Micro Sites Help Identify In-Demand Stock Subjects

Posted on 1/20/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

There are two ways to approach shooting for the stock photo market. The first is to take images you love and hope that someone will want to pay you for them. The more businesslike approach is to try to determine what customers want, and one thing that is beneficial is that the subject matter in demand has not changed: what customers wanted five, 10 or 20 years ago is still in demand today.

Images need to be updated and current, but in general, subject matter needs remain the same and in relatively the same proportions. In broad terms, images in greatest demand are model-released people in business and lifestyle situations, but that statement is so non-specific as to be almost useless. It can also be misleading when the subject matter being considered does not include people, because there is some demand for that also.

Over the years I have performed various analyses of subjects in demand; see this article for detailed results. While this is a good general starting point, data available on microstock sites (particularly iStockphoto, Fotolia and Dreamstime) make it possible to narrow one’s focus and make much more specific and educated judgments than was previously possible. This data is of value to every stock photographer, even if he or she never plans to license an image at microstock prices.

Begin by going to Fotolia or Dreamstime. Use keywords to search for any subject you are planning to photograph and organize the results by number of downloads. This shows how many total images are available in this category and how many times each has been downloaded, which gives an idea of the interest in this subject matter and how that relates to the total number of available images.

For example, if you search for Monument Valley on Fotolia, you will find that there are 2,676 images in the collection, and the first picture that comes up has had 335 downloads. Examine that picture more closely, and you will discover that it is not a picture of Monument Valley at all, but of the Grand Canyon which is near but not part of the Valley. The reason this picture has so many downloads is probably that people were actually looking for Grand Canyon and purchased the picture because it was also keyworded as such and that is what they wanted, not because they wanted a picture of Monument Valley. This points out how important it is to attach all relevant keywords to an image, but to also make sure that there are no inaccurate or irrelevant keywords.

In some cases, pictures downloaded a huge number of times may reach this level because they legitimately fall into many different categories. Customers using different keywords from the ones you used in your search may have found the image. Do not assume all the customers who purchased the image were looking for the subject you want to photograph.

When it comes to keywording images, it is also useful to look at the keywords of the best-selling microstock images on the subject.

Consider the combined total number of downloads relative to the total number of images available for the top 15 or 20 images in the category you are searching, Also consider how quickly the number of downloads per image declines relative to the best seller. This may give you an idea of how difficult it will be to create an image that would reach best-seller level.

When you find a category that seems to offer some potential, carefully examine the top few hundred. What commonalities do they have? How can you improve on what has already been done? Can you produce an image that basically fulfills the need (could be found using the same keywords) but is different and better than anything available in the collection? Depending on the answers to these questions, you are either ready to shoot or it is time to move on to another subject.

When examining iStock data, the total number of downloads for the top images is likely to be significantly higher than on Fotolia or Dreamstime. However, information on iStock is a little harder to find. The company used to put the number of downloads under the thumbnail as the other two sites do, but recently made a decision to hide that information on the preview page, accessible by clicking on image thumbnails. Rather than a specific number, however, it will be listed as “greater than” a particular number, meaning that the actual number is somewhere between the next 10 or 100 numbers, depending on the size of the number.

In doing this kind of research, you will also notice that some of the same images are best sellers on all three sites. You can be sure that if they are on these three sites, they are on other sites as well. Consider not just the total number of downloads for a given image, but the total for a shoot. As an example, look at is the images produced by Lisa F. Young with the keywords “senior couple tennis.” The subjects are an attractive senior couple and Lisa has obviously shot this couple in many situations.

One final thing to note is that iStock edits much tighter than Fotolia or Dreamstime. Consequently, the total downloads of the best selling images on iStock tend to be much higher than on the other two. On the other hand, if you total sales from each shoot on a given site, the discrepancy in total downloads may not be so great, because all the variations on the sites that offer them tend to sell.

Finding holes

In any event, given that there are so many good images out there today, what photographers need to do is find holes in the collections—and fill them. Do not duplicate what is already there. Very experienced producers like Rick Becker Leckrone of Blend Images insist there are still lots of holes that need to be filled. You will not accidentally stumble upon them; you can only find them by doing organized research.

Copyright © 2010 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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