Understanding Which Stock Images Will Sell

Posted on 8/26/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

Of the millions of stock images which ones are actually being purchased and used by customers? Photographers trying to earn a living need better information about exactly what images are selling so they don’t waste time shooting things no one is interested in buying.

When I got into the industry it was possible to shoot whatever you liked, or what you thought customers might need, because there was enough demand and prices were high enough, that even if a lot of what you produced never sold you could still earn enough from those that did sell to earn a decent living. That is no longer the case.

In those days there was much more editing of submissions by experienced editors. The editors tended to supply photographers with a great deal of specific guidance as to what to shoot, and what to stop wasting their time shooting, than is the case today.

Today, if a photographer gets any guidance at all from his agency, it tends to be focused on broad categories of subject matter and general trends in demand rather than information targeted to the individual photographer’s skills and talents.

In the 1980s and early 1990s there was under supply relative to demand. Now, while demand has certainly increased, there is huge over-supply relative to existing demand. And prices for use of an image have fallen dramatically.

Now, photographers trying to earn a living must use their time much more efficiently. They can’t afford to waste time producing image, on speculation, that no one wants to use. At today’s prices photographers can’t afford to shoot randomly.

Why Don’t Agencies Supply Better Information?

1 - Probably the leading reason is that agencies are concerned about giving up proprietary information and losing market advantage. If other agencies know what is selling they will produce similar material and the original agency will lose market share.

I suspect that if we really knew the facts, we would find that customers buy very different kinds of images at different agencies. While many customers use multiple agencies, most customers tend to settle on one specific agency for most of their needs based on ease of search, customer service and price. Different customers have different need and they buy different images.
Agencies need to consider how much they are losing by not having more of the imagery their customers want to buy. They may not get that by just accepting more and more images into their collections and hoping – somewhere, somehow – the right image will be there for the customer to find.

The agencies also need to consider how much they may lose in the future if they have to rely entirely on part timers and amateurs for new images because professionals will no longer be able to justify continued production. The part timers shoot what they enjoy and don’t pay a whole lot of attention to what customers want. The professionals spend a lot of time trying to figure out and shoot what customers want because in that way they can maximize their revenue. Maximizing revenue is the primary reason for producing new images.

2 – Another reason for not supplying specific information about exactly which images are selling is the concern that photographers will copy the work of others rather than coming up with new ideas. Photographers worry that if all their competitors learn that images they have produced are good sellers, the competitors will start producing similar images, the long term sales value of the original image will decline.

While this will certainly happen in some cases, the benefit of having better informed photographers with a detailed understanding of what customers want, and focused on producing images that meet customer needs, may generate more revenue in long run than multiple sales of the first image in the category.

To reduce the direct copying agencies could use visual search to compare new images with images in the “have sold” collection. If the new image does not add elements that make it significantly better than the older image, then, at the very least, it should not be delivered as high in the search return order as the original image.

If customers were offered a “have sold” collection and a separate “never sold” collection with none of the have sold images in it that could solve a great deal of the problem. Some customers who don’t want to use images that no one else has used would go to the “never sold” collection recognizing that there may be some great new images there. Other customers would go to the “have sold” collection.

3 - Some might argue that if photographers are given this information the only thing they will shoot are the subjects in highest demand. However, only a small percentage of photographers will have the skill, talent and access to subject matter to shoot the highest demand subject matter. In addition, only a very small percentage of the people supplying stock images today will go to the trouble of doing the research and using the information available. But those who do use the information will produce the kind of images the agency needs to grow.

If the leading agencies want to continue to grow they need to help photographers learn by making databases of licensed images available for photographers to review.  

For more information on this subject see “Is Knowing Which Images Get The Most Downloads Enough?

Copyright © 2016 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.  


  • Sarah Fix Posted Aug 26, 2016
    Customized creative support for photographers/filmmakers has always been at the heart of Blend’s operation. We provide assigned senior editors (each with no less than 15 years industry experience), webinars, creative briefs, annual creative meetings, accessible reports on what is selling, and a group forum for the photographer and filmmakers to share knowledge and resources. For our business model and content strategy to be successful, it is very important to Blend that was work closely with our shooters to determine best opportunities for each artist individually and to provide a meaningful overview of how we are experiencing the market.

    Best Regards,
    Sarah Fix
    VP Creative
    Blend Images

  • Adam Haglund Posted Aug 27, 2016
    We've made a collection with our ten most sold images, and have done some analysis of the content. Free to download for anyone who is interested: http://stockphotocode.com/10-highly-profitable-stock-photos/

  • Uri Lavi Posted Aug 29, 2016
    Agreed. Photographers should be able to make much more informed choices not only about the type of images of that will sell but about which of their specific photos are more successful. And as the agencies can’t or won’t provide the information to help them make those choices, photographers must get insights about the usage of their imagery across the web elsewhere.

    Analytics (https://www.picscout.com/analytics-for-everyone/) can provide intelligence about a photographer’s images without counting downloads or calculating revenues. Analytics is based on sophisticated web crawling techniques and image analysis technology and provides exact information about where the images are used, on what types of pages, who is using them and which images are more popular/trending.

    Uri Lavi
    General Manager

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