Interview with picNiche author Robert Davies
I’ve been a great fan of the picNiche suite since the beginning. My readers already know these useful tools for online microstock photo market analysis and contribution. The server-farm man with a social soul author, Bob Davies, has created a range of valuable microstock related tools completely for free, with passion and professionalism. A little roundup for all of you that haven’t heard yet about picNiche…
picNiche is a keyword search tool for assessing the supply and demand of online stock photography images from microstock sites. You search for a keyword phrase such as ‘business man’ or ‘orange socks’ and the search system assesses the sales statistics (demand) for images found relating to that search, along with the competition (supply) for that phrase, and returns a rating indicating the likelihood of making a sale as a result of that keyword phrase on your image.
The system rates keywords on an open-ended scale, so performing multiple searches will provide you with the highest rated keywords, those most likely to make a sale.
Rating < 10 is BAD
Rating > 10 and < 50 is OK
Rating > 50 and < 100 is GOOD
Rating > 100 is a NICHE
Check out also the picNiche Toolbars, Microstock Image Search toolbar built for image buyers and Microstock Contributors toolbar built for image creators; the new picNiche Image Deck for processing and submitting images to microstock agencies much faster; the agencyKit API project, some details in the interview.
Here an interview with Robert Davies that kindly gives us some deep insights and analysis coming from the picNiche world…
msp: From the side of a ton of data and queries crunched, what can you tell us about current microstock trends? Have you seen any significant moving since the beginning of your analysis?
Bob: picNiche has been gathering data for 2 years now, so it’s been interesting to see over that time how the most common topics have fared (flowers, business men & women, backgrounds, textures etc). There have been slight shifts to their rating and for the first year it was still upwards (sales were outpacing supply), but in the last year the impression is of slight downward movement across the most common topics, suggesting that the market has become saturated.
This itself should not be perceived negatively though, at least not for the market in general. The figures still indicate a significant growth in sales, but is caused mainly by an increase in available images leading to a likely drop in the RPI across any single major topic, and subsequently for any single photographer’s portfolio producing the mainstream work.
Read alone, that may suggest poor performance, and for those photographers shooting solely for a major topic, this is likely to be the case, but the ratings for anything outside of the mainstream (any ranking over about 30-50 on picNiche) the last 2 years have shown a significant increase, mostly driven by new sales, and these new niche-topics are where the difference in RPI across a portfolio is likely to be made up in future.
One of the other things I’ve been delighted to see over the last couple of years, is the way people search and use picNiche improving. When it first launched, people would try typos and ‘untypable’ phrases like “flwoer” or “business man wearing socks talking to woman in taxi by airport”, which obviously has very inaccurate results. But over time the searches have become a lot more sensible so now I see a lot more searches along the lines of “handsome fireman“, “busy mom” or “gay family” (all great niches), photographers are learning better to think about what a designer or other image-buyer might type in to an agency to try and find images.
When I look at the picNiche data as a whole, the trends are up, but unless you’re producing work of Yuri-quality (and quantity), I’d stay out of the main topics and find a few niches you can shoot well and make them your own.
msp: Are there any funny statistic you want to share with the readers?
Bob: Not an awful lot of them are funny in particular, but I do see similar unusual searches fairly often, and I wonder how so many people come up with the ideas. Usually along the lines of “huge black woman naked bum”, “nude man dog”, “headless man”, “ugly girl” and of course a regular “handsome topless naked soldier”.
I also quite like an old rating that came up for “apocalypse” as a result of 66.66
msp: Your site and toolbars don’t show any kind of advertising. Is it a question of independence? Or a “philosophic” choice?
Bob: This is tied into my own choice of lifestyle, I earn just enough from my modest microstock portfolio to be able to spend time doing work I enjoy, much of that involves working on picNiche, though I don’t want to feel I ‘must’ work on it on any given day. I’d much rather go for a walk in the sun, meet a friend for coffee, or sit down and play X-box when it’s raining out I also run a bunch of other tiny websites and projects, and I help out friends with whatever they’re working on.
