Buyers Survey Conducted By Visual Steam

Posted on 9/10/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In June 2013 VisualSteam conducted a survey of over 1,000 art buyers, designers, creative directors, photo editors, service managers (and more), from agencies, design firms, publishers and corporations in the U.S. to determine “What Buyers Want.” They received a statistically valid response. For detailed results see the 5 page pdf or a longer video presentation here.

Of those who responded 63% were part of a team that makes decisions as to which images to use, 32% were the sole decision makers and 5% were picture researchers.

When asked the licensing models they purchase 80% listed traditional RF, 65% purchase microstock, 54% purchase RM and 28% make use of free images. While everyone seemed to use image at a variety of price points depending on the needs of the project no one responded that they use RM exclusively.

The favorite sites of the respondents in the order of most liked are:

  Web Site
54% Getty Images
52% iStockphoto
44% Shutterstock
37% Corbis
20% Veer
17% Google
17% Thinkstock

However, the order changes when they were asked the site they tend to go to first. Corbis and Veer have good brand awareness, but drop dramatically as a first stop.

  Web Site
26% iStockphoto
24% Getty Images
24% Shutterstock
9% Google
4% Corbis
2% Thinkstock
2% PACAstock
5% Others

Respondents were asked to rank certain issues that are most important when making purchase decisions. While Image Quality was clearly number one (51%), over one-quarter of the respondents (28%) said Price was most important for them. The survey did not assess how much clients are willing to sacrifice quality because of budget considerations. About one-sixth of the respondents (16%) said that Ease of Use of the site was of prime importance. Only 3% said the ability to use the image In Perpetuity was important and 2% listed Exclusivity as important.

When asked “What do image providers need to do better” the answers broke down into the 5 major categories we’ve come to expect.

    Better Search Results
    Better Quality and Quality Control
    Better Pricing
    Current, Real and Authentic Images
What buyers seem unwilling to accept is that Better Quality images cost more to produce. In order to encourage such production buyers must be willing to pay for the cost of that production. They are not. They want to pay even less than current prices which for the most part make it uneconomic to produce quality images. In order to get better search results better human editing is needed, but that costs money too and the buyers are unwilling to pay for it.

Current, Real and Authentic Images with more Diversity (buyers are tried of seeing the same images over and over and everywhere) also cost more to produce than images that are generic and have a long useful life. Such images also tend to sell much less frequently than more generic images. Since buyers not only are unwilling to pay for this extra effort and expense, but insist on paying even lower prices for the images they use, we can expect the same list of “what image sellers need to do better” in future surveys.

Is This Survey Truly Representative?

While this survey seems to be representative of traditional image users in the U.S., I think there is a rapidly growing new class of users – web developers and web designers – that are purchasing a significant percentage of the images used and may be under represented in this survey.

I would like to see Shutterstock ask a random sample of its customers in each of their markets, worldwide the same questions and make public the responses.

Given the number of images licensed each year by each of the Top Sites and in each of the various licensing models, I suspect that if we looked at where users worldwide get their images there would be a dramatic shift in the Top Sites and Favorite Destinations.  It would be very helpful for image producers and sellers to be more aware of the buying preferences of customers worldwide, not just in the U.S.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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