Why Do Some Customers Pay More?

Posted on 3/10/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

One of the key things to understand about stock photography is why some customers are willing to pay more than others to use an image.

Most photographers want to believe customers will pay more when the image is of “better quality” or more technically perfect. They want to believe that when they increase production values, build better sets, use better or more “real” looking models and generally spend more to produce an image, customers will pay more to use it. These photographers want to believe that if an image is shot from a helicopter, or if they had to travel around the world to get it, that it should command a higher price. They want to charge more for niche subject matter.

Microstock photographers believe that customers will pay big bucks for images that are styled down and natural looking. Yuri Arcurs advises microstock photographers who want to shoot for the rights-managed and traditional royalty-free markets to “forget about bright backgrounds and colorful clothes, big budgets and super fancy locations”—all things that raise demand in microstock, as Arcurs explains in “What is Macro Stock,” where he also shares what is selling for him in the rights-managed arena.

All these things may be necessary to produce an image customers will choose over the rest of the competition, but none of these things have anything to do with why customers will pay more.

There is only one thing that makes one customer pay more than another for a stock image. That is usage. Some royalty-free producers will argue that customers will pay more for a larger file size, but the reason they need a larger file size is entirely dependent on how they intend to use the image.

Defining “best”

Photographers also need to recognize that there is no precise definition as to what makes one image better than another. Any individual may like one image better than another. Photographers may win awards for certain images, but that has nothing whatsoever to do with the value of an image to any given customer.

Every day, customers prove that what they want for their particular purposes is different from what photographers, or other photo editors, would have chosen to use for that purpose. When it comes to the matter of choosing a stock image, the customer is always right. However, that does not mean than when it comes to establishing a price to use a particular image, the customer should be allowed to pay anything he wants regardless of the seller’s needs.

Every customer has a budget. Sometimes those budgets are unreasonable. Sometimes the customer will pay a little more than his original budget for an image that seems just right for his project, but usually not much more. On the other hand, the customer will also happily pay much less than his budget allows, if that is all the seller asks.

Some customers have projects of varying values. For one project, they may not be able to justify paying more than $10 per image, but on the next project, where the image will be used in a much broader way and is much more important to the company’s business, that customer may be willing to pay $1,000 for the right image. This could be the case if the image is one that he only paid $10 to use in the previous small project because it is the different ways that the image is being used that give it value. Of course, if the seller only wants to charge $10 to use the image for that big project, the customer will gladly pay the smaller amount and pocket the rest. 

On any given day a customer may choose an image that he feels is “best” for a given project. A week later, after the project has gone into production, he may stumble onto something that would have been better, but it is too late to make the change. On any two different days, a customer might choose different images for the same project. “Best” is entirely determined by the customer’s unique needs and circumstances at any given point in time.

Price is part of that paradigm. If the customers finds two images that fulfill the same need, and the more expensive one is slightly better, he may choose to use the cheaper one in order to stay under budget. The customer may not always choose to use the best picture.

Some 15 or 20 years ago, Comstock president and then industry leader Henry Scanlon was asked during a seminar how he decides what to charge for the use of an image. He said: “I want to find out what the customer thinks the image is worth, and what he has in his budget for this project. Then I want to get all of it.”

Copyright © 2010 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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