Keywording - The New Barrier to Entry

Twenty years ago, setting up a stock or celebrity photo library meant a large investment in equipment - everything from transparency duplication equipment to filing cabinets - plus a web of sub-agents able to deliver physical imagery to customers around the world.  With the advent of digital photography those physical barriers to entering the photo industry have all but disappeared, but today there is a new barrier: keywording.

As the number of images produced each week continues to grow, easy searchability is crucial.  Without good keywording that can't be achieved.  In general, keywording has become a prerequisite to entering the market, surviving in the market, and achieving market success

As the economy, and the economics of photo sales, have bitten hard in the past two years, it has become clear that the less successful libraries are finding it hard to keep up the necessary keywording standard.
For such libraries, or individual photographers, the compromises take a number of forms: inability to afford professional outsourced keywording, DIY keywording to a poor and inconsistent standard, confused roles within photo libraries which see salespeople and managers having to keyword (usually badly), restrictions on the number of images put into the market, long delays in getting images to market, and even total rejection of the need to keyword.  This doesn't just affect small businesses.  There are many large archives which aren't making the money they should because the job of keywording seems too insurmountable to even start.

The doom loop works like this:  lack of profits leads to lack of money for keywording, leads to poor keywording, leads to poor sales, leads to lack of profits, and on it goes. Once caught in this trap, with only a few dollars made on each image it is easy to see why some photo libraries continue to struggle or decide to give up.

Here are some tips on how to beat the keywording trap:

1.  Change the economics so keywording has a greater pay-off by making sure your images are likely to last in the market for as long a time as possible because they are timeless or classic or earn more money by being particularly hard to get/exclusive.
2. Get professional advice about how to lower keywording costs.  Is inhouse keywording really cheaper?  Can your keywording standard or selection of images for keywording be altered to lower costs without hurting sales?
3. Divert money from more flashy but less productive forms of marketing/sales into keywording.  All the ads and sales calls in the world won't save your business if your customers (and research staff) can't find saleable images easily.