristics to the images chosen. Some may have over 100 similar attributes, some 90 or 70 all the way down to two or three. The new return order of thumbnails is based on putting those with the highest number of similar characteristics at the top of the images shown and prioritizing the rest based on the number of similar attributes they have.

So suddenly, if an image with a lot of similar characteristics to the ones this user has chosen happened to be at the bottom of pile in the initial search, it is moved near the top and this buyer has a chance to see it.

This "adaptive learning" process uses positive and negative feedback in a quick, intuitive manner to zero in on the best matching images faster than is possible with scrolling or text searching. Using this unique approach, every image searcher molds their search process and the results to reflect their individual and cultural idiosyncrasies.

The next person who comes in to search the same subject matter may have a totally different idea of what they are want for their particular project and the image that was moved to the top in this search may remain at the bottom in the next, or new, searches.

But picking from 12 images is not the end of the refinement that this engine allows. Once you've made your first pick and the database has been re-indexed you get another 12 images selected from those that had a majority of the characteristics in the first selection. This search-within-a-search process makes it possible to further focus the selection. The user can do this as many times as she wants - continually narrowing the returns along the lines of her particular need at the moment. If the results seem to be taking her in the wrong direction she can page back at any time, make additional or different selections and head off in a new direction. Once it appears that many of the images in the return are on target, then it's the time to begin scrolling page by page to find the exact image for the project.

In addition, if the customer has a picture or a comp drawing and would like to find something similar, but different, she can upload that image and search on its characteristics. If customers want to find other similar images in the database that might be licensed by competitors they can easily identify such images using visual search.

Factors To Consider

Important to the success of this technique is the number of attributes being considered. With too few attributes you may get a less accurate and refined search and more images that do not quite match the characteristics the user was trying to identify. However, the fewer features the faster the processing. Software developers need to exercise great care in determining the attributes to consider and the weight to attach to each of them. In the demonstrations I observed, processing time appeared not to be a factor. Everything came up very quickly, and as fast, or faster, than with basic keyword search. On the other hand, these demonstrations were on laptops. A hookup over the internet might produce different results.

Weighing The Attributes

Currently the systems are designed to find as many images as possible with all the similar attributes. On the other hand, it is possible for an agency to make available other advanced search features that give added weight to certain attributes over others.

Consider a situation where an art director has designed a campaign with an overall color tone, or mood. The picture subject matter is not particularly important as long as the basic color tone is consistent. In fact, the more subject variety the better because the color tone is the driving force of this campaign. Pictures like this will probably be very difficult to find using keywords, but with a weighted visual search they could be identified quickly.

The same might be true for a graphic pattern in pictures. If the designer is developing a campaign that emphasizes a certain graphic pattern, and it is at all complex (not just negative space in the top left corner), chances are it is going to be very difficult to find pictures in all subject areas that fit that pattern. A weighted visual search that lets the user emphasize pattern could be a quick solution.

While there are lots of possibilities developers caution against offering too many options initially that might overwhelm the user. Too many switches, levers, scrolling, reading and decisions can get the user tied in knots and they may never get around to FINDING. I point out these features mostly to indicate that they are currently possible - the technology is there - but not to suggest that they should be part of the initial tool.

As buyers get used to visual search they may be willing to use more tools, in the same way that they started out using single keywords to find images, but now many use complex phrases to narrow their searches.

Another thing to consider is a 100% match. David Telleen-Lawton, CEO of VIMA Technologies says, "100% matching is actually easy. The tough part is a 98% match or a 93% match and 'knowing' that it is an 'exact' match with just some slight color or cropping or whatever changes versus perceptually not so good match that just happens to score well. A very useful application is to use the VIMA ImageSearch to review incoming new images against an existing database to find duplicates."

In evaluating visual search tools it will be important to consider whether the user can narrow the search "within a selection", or whether each time the user makes a selection it re-indexes the larger original keyword selection.

