Selling Same Images at Different Prices with Customer Segmentation

Posted on 3/23/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

As part of the ongoing discussion in the stock-image industry about the ethics and implications of selling the same content at different prices, James Alexander, formerly of Adobe Stock Photos, has posted some thoughts on his personal blog. This issue was first raised by Microstock Diaries, and Selling Stock has also addressed it in the past.

Alexander created and built Adobe’s stock-image offering. When Adobe decided to exit that business, he moved to Jupiterimages in early 2008, so he brings top-level experience to the discussion.

He says: “The foundation for implementing successful price discrimination strategies for stock distributors is customer segmentation in conjunction with erecting effective barriers to keep these segments separated (known as rate fences).” This is true. The rights-managed model has always segmented customers by having different prices for advertising, editorial, book publishing or the use of the image on a product. Yet Alexander goes one step further: “I strongly believe that customer segmentation should lead to the definition and building of new market segments beyond the creative professional.”

The current problem for traditional image sellers is that they are focused exclusively on dealing with “creative professionals”. As a group, the images these professionals buy represent a very small percentage of total images purchased. In addition, the number of images “creative professionals” use has been flat for several years and is declining in the current economy.

Meanwhile, there is a huge new group of customers out there, located and identified by the microstock sellers. The needs of this segment of buyers are growing at an astounding rate. Granted, most can not afford to pay much for the images they want to use, but usage volumes make this a very attractive market. The challenge, of course, is being able to sell the same image for a low price in one market segment, while continuing to maintain a much higher price point in another.

Alexander argues that the way to accomplish this goal is “through Web-targeting specific markets with features, functionality and messaging tailored to the unique needs of the intended audience.” There is no problem with creating such Web sites; having one site tailored specifically to customers from religious organizations, another to students, and still another to PowerPoint users has its advantages—even if the exact same images are available on all three. Such an approach might make marketing to each group easier.

However, I do not really see the need for it. I think it is possible for one site to establish one price for student use in the classroom or at home, another for religious organizations, and a third for commercial use in brochures, and to have further variables for the latter—for example, based on circulation. With such an overall strategy, it is unlikely that any users would feel they were being discriminated against any more than people under 65 are upset that seniors get discounts when they go to the movies or to some restaurants.

The key is to find a way to address the whole market without giving a select few customers tremendous discounts, as is the case when microstock sellers deal with creative professionals.

Copyright © 2009 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:  


  • Fred Voetsch Posted Mar 23, 2009
    I think that this is perhaps the most important issue facing most stock photographers today as it is costing many a lot of money because they are limiting their sales by only offering their images in one market segement of the other.

    I once thought that the key to surviving was to create a barrier between the high end and the low end but now I am starting to see that the same images can serve both markets.

  • Don Farrall Posted Mar 23, 2009
    For this to work there has to be a good way of policing use. Given the opportunity far too many will "cheat" the system, they already do, but keeping the content intended for high end users out of the hands of the masses does help to shelter the value of the higher value images. When anyone can buy any image claiming their minimal use then the value of the same image has been degraded to the high end buyer. I don't have an issue with this in principal, but I have my doubts about how it would be practical.

    Don Farrall

  • Andrea Stern Posted Mar 24, 2009
    Marketing segmentation has been working in the heritage sector for a long time. In V&AImages, which represents the Victoria and Albert Museum, we have maintained clear pricing differences between the academic and the commercial markets. Now with the pressure to give images free to academics, and the creation of a separate website to do so, the need for close monitoring to ensure 'fairness' has become essential. Not easy to do in the heritage sector as there is resistance to it and insufficient resources. And some images will only be viewable on the commercial websites as they are considered to be commercial assets and their value needs protecting.

    The separation of the markets does appear to be working and has generally been accepted by clients. Often it is the terminology used that makes the pricing acceptable. Reproduction fee converts to permission to license; service and search fees can be applied in the academic market, whereas delivery charges apply to commercial clients.

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