Search Options: Traditional vs. Microstock

Posted on 4/17/2008 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Traditional stock photography sellers constantly struggle to improve their collections and search. Diverse collections are added to the offering to increase customer choice. Then portals revert to tighter editing, limiting the number of images returned on each search. When portals use this strategy, the rejected images often turn up on other portals and customers often buy the rejected images.

For several years, traditional sellers have vacillated between these two theories with little success. Image suppliers are caught in the middle, when portals decline to accept new production. Hence, microstock sellers are exploring different options. They provide customers with a variety of ways of organizing search to learn what is available in a shorter period of time. A better search experience, rather than saving money, may be part of the incentive that causes art directors to use microstock rather than traditional sources.

Traditional Method of Organizing Search Returns

On traditional portals, search returns are organized, in most cases, with the most recent image first, based on the date the image was added. When portals represent a number of collections, each is assigned a position in the search return order. Whenever a collection's turn comes up, the newest image that hasn't already been shown is presented. Thus, if you go to Getty Images, the first image returned in any keyword search will be a Stone+ image and it will be the most recent addition to that collection. If Stone+ has no images with that keyword then an image from the next collection in line will be shown. (See Maximizing Search Return for more information on Getty's strategy.)

In general, this tends to be the accepted strategy of most traditional portals.

Microstock Search Return Strategy

The default return order on most microstock sites is similar to traditional sites. But, unlike the traditionals, microstocks also make it easy for customers to alter that order in from six to 14 different ways. Two of the must useful alterations are to re-order the search by "downloads" or "views" (previews). These options enable the customer to quickly see what other buyers have chosen to either examine more closely or actually purchase. This is useful information when a customer is under time pressure. The actual number of downloads or previews is listed under each image explaining its comparative popularity.

Many traditionals allow customers to see a photographer's entire collection once they find an image they like. But microstock brands often go further, making it possible to find more images from the same shoot or model. On some portals, as is the case with Dreamstime, after choosing a particular image, the customer can also see similar images from different photographers and easily jump to those images. With each jump, a different set of similars is presented.

Fotolia uses Similia technology to recommend images that may be of interest, based on the customer's general search behavior. Stockxpert lets the customer search for subject position in the frame. If the art director is working on a design that requires copy space on the left, she can look for photographs where the principle point of interest is centered on the right. Stockxpert also allows customers to narrow a search to those images that have a particular dominant color tone.

In general, microstock companies seem much more willing than traditional sellers to test new ideas that might improve the customer's search experience. At the moment, traditional portals are focused on tighter editing. Microstock sellers are adding images at a rapid pace and tend to have larger collections than traditionals. They are also improving quality, offer greater variety and are growing much faster. Maybe search experience has nothing to do with why customers choose one portal over another. Maybe it's all about price. But the search comparisons are worth considering.

Copyright © 2008 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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