What Is A Premium Image?

Posted on 6/20/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Many of the attendees at the CEPIC Congress are working to produce a collection of more “Premium” images as a way to set themselves apart from the massive collections produced to a great extent by amateur contributors.

To do this they are editing tighter and separating out images of the highest “quality” and production values. The argument for this is that there are still customers willing to pay higher prices for better quality, unique images with top quality models and great production values.

And to a certain extent this strategy is working. Some can show that their sales are, at least, flat and not declining. A few agencies, and production companies even report that revenue from “Premium” images is actually growing.

But, there is little question that in the industry as a whole there is a decline in the number of customers still willing to pay such prices. In addition, on average the prices paid are lower than they were a few years ago.

Some photographers report that they pay as much as $100 per hour for top models and use multiple models in a shot. They also pay for locations, props and assistants to help with the production. And they can show that at least some of the resulting images have been licensed a significant number of times. However, these producers are rare.

Based on the revenue generated by premium images most photographers find it very difficult to justify the significant out of pocket production expenses necessary to produce what are defined as “better” images.

Who Decides What Is Premium?

Premium is usually defined by the editor who puts together the collection. The images accepted are ones the editor believes are great images of the type customers will want to buy. In many cases the editor has years of experience upon which to base that judgment. Hopefully, the editor is also able to communicate with image creators to give them a better idea of what they should be doing, what is in demand and what didn’t work in a particular set of images the photographer supplied.

Unfortunately, most editors are under so much pressure to deal with a volume of submissions that they don’t have time to give much more than general guidelines to the vast majority of image suppliers. Occasionally, they may be able to give specific guidance to a few of their best producers.

My Definition of Premium

I believe Premium images are not necessarily the ones the editor likes, or that art directors love to look at. They are not always the ones that cost the most to produce or have the greatest models. They are not necessarily the ones with “real people” and real, not set up, situations.

They are the images image buyers are willing to pay to use.

If, as a photographer you are trying to earn money from the images you produce -- and not just show off images your like -- or if you are a stock agent trying to stay in business, then premium is what sells, and sells most frequently.

Of course, no on knows what is going to sell in advance of production. The photographer producing the image has to guess, and try to produce, what some customer will want to buy. The agency editor has to guess at what the customer will want to buy. However, the editor may have a good idea of what other customers have purchased in the past. There is no guarantee that any image placed in a premium collection will ever sell, or that it will sell better than an image in a non-premium collection.

Shutterstock has its premium Offset collection where the images are priced much higher than in its regular collection. Indications are (we don’t have accurate statistics) that at least some of the images in the regular collection earn more total revenue as a result of many more sales at much lower prices than images in the Offset collection. (Many of the Offset images never sell.)

Adobe, has a high priced premium collection, but there is no indication that the images in this collection actually earn more than some of the lower priced images that sell multiple times. iStock has its Signature collection at a medium to low price point. In general, images in this collection sell very well, although some of the images have never sold. Signature images are not chosen because they are believed to be better than Essentials images, but because contributors to this collection are willing to give them to iStock on an exclusive basis, rather than place them in the non-exclusive Essentials collection.

And, of course, we have many traditional agencies with premium collections that price their images much higher and make few sales.

It Is Time For A Change

It seems to me that many agencies with Premium collections ought to think about restructuring their Premium collection to include only those images that have sold at least once, and charging a somewhat higher price than they charge for images that have never sold. If there are a few images that have sold many times an even higher price might be charged to use them.

This could benefit the customers by letting them know which images have been in greatest demand by other buyers. It could benefit image creators by letting them know what customers are actually buying. Then the producers could focus their efforts on producing more of the general type of subject matter customers have shown they like and want to use. And, it could benefit the agencies because they would earn more money for new images that actually sell.

More on this idea later.

Copyright © 2017 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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