The current photo industry and newcomers apply a completely flawed logic to licensing images. It is too often believed that if an image is largely seen, it will be licensed. The thinking come from primeval logic. It goes like this:

– if an image is not seen, it will never be sold. (which is a truism). Therefore, if it is seen, it will sell.  (which is a complete myth).

With the age of the internet, thousands upon thousands of would-be entrepreneurs has set up shop with image archiving platforms thinking that it will be all the necessary work to be performed to make lots and lots of money. Just make sure that images can be seen, search and paid for and voila !! its done.

Even as the short history of the web proves otherwise, it remains a very potent dream. There are billions of images on Flickr or Photobucket that will never, ever be sold. and more are being uploaded as you read this. And they also will not sell.  beyond those platform, there are many many more with e commerce capabilities. Snugmug or the defunct DigitalRailoard are other examples. Sure, it is easy to create a platform where images can be seen and purchased but it doesn’t mean they will be sold.

What a large number of photo gurus misunderstand with the success of Istock is that it was build with customers first. if you recall, the first people to put images on the site were people who needed images. It was an exchange platform. As it started charging a fee for downloads, it kept on growing as those same customers were selling their images to other customers.  Many other microstock companies have launched since and are not understanding why their sales are flat.

This myth has also affected how images are edited. Before digital, every precaution was taken to only keep  the best images. Now, the same mentality applies through various argument: Better more than less, let them decide, you never know, better uploaded than not…and so on.

But the same rules applies. A digital crap is still a crap, even if it can be seen by millions. The reason images do not sell these days are exactly the same as they were pre Internet. They suck. No one wants to buy them. Whether they are on the Getty images site or some obscure lousy website.

It would be interesting to have one day an industry wide survey on what percentage of images are actually licensed compared to the overall size of the database. 4%? 8% ? 10 % ?. The same survey would probably also show that the most carefully edited images databases also have the highest yield ratio.

What is captivating is that it very often the same people that complain that industry has too much content offering that will turn around and explain to you that if an image is not seen, it will not sell. Thus feeding the same beast they complain about. It is the same people that will copy another succesful niche with subpar images that will also complain that there are too many images available.

So let’s not contribute to this problem and let’s call a cat a cat: making images visible or accessible does not create value . Let’s destroy this myth once and for all. and while you ‘re at it, delete all those crappy images.

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