Raising Stock Photo Prices

Posted on 3/6/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In the next few months I intend spend a lot of time examining the question, “Can the stock photo industry raise prices on at least some of the images it offers?” The possible answers to that question are either YES, NO or MAYBE.

While every creator hopes the answer is YES, a huge percentage of stock image agents and distributors have been saying NO for quite some time. They don’t often discuss the issue openly. When forced to comment they will reluctantly concede a NO, but they believe they must keep lowering prices in order to compete.

Lowering prices steadily has been the trend for the majority in the industry for more than a decade, and probably longer. There are very few exceptions to this rule.  (See Stock Photography: An Amateur Business)

Most will say, “You have to keep giving the customers what they want which is more at lower costs. If you don’t, then they will go to the lower cost competitor.”

There is evidence this is not always the case. I will explore some of that evidence in other articles. I am also interested in examples any reader might have of how they have been able to raise prices, or at least not lower then, and grow their business over the last few years. There are certainly cases where sellers have raised prices -- or tried to hold the line on pricing -- and it has only resulted in fewer sales. That is not success.

I’m looking for any suggestions of what “May Be Possible,” but hasn’t necessarily been tested. I’m hoping to open a dialogue and conversation that might help the industry mover forward. My hope is to hear from readers – particularly stock agents and distributors who deal with the day to day licensing of imagery – as to what they think might be possible.

One Idea

One idea that I’ve discussed in the past is offering more Pricing Tiers. As an example Shutterstock has one huge collection of 116 million (and counting) images, all at the same price. (They will argue that they also have the high priced Offset collection, but in order to make my point I will set that aside for the moment.)

The main 116 million image collection actually has several segments, although it is impossible for a customer to search the collection for any of these individual segments. They include:
    1 – Images that at least one customer in the last two years has been willing to pay an Image-On-Demand license fee to use.

    2 – Images that have been downloaded as part of a subscription in the last 2 years, but do not fall into category 1.
    3 – Images that have appeared on a page actually viewed by a customer in the last two years, but did not fall into categories 1 or 2.

    Probably every image in the collection has been returned in at least one search in the last two years, but when 3,000 pages are delivered in a search return we know that the customer probably looked at no more than 5 or so pages. Shutterstock should know exactly which images were on each of those reviewed pages and have recorded that as a “view” of that image.

    My bet is that a huge percentage of the images, particularly those that have been in the collection for more than two years, or images that were not downloaded at least as part of a subscription, have never been viewed by anyone in the last two years. Now, they are so buried in the collection that they are not likely to be viewed by anyone in the future.

    4 – Images that have not been viewed by anyone in the last two years.
This segmenting would make it possible for Shutterstock to have images at 4 different price levels instead of just one. And each one of these grouping would have thousands of images to offer.

If it were me I would make images in categories 3 and 4 (including all new images added) available to customers at current subscription rates. I would make it possible for customers to search for category 4 images separately if they just wanted to review a smaller collection of older images that might have some hidden gems.

If an image is licensed from the 3 or 4 collection it is immediately moved to 1 or 2 depending on whether it was an IOD or subscription license.

The price for an image in collection 2 would be 25% to 50% higher than the base price for an image from the 3 or 4 collection. Customers who have limited time to search (everyone) would know that if they searched collection 2, every images in it had been downloaded via a subscription by at least one other professional image user. If they wanted an image that had never been used by anyone they would have to go to 3 or 4. However, I think most customers would be happy to pay 50% more (considering how low the base price is already) for the time that searching category 2 would likely save them.

When an image is downloaded by 10 different subscription customers, but never had an IOD download, it should be automatically moved to the categoryr 1 along with the other IOD images.?IOD prices are already significantly higher than subscription prices, but now customers would know that if they had the budget for the higher priced imagery they would be able to review a better curated collection. They would also know that none of the images in this collection will be found at lower prices in collections 2, 3 or 4. Not every image is equal.

Keep in mind that if we go to iStock we have two collections – Essential, Signature – at two very different price points. There have been indications, from a revenue point of view, that in the past 75% of iStocks revenue (before they launched a subscription offering) came from the higher priced Signature collection.

The above is only a possible solution for growing revenue while licensing the same number of images as are being licensed today. The concept may need significant modifications.

Almost every agency with a collection of significant size could benefit from finding a way to charge somewhat more for use of its best selling images. If the industry is going to grow revenue it must find some way to grow prices for some of the images on offer. The industry will not grow significantly by just adding more customers.

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 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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