Marketing PicturEngine

Posted on 4/23/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Previously we wrote about the new search engine PicturEngine. The key question is not how well the search works, the number of images they offer or the chance for photographers to ask for higher prices for their work. The key question is how will they make customers aware that their site exists? The question is marketing.

If it were only about having lots of images there is already a search engine called that currently offers customers a choice of 166,328,945 images from 57 to 60 agencies. It expects to reach the 200,000,000 image mark soon. When customers search PACA Search, instead of getting thumbnails immediately they get 2 lists of agencies. One list is ranked by total number of images on the subject in the agency’s collection and the other ranked on the agency’s degree of specialization in the particular subject matter. Click on any agency’s name and the thumbnails on the subject requested are immediately delivered to the customer from the agency’s database.

Despite the fact that PACA Search has been in business for more than 2 years it is used by very few customers and generates very little traffic for its suppliers. It has an insufficient budget for marketing and very few customers know of its existence. Many high volume customers regularly use the site to look for hard to find subjects, but they make up a relatively small share of the total market.

Who Are The Customers

If we take hard news editorial revenue out of the mix, I believe that no more than 50% of the revenue generated worldwide from stock photography sales comes from what might be considered “traditional” customers for “traditional” uses at anything like “traditional prices.” It may be less and the demand for traditional print uses is certainly declining.

It is also worth noting that the 50% of this non-hard news revenue is generated by maybe 4% of the images licensed. My estimates for 2010 are that 1.5 million RM images were licensed worldwide, 3 million RF at traditional prices and over 100 million microstock and subscription images.

A decade ago we used to think there was a maximum of 300,000 professional users (advertising agencies, graphic design firms, publications and corporate users). These are the people who control the spending on that declining 50%. Their numbers have not changed all that much. On the other hand Dreamstime says they have 4.2 million customers. While many only purchase a few images occasionally, and generally for only a few dollars, Dreamstime has identified them and knows how to market to them. My bet is that iStockphoto and probably Shutterstock have identified at least twice this number of customers.

It is clear that there are two separate and distinct groups of customers. They need to be addressed in entirely different ways. You can’t reach the bulk of the customers buying microstock by exhibiting at trade shows or sending out mailers. Some will say, “I don’t care about those customers because they are not willing to pay enough to use my pictures. I’ll continue to focus my marketing toward those few customers with money.” But the “professional” customers with money have a lot of choices. They will still pay good money occasionally for a few of their projects, but they have also discovered that for more and more or their projects they can get most of the images they need for very low (microstock) prices. In those cases why pay more?

Individual photographers will say, “I can’t afford to make my images available at low prices if I have to spend my time negotiating each sale.” True, so the only way to license for low prices is to offer a simple, frictionless, online transaction process that requires no human interaction.

Given these factors RM and traditional RF suppliers end up only addressing a very small, and declining percentage of the customer base. Companies like Alamy get permission from their suppliers to license images at Novel Use prices ( and then do nothing to reach out to the customers who are most likely to need images at those prices.  

This is where the market is headed. This is where the growth will be. And if photographers want to license rights to many of their pictures in the future they’ve got to figure out how to reach these customers.

Brand or Identity Advertising

As more and more customers use the Internet to get the information they need, businesses have discovered that the way to get attention for their business is to advertise online. There are two ways to do this. One is SEO (Search Engine Optimization) so your name comes up high (really on the first page) whenever someone does a relevant Google search. This is hard, and usually it takes a lot of time and the knowledge of experts.

The other thing that goes along with SEO is to create a banner ad and spend bundles of money on Google AdWords. Done right anyone who might be remotely interested in your product or service will see your name alongside other information they search for online.

Some say banner advertising doesn’t work because the average click-trough rate for Google ads is only 2%. If the ad is shown often enough, that can be significant. But also keep in mind the value of simply getting the name of your brand in front of potential customers.

For example, Google has identified me as someone who searches a lot for photography, who reads a lot about photography. I’ve never purchased an image, but Google has decided I might be someone who will occasionally want to buy photography. So when I search for anything online, very frequently an ad for Shutterstock appears beside whatever story I’m reading; occasionally I’ll see a Getty Images ad or occasionally one from iStockphoto. I also see a lot of ads for FotoSearch. I don’t think I have ever seen an ad for Alamy or SuperStock. If I were to have a need to buy a photograph and didn’t know anything about the business what name would I most likely remember? That’s what brand identity is all about. I believe that Shutterstock has probably seen more relative growth in the last couple years than either Getty or iStockphoto. My guess is that has something to do with them reaching out more to find new customers.

How Does This Relate To PicturEngine?

PicturEngine, or any new brand, will have to find some way to make potential customers, most of whom know very little about the photography business, aware of their existence. As PACA Search has shown, it is not enough to just offer an improved and more efficient way of searching, even when your only aim is to reach traditional customers.

There are countless new microstock agencies that offer lower priced imagery, but most of them are making very little market penetration because customers don’t know they exist. The big 4 – iStockphoto, Shutterstock, Dreamstime and Fotolia – dominate because they were the early entrants in microstock and many people have already heard about them. They also have the resources to advertise.

PicturEngine’s goal is to tell traditional customers who already have sources for the images they need, that they offer a more efficient search, and customers will be able to “pay more” for some of the pictures they need. Maybe, if photographers agree to just charge the same as their agencies are charging now, PicturEngine will be able to eliminate the idea in the customer’s minds that they will have to “pay more” for the images they need. That would mean that photographers would have to be willing to settle for getting 100% of what many consider a low number instead of 20% or 30% they are currently receiving. But that is not the way the project is being sold to photographers. Most photographers think they will be able to charge higher prices than their agencies are currently charging.  

Fatal Flaw

All in all, it seems to me the fatal flaw in this model is that PicturEngine will not have enough capital to promote heavily enough to change the habits of the traditional buyers. And, the site is not set up to reach out to small users, or those who don’t have big budgets in spite of the fact that microstock will be represented on the site and individual royalty free photographers will be able to price use of their images as low as $1.00.

Because the site needs to be able to show the images of all major distributors those distributors will dominate the 200,000 image collection for some time. Thus, even if the images created by photographers who have signed up directly with PicturEngine are given preference, it seem likely that most of the requests will initially go to the major agencies. They will continue to charge their regular fees and take their usual percentages. Thus, most photographers are not likely to benefit very much from this exposure.

The only thing we could find out about the marketing plan is this quote from Justin Brinson. “As for our marketing plan to bring buyers to the PicturEngine search platform, we have not yet begun executing our marketing plan (since we're in photographer beta), and buyers are already coming!”

Copyright © 2012 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:  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Apr 23, 2012
    Agreed: searching and finding images is no longer an issue thus creating a facilitator is not a strong marketing pull. Furthermore, as you said, most, if not all users already have sources of images and see no need to change. It would only give them more results, something they do not seek.
    Finally, there are already strong competitors like Newscom(USA), IDS (UK), Pixpalace(France), Apis (Ger) and any new entry like this one is just an unattractive redundancy. This is not solving a image buyer's problem thus any amount of marketing will not help.

  • Laurent Dicostanzo Posted Apr 26, 2012
    Paul, Jim,
    I suggest that you visit as well.
    Laurent Di Costanzo

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