Say cheese: Buy, sell photos online

Posted on July 23, 2001

People visit the Internet for various reasons, but if we get right down to it, there are two things you can see: text and pictures. Both contain a great deal of information, as the old sayings go, "A picture is worth a thousand words," and "A word is worth a thousand gummy worms."

Both are of value to a variety of people. If there is a story concerning a subject you enjoy, like canning lima beans, then you would probably read it before someone who likes to can only green beans. If you happen to be in a picture, or you take a picture of some friends, or a private investigator takes pictures of you with a certain friend you don't want anyone to see, those also have more value to you than others.

Coming up with a pricing scheme for stories doesn't seem too difficult, but pricing pictures is another story. Because people want the photos for different reasons, and because they really can't be duplicated just the way the original one captured the scene, how do you know what to charge?

Here's a simple tip I learned in business school: If you give something away for free, you won't make any money off of it. As you can tell, I went to an extremely prestigious business school (University of Gummy Worms). But really, selling photos is the right way to go, especially if people who buy those photos are going to turn around and make money off them.

There are numerous Web sites that sell stock photos that can then be reused for commercial purposes. At Photos To Go, you can search on 22 different categories, buy royalty-free images and even make postcards out of photos. I pulled up two photos, and both were $23, which is a reasonable price for stock Web photos. Check out other photo-selling sites at Top 10 links to get the best price on the exact photo you want, even if it is a gummy bear.

Stock photos are used to make money, but normally, a newspaper photo is something a person will want to cherish for a lifetime. Many newspapers are now selling their published photos online. Some just sell prints while others sell low-resolution versions that can be viewed on the computer. The problem with selling a photo that's already on the computer is that it is readily available to send to others. Then again, if a person buys a printed copy, that picture could easily be scanned in, probably at a higher resolution.

Instead of looking at the downside of putting photos for sale on the Internet, what about the positives? First, many more people can see the photos without having to hound the photographer. At the PartyPics Network, photographers post their pictures of a given event on the site and give people who were at the event a password to enter and view. This way, people aren't passing around binders of prints, which could get lost or crumpled or sent to business school. has a similar site so customers can view photos, then order whatever size they would like.

At least during my small portion of research, it appears most photos of sentimental value are sold as prints, whereas stock photos to be used for commercial purposes are sold as e-pics. Photos of weddings, reunions, parties, etc. are probably going to be framed somewhere in the house, so it makes sense to sell the prints. Those photos will be treasured forever, and the photographer should get credit for shooting the proper photos. It doesn't take a gummy bear-eating businessperson to figure that out.