For the last decade or so, photo researchers and editors and individual stock photographers have been experiencing the improved search and purchase capabilities of the Internet. Electronic photo buying has almost totally replaced traditional transaction methods.
I didn’t always feel the Internet was a viable delivery method for researchers and stock photographers. In the early days, the Internet was not ready for stock photographers. In fact, I spent almost four years, starting in 1992, advising readers through my newsletters and columns about the dangers of the Internet for editorial stock photographers.
The Beginning of the “Imposternet”
In the beginning, those who didn’t heed my advice found themselves saddled with expensive, inoperable equipment, inappropriate software, and a weak balance sheet. I advised our readers not to jump onto the Internet bandwagon. It had wobbly wheels, the band was playing off-tune, the road was dusty and there were no service stations. Internet travelers were expected to volunteer as pioneers and test the road out, at their own expense.
And, thankfully, they did.
But isn’t that always the way it goes for those who break new ground? They stick their head out, cross their fingers, and surge forward with a gut feeling. We should all be grateful to those pioneers, both photobuyers and photographers.
This being said, I have always had a warm place in my heart for the concept of the Internet, even before the advance of blogs and websites. I put our own marketletters on-line back in 1984, but we saw “electronic inertia” on the part of photobuyers at editorial markets. And we watched software and hardware suppliers try, and fail, to figure out where the market would go. Ruefully, I dubbed the Internet the “Imposternet.”
Eventually, we all knew the Internet would survive its birth pangs and mature.
Now, There’s a Bright Road Ahead
You’re familiar now with Google, Yahoo!, Bing and perhaps a dozen other specialized search engines. Recently they’ve been refined to become real tools for the stock photo industry. Search engines are now a bright light at the end of the mountain tunnel for stock photographers and photobuyers.
Now, the Internet provides photo researchers and buyers with a speedier, more efficient text avenue for picture-search and acquisition. Just how do the improved search engines affect the stock photography business?
During my three decades of providing market information for editorial stock photographers, I’ve seen first-hand the consistency of the work methods of editorial photobuyers. Their buyers want content-specific pictures, not generic clichés. To find these pictures, photo editors and researchers first search by entering text key words, deciding the subject matter they’re looking for. They don’t actually view images at this stage. Once they find a source for their target images through a text search then they begin looking at actual pictures.
An Archaic Method
A decade or so ago, if you were a photo researcher and were looking, say, for action pictures of humpback whales in Hawaii, you’d most likely have consulted your Rolodex to locate photographers known to have pictures of whales. Another option was to look through your list of Hawaiian photographers or the mammals section of a stock agency to see what they had in the way of whales. Or you would have checked in your local library for books on sea life, in case any included a section on whales. If they included humpback whales, you then would have tracked down the photographer who took those pictures. Whew!
In library science this is called “narrowing the search.” You start with an inverted triangle, in other words, a broad range of subject matter, and you keep eliminating items that don’t conform to your target search. Pretty soon, thanks to your detective work, you shove things down to where you get to the bottom of the triangle. This method would end up loading some “Good Enough” images for you, which you’d have to be so tined with.
There are two things wrong with this archaic method of research. First, you waste time by spreading your search net over such a broad field of possibilities. Secondly, the search is so exhausting that just about any picture of a humpback whale you finally dig up will satisfy you.
A New Way of Researching
Now there’s an alternative to this archaic method.
Using a search engine such as Google, the photo researcher can select a “long tail keyword phrase”: humpback whale photo Hawaii
This is the opposite of the pyramid search method of days gone by. A photo researcher will start at the bottom of the inverted triangle to hone in on the target subject matter. In a matter of seconds, he/she will come up with seventeen websites that list the Hawaiian (Kohola) humpback whale. The photo researcher will email a photo request to each of the photographers’ websites, outlining the specific photo need, and ask each photographer to send a “Light Box” or an e-mail showing a selection of target pictures, or to give the photo researcher a fax or call if they can fill the specs. Five photographers, three who live in Hawaii, one in Japan and one in Virginia, say they have what the researcher needs.
Here at PhotoSource International, when we realized back in 1991 that this was the way photobuyers would be searching for highly-specific images, we launched PhotoSourceBANK, a website where photographers can list descriptions of their pictures on their own website. Today, it now features more than two million keywords and keyphrases describing available photos and hundreds of photobuyers use this free service daily.
With PhotoSourceBANK, there are several ways a photo editor can view a stock photographer’s pictures. They can ask the photographer to email some selections, download a selection on the photographer’s website for viewing or ask photographer to send a “LightBOX” to the interested photobuyer.
These email or Web page photos are usually 72dpi and it’s usually not necessary to transmit them at a higher resolution. Alternatively, buyers can ask a photographer to FedEx a selection of their images on a CD. Once buyers make their picture decision, they request a high-resolution copy of the image. Then it’s business as usual.
The last decade has shown us that there are likely to be many further digital advances right around the corner. On the road of stock photo delivery of images, we’ve only come a short way.