Where Have The Customers Gone?

Posted on 6/10/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Traditional stock-photo sellers wonder why there does not seem to be any growth in demand for their product. The 2006 U.S. Census Bureau statistics of U.S. businesses could provide some clues.

Until microstock appeared, stock-photo sellers concentrated on selling to the companies that employed more than 10 people—in fact, lots more. Yes, some sales might have been to small graphic design firms, but the images were actually being used in products produced for much larger companies. The stock-photo industry’s customers used to be almost entirely big business.

In 2006, there were 1.3 million businesses with 10 or more employees. But there were also 1 million businesses with 5 to 9 and 3.7 million with 1 to 4 employees. What did these 4.7 million companies do for photographs? For the most part, they did without, or perhaps shot what they needed themselves. If they needed a brochure or flyer to promote their services, they usually did it with type alone. Occasionally, they might have been willing to blow a big part of their promotional budget to buy one picture.

Then along came microstock. Small businesses could now get pictures at prices they could easily afford—even for the smallest project. In addition, companies started promoting their services with Web sites and blogs. Along came free software like WordPress, which made it possible for those running small businesses to create their own professional-looking Web sites and blogs with little or no experience in graphic design. Then there were paid online options—such as Template Monster, which for very little money sprovided sophisticated site templates—and tons of software that made it easy for small business owners to create their own custom designs for printed pieces, without the aid of outside creative professionals.

And what about businesses with no employees? In 2006, there were 20.7 million companies without any payroll; these included 18.2 million sole proprietorships, 1.4 million corporations and 1.2 million partnerships. These companies generated more than $970 billion in revenues. About 7.9 million of them were in the economic sectors of real estate ($193 billion), construction ($159 billion) and professional services ($124 billion). There were 683,861 non-employee businesses in the child-daycare industry, with total receipts of almost $8.5 billion. All of such businesses need to promote themselves, but how many are going to be prepared to spend most of their promotion budget on pictures provided by traditional stock agencies?

We talk about business-to-business and business-to-consumer sales, but the 25.4 million businesses with fewer than 10 employees do not really fall into the consumer category. They are businesses, but their picture needs are for the most part infrequent and their budgets small. However, given their numbers, they represent a sizeable market.

Everyone in the stock-photo industry needs to start thinking about not just two customer segments – B2B and B2C – but three. That’s the first two plus B2SB. All three have very different needs and resources and must be addressed in different ways.

Copyright © 2009 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.  


  • Fred Voetsch Posted Jun 10, 2009
    Excellent info that is very useful. This is what I like to see from Selling Stock.

  • Jose Pelaez Posted Jun 10, 2009
    Not only is this a new market segment, but it's easy to envision how excited these buyers must be about their new capabilities. It will soon be seen not as an experiment but as an essential part of doing business. In other words, this market may now be ready to absorb price increases that micro must introduce to be a viable distribution model for photographers.

  • Sharon Mcdonnell Posted Jun 11, 2009
    Thank you for this analysis. It seems like is also a reminder to look to the local businesses around us that would like the familiarity of the images but excited by the professionalism. I could use more advice on how to do this including contracts.
    In my neighborhood the health care sector, one of the few growing business sectors in the US right now, advertises with an enormous range of imagery and they want local or "could be local" pictures. Moreover, it is important that they use local artists and demonstrate community connection.
    These customer segments definitely seems like they would not want to spend hours at a computer terminal figuring out key words.
    Thanks again.

  • Rohn Engh Posted Jun 16, 2009
    And the next phase (coming soon):
    Once the proletariat of photobuyers discovers that they can use SEARCH to find photographers who specialize, we will see the next phase… segmented, specialized market-targeting.
    Niche photographers who have a passion for photographing in a certain area, – skydiving, childhood development, tanks, lambs, -you name it… the specialized stock photographers will be able to broaden their worth to buyers by consulting for/with the photobuyer on the very subject matter the buyer is working on.
    SEARCH makes this happen…no matter where you live, or what your photo need.
    Once this transformation comes about, – we’ll see a return to “organic” stock photography and a more natural look to images in the nation’s media.

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