For a comprehensive search, image buyers can search the web's more than 82,000 individual stock agency and photographer sites. Or they can drown in the murky waters of Google's image search engine, which fails to differentiate between images available for stock licensing from, say, every other picture on the web.
Since its soft launch in October, StockPhotoFinder.com has blazed a trail through the photographic thicket. The site's goal is to provide users with centralized access to images from every prequalified stock supplier available on the internet. If it sounds something like the Library of Congress, rumored to own a copy of every book ever printed (it doesn't), that's because StockPhotoFinder's ambition-to eventually offer as many as 30 million images-is as superlative.
Lured by the prospect of increased exposure, scores of supply houses and photographers have signed on, benefiting from 20,000 click-throughs to their sites in 12 weeks. For its part, StockPhotoFinder is adding 40,000 images weekly to the half million currently included in its search process, which spiders subscribers' sites, continually hunting for new images to update automatically.
For image suppliers, the site offers vastly more control than web portals that also post their assets. While portals do so in exchange for a healthy slice of the licensing fee, StockPhotoFinder's thumbnail images-found via keyword searches and stored in lightboxes-link users directly to the websites of suppliers, who close deals on their own terms. To participate in StockPhotoFinder, they pay a flat annual rate, ranging from $299 to $6,000 according to image quantity. "Agencies and photographers currently give away between 40 percent and 85 percent of their revenue in order to market their images," says Taylor. "Instead of giving that away, they keep 100 percent of the licensing fee. That's the absolute best benefit."
StockPhotoFinder will also offer customized websites for corporations that buy images through preferred vendors with whom they've struck agreements. While photo researchers typically weed through each preferred vendor's inventory-site by site-StockPhotoFinder will deliver vendors' assets on a single searchable site. "It has potential to be a great tool," says Alexandra Albin, director of inbound licensing at Thomson Learning, the first company to contract the service. "We hope the service will make the job easier and ensure that the vendors I've made agreements with are being used. Otherwise, researchers go to the watering hole they're most familiar with."
Beyond its immediate benefits, StockPhotoFinder.com could also serve to level the playing field. For a nominal fee, lesser-known agencies-not to mention photographers-can park their pushcarts next to top-of-mind agencies that otherwise dominate the marketplace. "Our experience," says Laura Diez, partner at New York's eStock Photo, "has been that many art buyers don't have the time to go to smaller agency's sites that might have exactly what they're looking for. But StockPhotoFinder allows small agencies to compete with bigger agencies, because what the buyer will see is all the talent from these different agencies in one location."
The best image, in other words, wins.
As Taylor sees it, so does everyone else. "We realized that art buyers needed a way to find images across multiple sources," he says, "and that small suppliers desperately needed some way to get noticed amid the noise on the web. So we created the most effective way to find pictures-and to be found."