Promoting Images That Have Been Licensed

Posted on 10/27/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Stock photo agents tell me that they can’t offer a system that would let customers search for just the images that have been licensed at least once because their photographers will complain.

Photographers argue that if such a collection were available for customers to use then other photographer competitors would copy their images. Then the photographer who shot the image that had been licensed wouldn’t make as many additional sales. Photographers want the actual licensing information hidden from other photographers in order to enhance the possibility of making more sales for themselves.

This is understandable, but I think the photographers who make this argument haven’t done a proper Risk/Reward assessment and take all the factors into proper account. Below, I’ll look at both sides of the argument and examine both the Risks and possible Benefits.


Yes, some photographers would certainly look at what customers have licensed previously and try to “copy” or “improve upon” those shots. But don’t those same photographers also look at the images that have been actually used in magazines and online and try to shoot some of the same subject matter?

A searchable collection of images where it is possible to search by category, or specific keywords would certainly be helpful to photographers trying to figure out what to shoot.  

Back in 2012 I published a story about the experiences of Lisa F. Young and Frances Twitty. In 2005 and 2006 when there there was demand for subjects that hadn’t been covered in much depth previously these photographers produced a few pictures of air conditioning repairmen at work.

Who knew, but it turned out that those images sold very well. At that time iStock not only let customers search for “best selling” images, but also provided information about the number of times the images had been downloaded. Other photographers picked up on that information and started shooting pictures of air conditioner repairmen and repairmen in general. Since there were now more image choices, downloads of Young and Twitty’s images declined.

The new images weren’t copies of the images of Young and Twitty had produced, but they were “copies of the concept.”

Of course, the stock agencies are constantly giving their photographers information about the concepts and keywords that their customers are searching for and encouraging their photographers to produce more of that type of imagery. If photographers take the advice, then it increases the competition for that subject matter.

Certainly, seeing actual images, rather than word statements about a concept, would help photographers to better understand what is actually needed, but does that mean the new photographer is going to be able to produce a better picture?

I suppose that in certain cases it would be possible to actually “copy” a tabletop shot. But when it comes to people and lifestyle pictures, office situation, wildlife, scenic, almost anything in natural light it is virtually impossible to “copy” and images. It may be possible to produce something in the same “style,” or to produce something that improves on the original, but the risk of someone copying another creator’s work is very minimal.


Now, lets look at the benefits.

If you want to sell more product, the first, and most important thing to do, is make life easier for the customer. If it takes a customer more time to find what they need at one site than  another, they are likely go to the site that is easiest to use and saves them time rather than the one that “uses up” or “wastes” their time.

More and more customers are complaining about the time it takes them to find the right image online. More and more are going to small, well curated sites with many fewer images that the big sites with over 100 million images.

Most agencies find that less than 1% or the images in their collections are licensed in a given year. Since a huge percent of those licensed are licensed multiple times that actual number of unique image licensed is probably way less than 1%.

If the collection size is only a few hundred-thousand images, then it may not be necessary to segment the images licensed from the rest of the images in the collection. Customers can easily review all they images that they will find using any given search parameter.

But, with a collection of more than 100 million images any search will produce many more images than the customer has time to review.  The agencies say their algorithms put the best selling images at the top of the search, but they also need to show for at least a little while those tons of new images they are receiving every day. As a result, images that have sold only a few times, or have never sold, get buried very quickly.

Go to your agency and search for images that you have sold. If they don’t come up in the first couple of pages, customers will not see them. If customers can’t see them they won’t buy them.
If there were two separate collections – Images Previously Licensed and Images Never Licensed – customers will be much more likely to review the smaller collection first than to try to wade through a collection with 100 times as many images. Most customers don’t care if the image they choose has been previously used by someone else as long as it works for their project.

In those rare cases where the customer wants an image that has never been used by anyone then that customers can go immediately to the Images Never Licensed collection. They will know that any image found there has never been used. If they only want the newest images they could also organize their searches to show only images uploaded in the last 30 days, 3 months, 6 months or a year.

With the current system, if they find an image they like, they must then call the agency to see if the image has ever been used. If it has, that may require that they search for a different images. This requires that they spend more time looking for the images they want.

Whenever a new image is uploaded it goes into the Images Never Licensed collection. Thus, all those “copies” of the original image the first photographer produced will not be shown to those searching the Images Previously Licensed collection. Once an image in the Never Licensed collection is licensed it is automatically moved to the Previously Licensed collection.

The biggest benefit to the photographers whose images have been Previously Licensed is that the images in this collection can now be offered at a higher price. Now when they do make a sale the license fee would be higher than if all images were priced equally in a single collection.  Given today’s prices Previously Licensed images should be priced at a level that is at least twice as high as Never Licensed images.

Images Previously Licensed should be the default search because this collection contains the best images based on the judgments of all the stock agency’s customers.

To me, all these possible Benefits far outweigh the Risk that a photographer might lose a few sales to another photographer who copied his or her image.

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:  


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