I hear a lot of talk about agency size. Not about how many employees they have, or how many square feet they occupy, or even the size of their profit but rather how many images they have in their database.

Agencies, these days, are caught in a numbers race to see who has the most images. Not the best, not the most relevant, not even some useful information like how many images they had published last year, but only how many images can they stuff in their servers.

And that has become, De Facto, the new measurement of an agency. Whoever has the most images is the biggest. Volume has become a replacement for search and editing shortcoming. Here is the thought: ” If we cannot build a really good search engine, then we will put as many images as possible so that the probability of returning the right image will be higher.”

A few editorial agencies have taken the other road, licensing only a small group of photographers, but for an extremely higher price point than the crowd of photo agencies. It is like walking through a market place, where you have these stand with a huge display of different products, and that guy at the end, with the small stand but really high quality vegetables.We all shop at both, I am sure, but who makes the most money at the end of the day?

With the advent of the corporate agencies, bragging about size has been at the forefront on how people measure the wealth and overall size of a photo agency. And it is a incorrect assumption. If I have 50 million crappy images, I am not bigger, better, wealthier than the guy next to me that has only 30,000.

An interesting thought behind this “size race” is that if my search engine cannot find the right image than at least I can display a lot of image so that the editor can complete the search himself. Instead of pointing to the fruit itself, it points to the department. And even more interesting is that with the digital evolution, it has now become easier to track the life of an image and adjust the collection accordingly. But no, most people seem to buy a big server, stuff a lot of images in them and wait to see if someone will purchase. All the great back-end data that could be used to corner more thoroughly a user experience seems to be lost in the wind of change. In a way, this is exactly the reason why some image buyers see no difference between Flickr content and some professional photo agencies.
And there is of course this senseless idea that one should try and capture every sale possible, regardless of the cost. If a photo editor comes to the site, he should leave with an image. Great thought for the big 3’s because that is what they always wanted to be . But does everyone have to follow? Is it that bad if an agency doesn’t have the right images, especially if it completely out of their field ? Does that mean the same photo editor will never return? Yes, if he/she is looking for pictures of Britney Spears in a RF agency, and that is a good thing. But otherwise, they will return if their experience was an agreeable one. Mostly, that is, if they immediately see that the agency does not have the image they are looking for.
So instead of comparing the size of their servers like high school boys, agencies should rather compare their volume of transactions. It would be a much more relevant measure of the success.

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