Current Use

Masterfile is using the Idee Sim Search on its Wonderfile RF site ( www.wonderfile.com ). There is a little Sim Search icon under each picture. After doing a keyword search you can click on this icon under any images and it will re-index the file based on images that have at least a 65% physical match with the image selected. It drops all images with less than a 65% match. I did a search for couples and got 6018 images. After choosing one image I got 863 images with at least a 65% match. Wonderfile has been using Sim Search since September of 2003 and you can expect to see it integrated into Masterfile's main site in the near future.

Right Brain, Left Brain

One of the great advantages of this method of search is that it takes full advantage the right brain intuitive, subjective senses that are the strength of most creative people, rather than the left brain functions that require them to define in words what it is they want. Art directors will love playing with such search results.

Currently many online sites try to help the user by having their editors pick the images they believe customers will want and prioritizing them in the way they appear on the site so the images of interest to the average user will appear first in the search results. There are two problems with this strategy. First, there are huge variations in what different users want and need at any given moment. Secondly, it is impossible for any editor to know all these different needs, and if they did, it is impossible to organize any collection where the top priorities of ANY user always come up first. Visual search overcomes both of these problems. Each customer organizes the returns based on their needs priority at the moment. It also allows customers to consider a greater number of photos while subjecting them to many fewer inappropriate photos - by the customer's definition of what is inappropriate.

Re-indexing Advantages

With visual search it is no longer as necessary to have your images at the top of the initial search results because the order will be continually adjusted based on the needs of the specific user. Now each Buyer organizes the research return results based on his or her individual artistic and cultural idiosyncrasies.

Often the newest image is not what the buyer wants. In many subject areas where there is nothing in the images (such as clothes) that might identify when the image was shot, an image produced five, ten or fifteen years previously may be the one that best fits the buyers needs. If images are organized in the database based on when they were added older images that might once have been best sellers may get rapidly pushed to the bottom. This is no longer a problem with visual search. Images that have been in the database for a long time are no longer hard to find if they have common characteristics with what the buyer is looking for.

Now it is unimportant to purge the database of old, or outdated images. These images naturally work their way to the bottom of the pile and are only seen when they fit the characteristics the buyer is looking for. They no longer detract from the general experience of most buyers, but are available on those rare occasions when a buyer is looking for exactly that image.

Some buyers indicate that they will occasionally start searching from the last pages in a group of search returns in an effort to find something different from what everyone else is using. With visual search this technique will no longer be useful or necessary.

Large of Small Database

I predict that those looking for images will find visual search so attractive that they will only want to use sites that offer it, and will not want to struggle to define, in words, what they are seeking.

When each user can quickly define what is appropriate for him or her the entire logic for tightly edited databases so users don't have to wade through inappropriate images no longer applies. At that point the more variety within a database, the more useful it becomes because it may have the unusual, unique image the customer is looking for.

Then were back to editing and building image files the way the old analog agencies use to do it. "If the images is technically good, and doesn't duplicate something already in the files, add it to the collection." If that thinking comes back into vogue more photographers should be able to get a lot more images into online databases where customers can find them.

Creative vs. Editorial

Visual search will work much better for people looking for concept illustrations than for those looking for very specific editorial subjects. If you're looking for a specific person, or event keywords will work much better than a visual search. On the other hand if you're looking for a specific location - Paris for example - but there are lots of results, visual search may help in narrowing and prioritizing the images within those results. Offering both visual and keyword search allows the customer to choose the best technique for their particular search at that moment.


Keywording has been a major cost and thus an impediment in getting large numbers of images online. By coupling visual search with keyword search, it may be possible to get by with a simpler set of keywords, focusing on general category words and forgetting about some of the concept words and synonyms. This may make it possible for sellers to cut costs and put a lot more images online quickly while at the same time providing a more efficient and customer friendly search that makes it possible for the buyer to more quickly locate the image she wants. Part of the problem with keyword search is that often the vocabularies of the searcher and the image-owner are not synchronized.

Selling Internationally

Visual search also makes it much easier to sell into countries where the language spoken is different from that in which the image was originally keyworded. Many English words have very different meanings when they are directly translated into other languages and sometimes even in other English speaking countries. If someone in the UK is looking for a picture of a boot of a car they'll be more likely to find a U.S. keyworded images by using a visual search technique than by inputing the keywords "boot" and "car".