I have chosen not to place adverts in any of the software (or even to accept donations) because I like to be free of the obligation to work on it, and would much rather respond organically to requests from people who use it than respond to the needs and moods of advertsers. This means that sometimes there is a long delay between a feature request and it’s implementation, as I focus on getting bugs in existing functionality fixed as quickly as possible.
There has been a lot of interest over the last few months from companies in the industry who want to include links to their services into the software (some suggestions better than others), to a few of them I have agreed on the basis that their service adds value, is fair and either free or reasonably priced. More will be coming on these additions as and when arrangements can be finalised.
msp: How is it going with the API “mission”?
Bob: The trip to to Dublin for the CEPIC New Media Conference was excellent to raise awareness of the agencyKit API project, I met a lot of agency people, content producers and representatives from photographer’s organizations. They seem intrigued by the idea of an interlinked network encompassing agencies, producers and third-party service providers.
While most agree that providing an API to improve their business and stock photographers workflow is the way we should be going, it does raise a few issues and challenges to be overcome.
The first issue raised by agencies is the cost, and while starting and maintaining an API based on the agencyKit is quicker and easier than starting from scratch, it still costs them development time, which without many contributors knocking on their door and asking for it, they are not too enthusiastic about spending. If you really want to improve your workflow and have more information about how your portfolio is selling, you MUST approach your agencies and ask them to provide an API.
The second issue is one of abuse, agencies are scared that opening up their systems will result in abuse by the less honourable members of our industry. Those involved in keyword spamming and people trying to find ways around the review systems in place are making agencies cautious about what information they make available. I’m doing what I can to highlight how API based systems can introduce innovate checks & balances to ensure against abuse, and allow for the detection across the entire industry of those people trying to ‘game’ the system, but it’s a hard-sell to agencies who so far have only had to be concerned with their own corner of the market. They are not yet thinking in the “Web 3.0″ mindset.
The third and most critical issue is encouraging agencies who are so used to competing with each-other, and have a history of defensive strategies and closed-systems, to even consider working together to reduce costs, to share their systems, and allow competitors to work with them to reach more buyers. The general opinion at CEPIC was that this will be the major hurdle, and that some of the microstock agencies will never play well together. I don’t believe this is entirely true, as microstock in particular was not so long ago a technology pioneer, but it has become stale and is going to need to catch up with technology if the agencies want to remain relevant as open-source projects and guerilla-licensing such as creative commons gain a larger market share.
Whether agencies and service providers choose to provide APIs built with the agencyKit or not doesn’t make a difference to picNiche, but opening up the industry and creating a better system for contributors (and a more innovate environment for image buyers) is highly dependent upon the addition of APIs to agency sites.
I’m guardedly optimistic, as I’ve had a lot of positive feedback, but not a lot of committed action from the agencies. The best way to ensure they add APIs and open up their systems for a better workflow and deeper analytics is for each contributor to contact their agencies and ask for it. As my mum always said, “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”
msp: Future plannings…
Bob: It’s hard to say where picNiche is going in future, as I quite honestly have no idea on the details. There is a lot of input from photographers/illustrators and lots of requests from third-parties to be involved, most of which I’m delighted to take onboard.
Though it’s going to have to earn some money soon (it’s grown to the point where maintaining and improving it on my own won’t be feasible soon) I plan to introduce access to third-party services capable of adding value to contributor’s workflow.
If the agencies decide they are going to be adding contributor APIs you can also expect to see closer links to your portfolio, more detailed information to help decide what to shoot, and what performs well, along with an API inside the toolbar so tools like MicrostockCharts.com can securely access your stats when you visit them and analyse the raw data for you.
If agencies decide against providing contributor APIs, then I’ll have to decide whether it’s worth me spending my time and energy to grey-hat my way in (more screen-scraping etc) or stick with the simple stuff and move on.
Ultimately it’s down to contributors to encourage their agencies (and the industry in general) to move in a more open and accessible direction, I’ll respond in the best way I can to whatever they decide to do