What Stock Photo Customers Need

Posted on 8/5/2020 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Customers need a better way to quickly review a selection of images than most stock photo sites offer. They don’t need more images. They need to be able to review the best images quickly.  

Twenty-five years ago this was possible by reviewing the images that had been placed in tightly edited major agency print catalogs. These annually produced catalogs included images that had previously sold well and been used by many customers as well as new images created in the previous year that expanded on the characteristics found in other best-selling images.

Historical trends indicate that most customers have found the mages used by other customers to be most useful for their purposes as well. Most customers are not looking for an image that has never been used by anyone else.



Now that editing is gone. The current marketing goal seems to be to throw as many images as possible at customers and force them to spend their time doing the editing.

Increasingly, from a customer point of view, this strategy is not working. For some proof that it is not working see the figures at the bottom of this story.



Technology has made It possible to build a much more efficient online search algorithm that doesn’t overwhelm customers with too many choices and places an unreasonable editing burden on them. But, no one is providing such a search engine.

Here’s How Such A Search Could Work


Start with a Premium Collection that only contains images that have been licensed at least once. Lead the search returns with images that had been licensed in the previous two years.  Once a licensed image has stayed in the collection for two years without being licensed again it moves to the bottom of the Premium collection below all the images that have been licensed at least once in the previous two years.



Search returns should be organized based on the gross revenue generated by the image, not the number of downloads. In this way potential buyers will be able to quickly review all the images of a particular subject that other customers have found most useful.

Secondly, there should be an easy way for customers to toggle to a much larger collection of images that have never been used. If the customer wants an image that has never been used then they could go to the Unused Image (UI) collection first. The important difference from today’s search procedures is that the customer would know which images have been used and which ones haven’t.

Customers who are looking for images no one else has ever used, will go to a the UI collection first. All new images added to the site would go into the UI image collection. Any image in this collection would be automatically moved to the Premium collection after its first download.

Search returns of images in the UI collection would be organized by newest image first with one exception. Photographers would be required to add a “shoot number” keyword to all similars of each particular situation. Within a particular half day shoot there might be several very different situations and each would get a different number. The algorithm would show no more than 3 angles or expressions of any situation and then move on to another situation from another photographer. The rest of the images of that situation would move to the bottom of the search return order. If a customer finds an image that interests them, but is not exactly what they want, the customer will then be provided with a way to see all the similars of the same situation.

This would avoid a major search problem that has developed. Some photographer upload 20, 30, 50 or more angles or different expressions of the same person doing basically the same thing. From the customer’s point of view, if the general situation is not what they are looking for, they may be required to scroll through pages of basically the same situation before they are allowed to see anything different. This must be avoided.

To make this more efficient a small button could be placed in the bottom corner of every image to indicate that “more like this” (with the same shoot number) are available. If there is a single totally unique situation with no similar it would get its own shoot number. By clicking on the button the customer would be shown all the similars of a particular shot that had similiars. This would greatly speed up customer search.

If photographers fail to code their images with a similars number then every image uploaded on a given day will be coded with a single shoot number. In this way, the first three images in the submission will go to the top of the search return order and every other image in the submission will go to the bottom.

If, given that photographers approach similar subject matter in different ways, and a customer wants to see more of a particular photographer’s images, there should be an option that allows them to review up to 200 images of a photographer’s portfolio. Each photographer should be allowed to designate the image that would appear in this portfolio by inserting a “POR” keyword for portfolio images. Ideally, the photographer would be able to go into his/her collection and add or delete keywords at any time.

When searching for all images by a particular photographer the algorithm will pull images from both the Premium and Unused collections showing the Premium images first.

Converting Existing Collections


If the collection is one that has been in existence for a year or more it should be easy for any agency to determine which images have been licensed and how much revenue each has generated. Thus, it would be relatively easy to create two inter-related collections: one Premium and one of Unused Images.

If the collection is brand new and just getting started, it may be best to keep the Premium and UI in the same database, but show all the Premium images first. As sales increase the two databases can be split.

After the first year, and until all images uploaded in the first 12 months have been on the site for at least 12 months, all images that have been licensed at least once will remain on the Premium site. Those that have never been downloaded will be placed in the separate searchable collection of “Unused Images.”

In the combined collection, all images that were uploaded in the first two years and never licensed will eventually end up in an “Unused Images” (UI) collection. This collection will always be searchable, but kept separate from the “Premium” collection which includes all images that have been licensed at least once by a customer.

If a customer is looking for Exclusive Use of an image for a particular period of time or for a “Market Freeze” on a particular image they will need to contact the image creator to determine the actual history of the use of the particular image and the price.

(It should be noted that all images on the site in either collection will be non-exclusive. Photographers will be allowed to put the same images in other collections. Thus, if a customer finds an image in the UI collection and needs to be sure that the image has never been used by anyone else, the customer will need to check with the photographer to determine if, in fact, the image has never been used.)

Help For Creators


A site that only shows images that have been used could be very helpful to image creators, both those who have images on the site and those who don’t. Creators could do searches for various subject matter and know that every image they see has been used by someone. The images near the top of the search return are the ones in greatest demand. This would help. Professional photographers better manage their time and not waste it creating images that no one seems to want to buy.

One of the big problems for photographers today, unless they have tons of images on a wide variety of subjects in play, is that they have very little information about what type of images customers are using. Print catalogs used to give them that kind of information.

Some photographer don’t want other photographers to be able to see their best-selling work for fear the other creators will copy their style. Then when the other photographer offers competing images, those images will undercut sales of the photographer with the original idea.  

But, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. In addition, the first photographer has a great advantage because his image will appear in the Premium collection. The new image produced by the other photographer will start out in the UI collection and must be licensed to get into Premium.  Even then it will probably appear lower down in the search return because it has not generated as much revenue as the image created by the original photographer.

During the print catalog era  all photographers examined the print catalogs for ideas about what customers wanted. They may not have known which images were the best sellers, but they knew that the images that made it into the catalogs tended to sell much better than all the rest of the images in stock collections. Being able to know which online images have been licensed is just an extension of that strategy.


Copyright © 2020 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

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