More On New Distribution System

Posted on 6/30/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Justin Brinson of PicturEngine posted a thoughful comment to last week’s article “New Stock Image Distribution System Needed.” I’m re-posting his comments here because I want to be sure all my readers have a chance to consider them. I’ll add a few of my own comments below his.

Brinson’s Take

Do we really need to "reinvent the wheel" with a new photo distribution system from agencies?  Or do we just need a better way to search our industry's current inventory more efficiently?

Take a look at the pain points from image buyers and sellers.

Buyers currently have to wade through the muck of syndication and duplication to get to the image for which they are really looking.  Why would we think image buyers would be willing to pay 10x more to license an image that a competitor is using?  I don’t think price fixing is the answer.  A better, smarter search is needed.  One search that eliminates the rampant syndication and duplication from our industry.  A search that finds the best, unique image for that particular buyer's needs.  One that finds great images that have NOT been overused.  Buyers are looking for unique images with visual impact that will get their particular customers' attention.  Finding the perfect image to represent a company, brand, product, or idea is currently a difficult task.

On the other side of the coin, sellers, including creators (photographers, videographers, and illustrators) and photo agencies are NOT looking for yet another middle man to take another cut of the license fees.  They are all simply looking for a better way to get existing stock photo content licensed.

I have a list of what buyers and sellers told us they wanted and I am happy to share.
    1.    All images from the industry in one search (all inclusive).  NOT a new agency, but rather a true search engine.
    2.    An unbiased search that levels the playing field (no one can pay to have a higher search rank).
    3.    Remove duplication and syndication, just show the image one time within the search results.  Send buyers as close to the original source as possible, which allows both the photographer and agency get paid more (less middlemen taking their cut of the license fees), and ultimately photographers can continue producing high quality content.

    4.    Universal lightboxes from across the entire industry to save and share with clients all of the images they have found from the industry.
    5.    Direct to seller marketplace where larger more established creators have the option to license directly to image buyers.  Many are already doing this now, but have no real opportunity to generate enough traffic to make this profitable.
All of the above is solved with PicturEngine, and it is only getting better as the search matures.   Yes, changing search habits of image buyers is expensive and takes time, less time and money however, than creating a whole new sales and delivery platform and getting agencies to agree on anything.  PicturEngine already has over 850,000,000 results within its organic index from the industry.  We use machine learning to help buyers find exactly what they are looking for efficiently.  A truly smart search that learns what the image buyer is looking for and helps them find the perfect image.  The more an image buyer searches and uses the system, the better their search results become.  

One more thing that I think should be discussed further, an exchange of data.  I am not talking about "price fixing” on any image that has sold or otherwise.  I believe each individual and agency should handle setting their own prices how they see fit.  I am talking about the true equal and distributed sharing of data.  If anyone is interested, please feel free to reach out, ( ) I have some founding ideas that I have been working on for the data exchange.

Jim’s Additional Thoughts

Justin Brinson said, “Why would we think image buyers would be willing to pay 10x more to license an image that a competitor is using?”

I think this misses the point on many levels.

1 – Most buyers are not comparing prices based on what a “competitor” is paying. They are looking for the best image that fulfills their immediate needs at a price they can afford.

2 - Very seldom do buyers even give a thought to whether a competitor might have used the same image in some way unless they have seen it used large in a competitor promotion, or if they are planning to make a very large use of the images and are fearful that a competitor might undercut their big promotion by using the same image. Such big promotions represent an infinitely small percentage of total image use today.

3 – We know from years of experience going back to the print catalog era that a significant percent of customers tend to use the same images others have used. They do not always seek new images no one has ever seen. This is particularly true when it is easier to search through a smaller collection of images that others have found useful. Early statistics of iStock proved this in spades when some of the same images tended to get used by thousands of customers. I’m sure the same is true today. It is just that iStock is no longer publishing those figures.

4 – However, if the customer want a unique image that has “NOT been overused,” then the customer can go to the Unsold collection of images and know that every image in that collection has not been used.

5 – I recommended a $20 fee for an RM or traditional RF image that had never been used. This number is not fixed in stone. Rather it could be any agreed upon number that the board of this new distribution system would decide. It could also be changed by the board from time to time.

However, it would be the same price for all images in the collection that had never sold. In this way customers would be comparing all non-sold images in the collection from all sources equally, and would not have to be constantly comparing price to determine which images they might be able to use. For an image to get to a higher price point it would have to be licensed at least once.

6 – If the 10x refers to a $20 image compared to one that costs $2 then there is a big difference, but the real question this distribution system would be asking is how important is it to make that image available to the customer who is only willing to pay $2 for it? Getty Images has list prices of hundreds of dollars for its RM images, but it will sell any of those same images $2 or less to certain Enterprise Customers. The differences between these two users of the same image is a lot more than 10x.  

7 – Increasingly, the best customers (Enterprise customers) are looking to do deals with organizations that have large, comprehensive collections of images. These deals give them access to most, if not all, of the images they may need for a fixed monthly price. As a result, the per-image-price for each image used can vary dramatically.

The system I have devised would give the customer a comprehensive collection of images from the best mid-level images suppliers, but the images would be organized in such a way that it would make it easier for the customer to search for the best images (based on decisions made by other users) and manage monthly expenditures to fit within the customer’s budget.

8 – iStock has also proved that two-tier pricing with one collection priced at a significantly higher price than the other can work very well provided both prices are reasonable. iStock’s Signature collection at an average price of around $30 per image is three times as expensive as the Essentials collection at an average price of around $10 per image. Yet Getty Images has said the 75% of iStock’s revenue comes from images in the Signature collection.

The Signature images are Exclusive to iStock while many of the Essentials images are available on lots of other sites. However, I do not believe that the primary reason customers purchase these images is because they are exclusive. Rather, it is a smaller collection to review and customers believe that because the images are higher priced they must be of better quality. And the price is still reasonable for many customers.

Justin Brinson also said, “sellers, including creators (photographers, videographers, and illustrators) and photo agencies are NOT looking for yet another middle man to take another cut of the license fees.”

I fully agree. The system I suggested would cut out some of the middlemen, not add more. As things stand now, a significant percentage of the image creators place their images with small or mid-sized specialist agencies. A major problem for these agencies is reaching a broad base of customers. They market to customers in their local area and those who have a continuing need for the kinds of images that are the strength of their collection.

But, in order to reach the broad world market, they often need to place their collections with a larger and more comprehensive distribution network like Getty Images. In order to do that they must give up a very significant percentage of the fee paid by the customer. And they give up all control of pricing.

With the system I recommend I think these mid-level agencies would receive 70% or more of the license fee the customer actually pays to use an image as compared with the 35% of less they receive if the image is licensed through Getty Images. They can still license their images through Getty Images, but to the degree that they can cause customers to switch to the new system they could earn twice as much as might otherwise be the case. And their contributors would earn twice as much also. And the customers would pay no more than they are paying now, and maybe less.

Finally, I don’t think customers are looking for a larger and larger database of images. I think they are looking for a comprehensive collection of images, hopefully curated in some way (check out this story related to curation) that will reduce the time needed to find great images.

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:  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff