Microstock Needs To Offer A “Redeemed Credits” Sort

Posted on 3/17/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

One of the great benefits of the Microstock marketing strategy is that distributors have always offered customers a variety of ways to organize search returns. In particular, sort-by-downloads has been a very popular option.

With sort-by-download customers benefit from the opinions of many other editors – often hundreds of them – and see what they liked when they searched the collection using the same keywords. Customers are then free to use that information or ignore it, but sales histories indicate that many customers pick the same images others liked. This can save a customer lots of searching time. Many photographers would like for customers to search diligently through everything available and then pick new, different and unique images but that is not the way most customers react.

With the increased use on some sites of a variety of brands at varying price points there needs to be a better way to determine the most popular images, particularly for buyers who can afford the most expensive images. It is not enough just to offer buyers the option of looking at either high priced brands or inexpensive ones because sometimes the best image for the customer is one that is inexpensive, even when the customer could afford to pay more. The fact that a customer can afford images in the high priced collections doesn’t mean that’s the only place she should look.

Some photographers might argue that if the customer can afford to buy high priced images then the only place they want that customer to look is in the high priced collection. But in the long run, satisfying the customers needs quickly, easily and efficiently is likely to lead to more long range business than just trying to extract the maximum dollars from the customer every time she touches your site.

Redeemed Credits

A “Redeemed Credits” option would get more of the best selling images of the higher priced brands near the top of the search return order. This method of searching would allow customers to see all the various brands in a single search and still see more of the expensive images in the early pages.
    (Note: I am NOT recommending that search by “Download” be replaced with search by “Redeemed Credits”. Both are useful options for certain customers at certain times. Using both in tandem could benefit many customers. “Redeemed Credits” would just be an additional new option that some customers would find useful.)
Search by download simply tells the customer the number of times the image has been downloaded, but all of those downloads could have been one credit sales. As an example on iStockphoto an image from the Agency collection downloaded in the largest file size with an extended multi-seat license for reproduction of more than 500,000 copies could generate 650 redeemed credits for a single download.

Of course, there are lots of options between 1 and 650 credits that a single download could cost depending on how the customer has decided to use the image. If customers could search based on redeemed credits and also see how many times a selected images had been downloaded it would tell them a lot more about how the image might have been used than just knowing downloads.

Toggling back an forth between a redeemed credits search and a downloads search would give the customer a chance to see more of the most in-demand images faster.

Traditional Sites

The biggest current weakness of traditional sites is that customers have no control over how search returns are delivered. Sellers determine the order that images will be shown to the customer. This may have nothing to do with what the customer needs or wants. This is similar to the “Best Match” option offered on microstock sites.
Traditional sites usually organize search returns in a way that delivers the newest images uploaded to the site first. This strategy does not take into account any licensing history of the image. In such situations customers may be forced to look through many images that are wholly inappropriate for their need, and have never been used by anyone, before they come to something of interest. The theory behind this strategy is that newer it always better. Clearly, that is seldom the case. Other factors are built into some search algorithms, but a search return based solely on sales is never used.

Today’s consumers are much more interested in choices and being able to easily find something when they want it rather than having something pushed at them and forced upon them through repetition. The push strategy of marketing and promotion that worked well a decade or so ago is becoming less and less desirable in all lines of business.

Traditional agencies will never tell their customers the number of times an image has been downloaded (because it would be too embarrassing given that so few have ever been licensed). But they could organize images by total earnings with best sellers first and not report actual earning figures. This would not reveal any information about how much the images actually generated or even how many images actually sold because at some point the search returns would start showing images that had never sold. Each image will likely earn varying amounts of money depending on how it was used and this would be a much fairer way of sorting images than just by number of downloads or licenses.

Any agency adopting this strategy would need to give customers two or more search return options, and could continue to use their current search option. Choice is good. For a default search order that brings new, unsold images up near the top I would recommend that every third or fourth images in the search return be a new, unsold images, but the rest of the images should be organized based on sales.

The customer’s time is valuable. They will use sites that allow then to quickly see images that have been in high demand. Overall, this would give customers a better selection of images to choose from than most sites are offering today.

Copyright © 2011 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.  


  • David Sanger Posted Mar 17, 2011
    Then images licensed full-res would appear far above those licensed more often for web use in the rankings

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