Understanding Customer Picture Needs

Posted on 5/27/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

During the New Media Conference at the CEPIC Congress in Istanbul a panel of picture buyers offered their views on what they are looking for from stock photo collections. Lewis Blackwell moderated the discussion. Picture buyers on the panel included Peter Raffelt of Gruner +Jahr; Matt Burgess of Creature; Martin Casson of Dentsu in the UK; Alexander Karts of Die Bildbeschaffer and Paul Millen Creative Director of UltraRPM. an advertising agency in Istanbul. Two issues of particular interest to image creators and sellers revolved around the use of microstock by these large commercial customers and the lack of outstanding unique images in stock collections.

Use of Microstock

While several of these companies do high-end advertising it was pointed out that many of the picture needs of these companies are for small “internal” uses, brochures with a narrow focus, powerpoint presentation, etc. In such cases many of these companies turn to microstock or images from Flickr. Martin Casson said that 90% of the images they use are from microstock or Flickr and Matt Burgess said that 99% of the images he uses comes from these sources. Of course, when they need something for a major ad they either use a RM image or organize an assignment shoot. But it is important for photographer to recognize that the major all media ads are only a small percentage of what advertising agencies do for their clients.

During the planning stages of major ads a number of comps must be created and photographs are needed for these purposes. The pictures used in these comps are for planning purposes only. Once the concept is sold, the designer hopes to either purchase a RM images or shoot an assignment. Of course, sometimes the client becomes so enamored with the specific image in the comp that the designer must try to license rights to that microstock or Flickr image, and make sure that it has all the proper releases, rather than return to his original intention when the comp was prepared.

A few years ago when designers paid fees for comp use, and before computer design, designers were only required to produce one version of an ad for approval. Now, that it is so easy to create multiple versions clients expect to see 5 or 6 versions of every proposal. More photos are needed in the planning stages, but budgets don’t allow for paying more for all these variations. Thus, the designer must find some way to get all the photos he need for less that what he used to pay.

Peter Raffelt of Gruner +Jahr, which publishes a newspapers and magazines said that only about 1% or the images they use are microstock. But many of the images such publications use are part of subscriptions. The publication pays a fixed monthly fee to use an unlimited number of images from a collection. In many cases the price per-image is not broken out, but if were when it is the fee would often be less than is currently charged to use a single microstock image. Of course, the editorial subscription services are based on the principle that many publications will want to use the same image.

Dearth of Unique Imagery

Paul Millen or the Turkish ad agency made the point that too many images in the stock collections were mundane and “all the same.” He called for more creativity and uniqueness. He gave the example of a major campaign his company was recently asked to produce to promote Istanbul. They spent weeks searching the stock files and everything started looking the same. They wanted something unique, striking, something that had never been seen and something that could be displayed on a 50 foot billboard. Finally, they had to hire a photographer to shoot the image they needed.

In my opinion this objection misses the point of what stock should be. Good stock images should be ones that can be used many times for a variety of different purposes by many different customers. Stock photographers who aim to produce very unique images run the great risk that their images will never be used because their vision will not match that of the customer. If they are lucky enough to produce something that customers like Mr. Millen are looking for then the compensation needs to be sufficient to cover the production, not only of that image, but all the other unique images they produce that never sell.

Many photographers shoot with an eye to major advertising sales, but these uses are so few and far between that it is virtually impossible to build a business around that strategy. Mr. Millen is right that there are too many images that look the same, but the answer for the stock photographer is not to set out to produce totally unique art.

Martin Casson of Dentsu pointed out that they recently had a RM stock image that they liked, but given the variety of uses they needed an “all media” deal. Faced with the fee the stock agency wanted for all the usage it was cheaper to do a two week assignment in Capetown rather than buying the stock image and that’s how they ended up getting the image they needed.

If a customer wants a totally unique image over which they have total control then more often than not an assignment, rather than stock, is the way to go.

Copyright © 2011 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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