The Long Tail: Growing Traffic

Posted on 3/19/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Related article

Is There a Long Tail Among Photo Buyers?

Defining the Long Tail

Previous articles in this series have addressed the long tail as it relates to stock photography, and why it is an increasingly important concept to understand for those who want to maximize earning. Constantly adding to your customer base, rather than earning more from existing customers, is at the core of the long-tail theory.

Traditional stock-photo sellers tend to focus on serving the customers that are easiest to find and have the biggest budgets. Most agencies disregard a much larger and more diverse group of image users, whose needs are occasional and who cannot afford traditional prices for the images they need.

Part of the reason for this traditional focus is that small users can be very difficult to identify. Producers have generally come to the erroneous conclusion that the cost of marketing and servicing these customers will be greater than the revenue they are likely to generate, making them not worth pursuing.

However, the Internet offers those selling stock photography some unique advantages. Image databases enable customers to search through millions of images and quickly find something that fits their needs. Payment can be made online, and the credits system enables customers to conduct very small transactions. Delivery of the finished product takes place instantaneously. Communities provide education and useful information to both buyers and sellers, encouraging further participation.

Thus, it appears that the only barriers to getting customers to a new Web site are in making them aware of it and keeping prices competitive.

There are also other important considerations—for example, the fact that marketing a new and cheaper resource to traditional professional users can do more harm than good, unless the seller can find a way to maintain prices for large commercial uses and only offer low prices for certain limited categories of small uses. If the goal is to expand the long tail, it means focusing on customers who are only occasional users of photography and those with limited budgets.

One thing that has worked for growing traffic is allowing amateurs to sell their pictures online. The combined total of microstock contributors is probably somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000. The vast majority are making few sales, if any, but the advantage is not financial. If they ever need to use a picture, they will go where they are selling their own. If a friend asks them where to find a picture, they will direct the friend to the site where their own pictures are licensed.

Most teachers and professors need pictures from time to time, but they are not used to buying them. How does the seller make them aware of his resource? Chances are that none of these people will ask a graphic designer or photographer for suggestions.

There are more than 480,000 churches and religious organizations in the U.S. today. All of them need pictures at least a few times a year. Some are using pictures in PowerPoint presentations every Sunday. Some have graphic designers on staff or as members of the congregation, but in most cases, a secretary or the pastor is responsible for finding pictures and creating the marketing materials and event announcements they need.

Traditional sellers may think they have good contacts with large businesses organizations and the graphic designers that work with in such companies. But how many people in these companies regularly create PowerPoint presentations and never think to ask the professionals in their company where to get pictures for inclusion? And how do you reach them?

And then there are social networking and personal Web sites.

Finding ways to communicate with each of these groups can be daunting, but each individual in these groups is also in online communities of some type. If you can identify and break into such communities, their members will spread the word about your service.

The big microstock companies have clearly proved that there is a very big market out there. Their success may be because they were first to establish a presence. They may have already captured the low-hanging fruit. But there are still opportunities they have not exploited. There are still people who do not know where to go to easily find images when they need them. Places where there has been some editing and quality control and where the images are organized so they are easy to find. Like it or not, this is the future of stock photography—not in selling more images at higher prices to traditional customers.

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 19, 2009
    An excellent, thought-provoking article. Thanks.

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