Strategies Traditional Sellers Should Adopt: Search, Info, Editing, Payment

Posted on 5/27/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

In addition to credits-based pricing, traditional sellers need to consider several technological adaptations. These include letting customers organize search results, helping photographers with research, providing a more varied offering and speeding up royalty payments.

Let customers organize search results

Traditional distributors should provide customers with choices in the way search results are delivered, rather than forcing them to use the agency’s system. There is nothing wrong with defaulting to the agency’s preferred image-return order, but it seems short-sighted to not offer customers the variety of options they get from microstock sellers.

Particularly useful is the ability to display images in the order of most sales: many customers like to see the images others have used. This gives them the benefit of seeing the editing decisions that real buyers—not the agency’s own editors—have made. Some sellers argue that customers only want new images and images no one else has used, but the number of times some of the best-selling images on the microstock sites have been downloaded demonstrates this to be a fallacy.

Traditional sellers may be embarrassed to reveal how few times their best sellers have sold compared to microstock best sellers, but they do not have to reveal the number of times the image has sold, just that it has sold more than others in the collection. In cases where several images have sold the same number of times, the newest in that group could be shown first. Such a search algorithm is simple to develop. It is difficult to understand why traditional distributors have not adopted this feature as a way of providing better customer service.

Aid photographer research

Being able to look at images that have sold not only helps customers, but also helps photographers when planning new shoots. Currently, photographers selling through traditional agencies must guess at what is actually selling or look at what is selling on microstock sites and hope that demand in the two environments is comparable. Photographers get no direct feedback from traditional customers. This is exacerbated by the fact that most traditional agencies have cut their editing and photographer support staffs that used to provide top photographers with guidance as to what is in demand.

Those who argue against this strategy say that if everyone knows what is selling, everyone will copy those pictures rather than producing something new and different. Some of this certainly happens in both the microstock and traditional arenas, but perhaps not as much among traditional shooters. Still, since a lot of people who are producing pictures do not pay attention to this data and shoot what most inspires them, there is still plenty of diversity. In fact, it could be argued that there is more diversity in microstock than in most big traditional collections.

Provide a more varied and eclectic offering

Traditional sellers should be developing technological ways to accept images from a more varied group of sellers (particularly advanced amateurs), and to have less stringent editing criteria, in order to produce a broader collection. (I am now ducking while everyone throws brickbats.)

More and more of the images available in the traditional environment are being produced by production companies. These companies carefully analyze what is selling and concentrate on producing images that are in high demand. As a result, there is a great oversupply of high-demand subjects, causing those trying to earn their living from stock photography to narrow their focus even more, consequently increasing this oversupply.

To broaden the collections, more niche subject matter is needed. Yet the niche subjects, no matter how well produced, do not sell frequently enough to support a photographer shooting on speculation. For the most part, people who produce niche material are amateurs or part-timers. Traditional agencies want prolific producers and tend not to accept niche photographers or their imagery. As a result, microstock agencies are becoming the place to find such images.

There are certainly problems with the microstock system for selecting images, but on the whole—with the exception of Alamy—photographers have a much better chance of getting their images accepted by a microstock distributor than a traditional one. Some argue that this results in a collection of images of lower quality. I do not agree, and there certainly is a greater variety of vision in microstock than on traditional sites, because images are accepted from a more diverse group of shooters.

Speed photographer payments

Traditional sites need to copy microstock in the way it lets suppliers know, at any given moment, how much they are owed. In addition, provided the supplier is owed at least $100, he should be able to request payment at any time. This works with a credits-based system, because the money is in the account the instant the image is delivered. While more complicated for a hybrid account that receives money through both credits and invoice sales, it is not an impossible problem to manage.

For any individual supplier, it should be possible to receive money from credit sales instantly. Money collected from invoiced sales in a given month should be reported and available at the end of the month, not three or four months later. Sales by distributors should be available to the primary agency at the end or each month, and reported and immediately available to the supplier at the end of the following month. In today’s digital environment, there is no excuse for delaying payment as long as many traditional agencies do.

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:  


  • Peter Dazeley Posted May 28, 2009
    I absolutely agree, my top selling images fall down the search order so fast. What I cant understand is, if we are trying to improve the 'customer experience' as we are told, why do top selling images disappear down the search order at the same speed as non selling images. I would have thought it should be more about giving customers more of what they want, as Microstock has proved so brilliantly.

    Best wishes, Dazeley

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