What Are The Stock Images That Sell?

Posted on 12/7/2018 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

A professional photographer asked recently “what kind of still images and video clips are being used?” It’s a great question with no good answer. Stock agencies know the answer, but they’re not sharing.

Photographers seriously interested in earning money from their stock photo production need detailed and specific information about what customers are buying if they hope to create new images cost effectively. Such information would enable them to focus their efforts on producing more of the subject matter customers regularly want to buy.

Twenty-five years ago Sarah Stone, of Tony Stone Image would share information about the best selling photos with, at least, the company’s most active producers. Richard Steedman and Sally Lloyd of The Stock Market supplied their major producers with detailed information about what images were selling as well as the subject matter most frequently requested.

For several years iStockphoto (now iStock) allowed anyone searching its site to order the search returns based on the number of times each image has been downloaded. When reviewing each preview image, it was possible to determine the exact number of times each image had been downloaded.

This enabled those photographers planning shoots to search on a keyword and quickly review the 100 or 200 most downloaded images. A photographer might find that the top selling image had been downloaded 1,000 times, but the 10th image only 100 times and the 100th only 5 times. On a different search the 100th image might have been downloaded 100 or 200 times. That would indicate that the subject of the second search was much more in demand than the subject of the first. This kind of information was often very helpful to photographers trying to determine how best to spend their time and resources.

Eventually, iStock dropped this detailed information after some photographers complained that others were copying their concepts. As a result, sales of the image produced by the first photographer declined due to the new competition. The complaint is understandable. But in the long run everyone working blind and making wild guesses as to what customers might want to buy doesn’t benefit any photographer. iStock was also concerned that they might be helping their competition by enabling photographers represented by other agencies to know which images were selling.

Experienced stock photographers who have been in the business a long time and produced images on a wide variety of subject matter can make judgments about what to shoot based on their own sales. When they have a particular image that sells well, that is an indication it might be wise to produce a lot more images of the the same general subject matter.

One of the downsides to this strategy is that if there are subjects the photographer has never photographed he has no way of determining whether they might sell even better  than the images he is currently producing.

In any event for such a strategy to work the photographer may need to produce a huge number of losers on a wide range of subjects before stumbling on a best seller. At today’s prices it is very hard to justify spending a lot of time producing non-sellers in order to discover those few in high demand images.

Some stock agencies do provide Future Trend Reports like the one from Adobe Stock. A lot of these tend to come out at this time of year looking toward the new year. They often include a few sample images. However, the advice usually tends to be so broad and general that it is almost useless to most image creators. Given the wide range of possibilities of interpretation creators need much more specific and granular information relative to what is actually selling for the “trend information” to be of much use at all.

Will There Be Any Changes?

As I pointed out recently photographers with specialist agencies represented by Getty Images have added almost no new images to the Getty collection in the last 2 years. For these photographers being able to profit from their work is important. Many have given up.

All the new images are coming from photographers who are happy for the opportunity to show their work to the world and are unconcerned about the cost. All these photographers seem to want is “likes” and recognition. If these photographers are supplying everything customers need then Getty and the other agencies no longer need photographers who only produce images when there is an economic return for their efforts.

I suspect, that in fact, the amateurs are not producing everything the customers want. I suspect there is a need for at least some of the professionals to start producing again. I have suggested a strategy for determining if this is really true.

It won’t be easy to get the professionals re-involved. Not only will they need much better information about what is actually selling, but they will also need higher prices for the images that do sell.

All in all, I don’t expect the agencies to make any moves in this direction, but that means stock photography no longer offers image creator much hope of making any real money.

Copyright © 2018 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.  


  • James Domke Posted Dec 8, 2018
    If I knew the number of photos they have in one topic. Might motivate me to find a different angle and not waste time.

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