Agencies in non-English speaking countries will be able to add images from English speakers to their sites at a much more rapid pace, and may also find that agencies in English speaking countries are more willing to accept more of their images.


June 21, 2004 (Stories 641 and 638) - Getty Images has created a new brand of high-end, conceptual imagery called Stone+ with over 7,700 images. It seems that the major reason for this is to raise prices on some of the newer Stone imagery.

Preliminary analysis of this brand indicates that uses are priced about 35% higher than uses of images in the ImageBank or Taxi brands. This is about the same price as images from FoodPix and Botonica which previously were the highest priced RM images on the Gettyimages site. All of the regular Stone images are priced about 15% above ImageBank and Taxi prices.

These are list prices on the site, and not necessarily what is actually charged for usage. Sources indicate that if customers are smart enough to call and negotiate, instead of paying the list price, the Getty sales people will very quickly offer a 25% discount on any price listed on the site. Getty also has a variety of bulk deals with various purchasers. For more about Getty's pricing strategy read Story 610 .

Many of the Stone photographers had been pressuring Getty to raise the prices to a level that is at least equal to that being charged by other brands on Gettyimages.com and this move could be a response to those requests.


    The following article first appeared in Picture Magazine , published in New York. Author, Pat Hunt, is VP of Corporate Relations at Index Stock Imagery, and a writer for various photographic publications. She can be reached at (path@indexstock.com)

by Pat Hunt

May 25, 2004 (Story 637) - Oh no! Not another quirky way to sell stock photography! We've barely recovered from the shock wave Royalty Free sent through the system. Well yes - here we go again and selling stock photography by subscription won't be the last business model, which is newly spawned by the Internet era and the proliferation of e-commerce. Just as RF has matured and become a household word for stock agents and creative artists, the subscription model is sneaking up behind. It is luring artists to contribute image content as it attracts clients and potentially a whole new customer base, for which standard stock imagery has been previously too costly.

The Business Model

So how does this model work, who's doing it, and who is making money on it? How important a role does it play in the overall picture? These questions are hard to answer as the subscription model is still growing and maturing, but I will review some companies that are employing this model, and describe their similarities and differences. We'll also hear from large agents who are studying the model and deciding if and where to place it in their "big picture".

There are a few companies that offer web sites that specialize in the subscription model only. They vary somewhat in content and direction. A few of the giant agents have incorporated this model into their overall structure, looking to satisfy every customer need and price range possible. There are other large stock players who have opted to stay out of the "ball game" all together.
We will hear from them all.


PhotoSpin ( www.photospin.com ) is a good place to start, as the creative professionals at PhotoSpin envisioned a subscription business model as early as 1995, when they first began building 60 CD-ROM products. By the year 2000 they poured their content into a subscription service, offering 2 tiers of payment for a 12-month usage. They claim to be "the first content subscription site for business professionals" with 70,000 photographs, illustrations, video clips, sound files, and fonts. New images are added each month. Subscribers pay an annual fee for unlimited downloads of content for one year. "The $249 tier gives customers the full PhotoSpin collection, including high-resolution (up to 55MB) print ready images. The $149 tier provides access to web and low res images, as well as some fonts, audio files and video clips."

The imagery is all RF and wholly owned as in-house photographers create most of the imagery. "This is important because it is the best way to assure subscribers the images have proper model releases." Occasionally PhotoSpin will purchase collections out right, but the artist or photographer must be able to provide legitimate model releases for the body of work. According to Val Gelineau, CEO and co-founder: "This is a win-win situation for both the artist and PhotoSpin as the artists get immediate compensation for their work without the hassles and delay of royalty payments." The company claims to have 80% customer retention and "customers spend over 15 minutes on the site when they come to visit."


