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« Back Visual Symbols Redux  
Musings 29 April 2003
Relaunching and updating the popular royalty-free image library with new images, new pricing, and a new business model.

Related Links
» CMCD Visual Symbols Library Website

CMCD: Ten years of learning about stock images
It was the winter of 1992 when I first launched CMCD, my first publishing venture, and got involved with the digital stock-image business. Since then, the demand for stock-photography has grown one thousand-fold. Downloading stock images is a common design practice.

The category of stock imagery I helped to establish — silhouetted objects on white backgrounds — was wildly successful and hence copied and imitated by many distributors. Despite the competition, my initial library of three thousand plus images previously licensed for distribution to PhotoDisc (now Getty Images) continues to attract customers. One would have thought that by now the images would be dated and difficult to market in a crowded, commodity driven market.

The continued success of the library relies on a specific focus from the "get-go" to select, edit, and include archetypical subjects. We like to think that these images are visual symbols and icons of our time. We believe layout usage and editorial consideration come into play, and a selection by a photo editor or a photographer is often very different than that of art director or designer. Our library is shot with a bias and an understanding of this particular need. This distinction, however, is often lost and poorly understood by distributors and imitators.

Why enter this market space again?
Volume of selection still seems to dominate the online offering of royalty-free images. It's a challenge to find the right image without shifting through thousands of near-misses. Depending on image resolution, designers are still paying $30 to $250 for a single image online. This pricing model seems archaic and overly complicated for something that should be very simple. I think there is room for a provider who can simplify this process — someone who would function as an critical editor. In short, the service would:

1. Improve the experience of finding the "right" image based on quality and needs;

2. Offer affordable images; and

3. Be simple to use.

An user-centered approach to product development
To address the first point, the service has to be focused on providing the right image, limiting the choices and making sure that the selections are graphically iconic. Instead of twenty different kinds of telephones, include the images that would provide the quickest read to convey the intended meaning. Tag the images with physical, metaphorical, and conceptual descriptions to improve search results. Lastly, include editorial usage notes to inform and inspire our customers to find appropriate usage.

Think VW. Not BMW.
As much as we like fancy cuisine, steak-and-potatoes — and in the case of Californians, tofu and alfalfa sprouts — remain our staple diet. This is true of stock photography and the images designers use. Missing in the stock image market is a pricing model for quality images developed for stock-and-trade use. To accomplish this, we've decided to price our images regardless of resolution under $25 each. We've made it simple to administer by offering an annual subscription service. You purchase the level that best meets your needs. The more you download, the less each image costs.

Grow and evolve with customer needs.
We will start out our service with approximately 1400 images culled out from our original library of 3500 images. They are a mixture of our best sellers and new photographs. New images will be added to the library five times a year based on topical and seasonal trends. We also like to get our subscribers' input and suggestions; we will add new images based on suggestions regularly to the library as well. The visual Symbols Library will grow and we will cap it at approximately 3000 images. We don't believe our library will be useful to you if our selection exceeds that number.

Do check out the offering at

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