7 Early Lessons Building an Image Library

Over the last 6 months I’ve had a dramatic change in my approach to stock photography. I had been an exclusive contributor to iStock since 2010 and had a portfolio of over 10,000 images producing a steady income. The problem was, the income was steady but not growing in line with my portfolio. I wrote about some of those issues in Why I Dropped iStock Exclusivity. At that time most of my stock photography friends were expecting me to spread my portfolio among the other major stock sites. I saw that being a very similar road to being with iStock, and instead focused on building an image library.

I can probably fill many posts with things I’ve learned on the journey so far – but for this post I have limited it to 7 Early Lessons Building an Image Library.

Lesson 1 – It Can be Done!

The most important point first – it can be done! Selling images via microstock sites is not the only option. Building an image library is an option and can be done.


Building an image library can be done!

I went from committing to building it, to having a working website in 10 weeks. I’ve learned a lot on the way and could do it faster and more effectively if I was doing it again. But, coming back to lesson 1, if you are considering an alternative to microstock – building an image library can be done.

Lesson 2 – You Don’t Have to Build from Scratch

When I started seriously considering building an image library I had assumed I would have to build the website functionality from scratch. I assumed I would need to write a brief and have a web developer write the code. Good news, I was wrong!

There are several places where you can buy pre-existing capability which is proven in running other image libraries. So it was not a case of wondering if it would work, but buying the capability and tailoring it to my image library.

It was a big short cut and time saver to find that purchasing existing capability was going to be cheaper and easier than starting from scratch.

Lesson 3 – Knowledge of Hosting and Servers will Help

I had assumed that with some common sense and patience I’d be able to work out what was needed regarding servers and hosting for the new site.

On reflection I would say that is true. I also believe I caused myself unnecessary anxiety and worry by not talking to an expert before I started! My recommendation is to find an expert in this space. They will advise what you need.

Time saver

Getting expert help on the technical side will ultimately save you time and help you sleep better!

Save yourself some sleepless nights by asking an expert about hosting and servers.

Lesson 4 – There’s Value in Taking Time to Set Up Correctly

I decided to create a new company to keep the image library business separate from my photography business. If you haven’t done this before, setting up a new company is a relatively straight forward process which an accountant can help with.

Where’s the lesson here? In my desire to get moving I bought the domain name and registered it under my photography company (not the image library company). My speed in doing that then managed to slow me down. I had to subsequently transfer the web address to the new company, and wait several days for that to happen.

In hindsight it was not a big deal. But next time I would establish the new company first and then purchase the web address.

Lesson 5 – Things Take Time

In lesson 1 I outlined that I went from concept to working website in 10 weeks. Some might think 10 weeks is fast, and others will think it is slow. During this process I have learned that things which I assumed would move very quickly can take time.

Specifically I was surprised that setting up payment functionality through the bank would take time. There was plenty of paperwork involved, followed by review from the bank. There must be processes in the background for a bank to make sure everything is legitimate, but I hadn’t expected it to take several weeks. That’s worth knowing if you are setting up payment functionality on your own website or image library.

The second area which took longer than I expected was the legal agreements. The main ones I needed were a licence agreement for the image buyer, and a photographer agreement for contributing photographers. While from a legal point of view this is fairly straightforward, lawyers are not just waiting around for customers like me. They have a range of (mostly larger) projects on the go, and mine was not the A priority. In future I’ll allow more time for the legals to be completed.

Lesson 6 – User Experience of the Website is Key

I made a mistake in launching too soon without properly considering the user experience on the website. I was anxious to move from “build phase” to “proof of concept” on my business plan, and went live as soon as possible.


User experience is a very important piece of the puzzle

I’ve learned that having a working website is one thing. And having a website which is appealing and intuitive to customers is another. Unfortunately that meant that the first 1000 visitors to the site had a “less than ideal” experience.

Both the look of the site and the functionality are now much improved. This will be something we continue to develop. My recommendation is don’t be too anxious to launch. Invest time in making sure your site looks great and is intuitive for your user.

Lesson 7 –  Find a Web Developer You Trust

I have complete trust and faith in my web developer. It is so reassuring to know that the person on the other end of many emails and text messages is completely trust worthy and working to make the website a success. Nothing seems to have been too much of a problem despite there being lots of things to work on some weeks, and nothing to work on in others (thanks Alison!). Having a web expert you completely trust is great for peace of mind.

I have lots more lessons learned on this journey already which I will save for other posts. Thanks for reading 7 Early Lessons Building an Image Library. If you’d like to check out progress, please head over to Melbourne Stock Photos.


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