Photographers Setting Prices

Posted on 4/27/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Many photographers, upset with the low prices their distributors are charging for uses, have become enamored with the idea that PicturEngine will allow them to set their own prices for use of their work. That may not work as well as they hope.

When the customer finds an image and asks for a price the customer may NOT be willing to pay what the photographer asks. In most cases the customer will have many other choices. Customers will soon recognize that when they are referred directly to a photographer for the price the same image may also be represented by one of the major distributors. Then the customer may say to herself, “I’ll see if I can’t find this image on Alamy (or somewhere else) before I buy it here.” By using all the keywords connected to the image the customer will probably be able to quickly determine if the image is available somewhere else at a lower price. If the photographer pulls the image from all other sites and only places it on PicturEngine, he/she will be risking significantly lower sales overall until PicturEngine is able to prove itself.

Picture researchers for many of the high volume customers are often restricted as to the suppliers they can use. Their boss, the publisher, has negotiated a bulk deal with other  suppliers and insists that its researchers use the suppliers who offer them a better price. In such cases the researcher may not be able to even consider the PicturEngine offering until they have exhausted all other options. This frustrates many picture researchers, but it is a requirement of their employment.

Other customers are often happy to use an image that many others have used. They are not interested in something unique. These customers often go to microstock sites where it is possible to search by download. This method of searching lets them see the most downloaded images first. They benefit from the research other buyers have already done and spend less of their valuable time searching for an image that will work on their project. To get some sense of how often today’s customers use the same image everyone else has already used check out this story or simply go to iStockphoto, search by download and see how many times some of the most downloaded images have been used.

This will be a problem for PicturEngine and PE suppliers. First PicturEngine will be unable to offer this feature, even if they wanted. For most of the images returned in searches (those represented by agencies), PicturEngine will have no access to the data that tells then how many times a given image has been downloaded or used. While they will have access to the sales data of individual photographers whose images are licensed directly through PicturEngine it seems unlikely that they would want to make that information available if they couldn’t do the same for all the images on the site. Given the number of times customers choose the same image this feature has a lot of appeal, particularly when the site offers a large number of choices to look through. Even if customers are aware of PicturEngine they may continue to use microstock sites because the images on these sites are likely to be cheaper and require less of their time to find an image they can use.

It sounds like a great idea to be able to say, “My pictures are so great, unique and important to the success of the customer’s project that I’m simply not going to sell them for less than what they are worth.” It is also nice not have to depend for your livelihood on the revenue generated by your images; to be able to sit back and wait until a customer  willing to pay your price comes along. But when customers have so many easily available choices the laws of supply and demand still work.

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:  


  • Ottmar Bierwagen Posted May 1, 2012
    Quite true Jim, it is a dog's breakfast of a swamped market, but when you do have something unique you can call the tune. Yesterday we relicensed a textbook image for a second time for ten yearsm normally we won't go past 5 years, assuming we're still alive. We accepted 10 years for $1250 ONLY because we knew we had something not found anywhere else. I can still hear the publisher grinding their teeth all the way from New York City.
    Regards, Ottmar Bierwagen

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