ArtToday, Inc. has jumped into this format with a serious commitment and a variety of models on three different sites: ( www.clipart.com ), ( www.photos.com ) and ( www.animations.com ). Clipart.com has been around for 7 years. Photos.com is 1 year old and Animations.com was launched this last fall. According to Dan Burke, Director of Marketing and Product Development: "I think it's pretty fair to say that no one has as much subscription experience on the web as us." The price and content breakdown is as follows:

ClipArt.com: - 1 Week - $7.95, 3 Months - $49.95, 6 months - $99.95, and 1 year - $149.95. There are over 2,600,000 images and fonts on Clipart.com.

Photos.com: - 1 Month - $99.95, 3 Months - $199.95, 6 Months - $299.95, 1 Year - $499.95. There are over 80,000 stock photos on the site. 70,000 of them are simple photographic images. 10,000 are photos with clipping paths. Each image is available in 3 sizes: 1-2 MB, 3-4 MB and 12-16 MB.

Animations.com: - 1 Month - $7.95, 6 Months - $29.95, and 1 Year - $49.95. Each image is available in 4 sizes - 1-7K, 8-14K, 15-26K and 27K+.

The company claims its audience ranges from consumers to professional designers. Its content acquisition is completely different from PhotoSpin as: "Illustrators, photographers, and individual artists all submit content to our sites" and "we own a minor percent ourselves." "Licensed content providers share a negotiated royalty pool."

According to Burke: "There is no doubt that subscription models are only now coming into their own; simply put, they are convenient, easy to use, and the value is unbeatable. Every day that passes, the web is commoditizing industries. Subscription sites are the perfect outlets for digital media."

Hemera Technologies

Hemera Technologies , of Quebec, provider of Royalty Free images and graphics software, offers another version of the subscription model with their site: www.ablestock.com . It also offers a Royalty Free image product. According to Mats Lindeberg, Communications Manager: "Our customers use the images for everything from final art to comps to customer presentations to brain-storming."

AbleStock's membership structure is as follows: Access to entire stock photo collection - Twelve Months - $599; Six Months - $399. Complete Membership (entire collection of stock photos and photo objects) -
Twelve Months - $799; Six Months - $599.

There are about 36,000 RF images, which are wholly owned and available in three file sizes: Low res - 1.5MB; Medium res - 10MB; Hi res - 25-28MB. "If you have a Stock Photo Membership you can download up to 30 stock photo images a day." "If you have a complete membership you can download up to 30 stock photo images plus 30 photo-object images a day (60 images total)." Single images are also available for download with the following price breakdown: 25-28MB - $129.99; 15MB - $79.99; 10MB - $29.99.

Dynamic Graphics

Dynamic Graphics, a global media company, also offers a Royalty Free subscription based model known as: Liquid Library-
www.liquidlibrary.com . They did not reply to a request for information, so all the following details come from their web site. A body of freelance professional illustrators and photographers contribute image exclusive work to the site. There is a "portfolio submissions" guideline page on the site. With a subscription, each month's CD is delivered to the clients at a cost of $125 per month.

The CD includes the following: 70 photos in high, medium and low res, 70 illustrations in high res color and black and white, 10 media elements: 1 movie clip, 1 music track, 2 flash animations, 2 sound effects, 5 PowerPoint templates, plus a monthly magazine, a free online management system, and discounted access to a 65,000 image library. There are various discounts offered for subscribing for 6 months, 12 months and 24 months.

Traditional Stock Agents

As mentioned before, some large traditional stock agents have adopted various degrees of the subscription model to expand their client reach, and open up all opportunities for licensing image content. Index Stock Imagery has the perfect example of this in their Webspice offering www.webspice.com . Webspice offers over 30,000 Royalty Free photos, with new photos added every month, over 2.5 million Web Graphics (buttons, bullets, arrows, rules, textures, etc., 35,000 GIF 3D graphic and text animations and 2,000 Themes and Site Styles. The Themes are for Microsoft (r) Front Page and Microsoft (r) Office Applications. The target audiences here are Webmasters, Website designers and small businesses. Their image content comes from individuals and collections, and the artists share in a piece of the total revenue pool.

The photos and graphics are for electronic use only, and are only approximately 280 x 280 pixels. This is "attractive to users who need many low resolution photos and cannot afford to license single photos. The subject matter is varied and the subscription prices are $19 for 1 month site access or $99 for 1 year." According to Michael Pachter, CTO of Index: This model "introduces users to the stock photo concept and offers opportunity for up sells to higher resolution images when they have need and budget. They do get limitations on either selection or resolution. However many are customers who otherwise would not license anything from a stock photo agency."

Corbis Images

Corbis Images would like to express that they are careful to develop the appropriate pricing and business model when entering a new market. To this end, Corbis serves the educational market and wireless carriers with subscription-based products. "The company is constantly evaluating consumer and photographer needs to determine the right business model for these emerging markets," says Robson Grieve, Corbis Senior Commercial Marketing Manager. "Our research suggests that broader subscription products are possible."

"The challenge for Corbis is to develop a subscription model that opens up a unique economic opportunity, while not compromising the integrity of the photography and art. We have image content from Royalty Free sources, Rights Managed sources, and some wholly owned collections that might be appropriate for this kind of business opportunity." Robson Grieve also says: "The advent of new technologies has created new markets for images, and given us a chance to experiment with new business ideas. We are very focused on using this learning to reach customers in new markets; and adding life cycle and archive analysis gives photographers every chance possible to make the most out of each image they provide to Corbis."

For either of these companies, this business model does not represent a major market share. They represent an adjunct to an already complex business structure, which attempts to serve all possible image licensing clients.

Getty Images

Getty, on the other hand, assures us that: "Getty Images licenses both its Right-Managed and Royalty-Free imagery according to usage, rather than on a subscription model." According to Deb Trevino, Getty Images Senior V P of Communications: "With the upcoming re-launch of Getty Images' web site, the company will be announcing two additional purchasing options on its Right-Managed and Royalty-Free collections. By the end of year 2003, Getty Images will have introduced Flexible License Packs, which will offer customers unlimited use across a range of media without having to create individual licenses or provide
precise license details. This is a quick, cost effective and flexible way for creative professionals to license RM imagery across multiple media campaigns. And Getty Images has created a number of different license packs to give creative
professionals a wide variety of media combinations from which to choose."

"And for creative professionals who prefer buying imagery in bundles or larger quantities, Getty Images will be adding a new purchase option to fit their needs. By the end of the year, creative professionals purchasing imagery from Getty Images Royalty-Free collections will be able to buy and download virtual CD's, bundles of Royalty-Free images that are packaged together as a unit, which creative professionals can access immediately after purchase. Virtual CDs allow creative professionals to download images immediately, still taking advantage of the superior value of CD's in response to creative professionals' request to be able to access CD content online."

To round out this picture, three other quotes are pertinent to this discussion concerning agents who have decided not to embrace the subscription model. According to Kai Chiang, Chief Operating Officer of SuperStock: "Such a pricing model further exerts downward pressures on the customers' perceived value of photography, which may be to the detriment of the creative community." Geoff Cannon, Executive Vice President/General Manager of Masterfile Corporation, makes a similar comment, as he is also concerned about the perceived value of imagery. Alfonso Gutierrez, General Manager of Age FotoStock says: "We have not decided against it - we simply don't see the need for it. The market is huge and we have not reached a ceiling yet in our expansion capabilities."

The Artists

Therefore where are artists placed in this mix? For those companies whose images are wholly owned, prospective contributing artists do not apply. For those soliciting imagery from individual freelancers or collections, the arrangements vary and numbers on earnings are hard to get. Photos.com projects an upwards earning level equivalent to $50 /image per year. They pay based on downloads, so not all imagery will meet this projection.

Like the traditional stock photo business, there are many factors for the artists to consider in how they make money with subscription plans. First of all, will each artist get a share of the pie? If the pie is small, even a big slice is not a lot of money. They need to be with a service that will grow over time and generate increasing subscription fees. One thing to consider - does the artist get compensated for both contributing to the collection and for the popularity of their photos as measured by downloads? Since each photo is worth something because the value of the subscription does depend on both the size and quality, it's possible that artists should get a share based on both the number submitted (which should be edited for quality) and the number downloaded.

Copyright © 2004 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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