Can Getty Take Market Share From Shutterstock?

Posted on 9/4/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Clearly Shutterstock is on a growth curve in terms of number of images downloaded and revenue. According to debt investors (those who trade in corporate bonds and corporate debt) Getty’s revenue has been declining over the last three quarters and the company’s expenses have been increasing due to increased marketing costs.

Reliable sources tell me that the editorial and footage shares of Getty’s business are stable. Combined, they currently represent about one-third of Getty’s business. (I haven’t seen the numbers.) The other two-thirds are said to be about equally split between Premium Stock (Getty’s new name for the Creative collection) and Midstock (the new way of defining iStockphoto’s business).
    [Evidently Premium Stock is much stronger than I had previously estimated, but even if we accept a gross revenue of around $300 million that has dropped from $561 million in 2007.]
I believe that overall stock photo industry revenue worldwide has been flat, or in slight decline for several years. There has certainly been an increase in the number of images used annually, but overall fees for those uses have declined faster than the uses have increased leaving the net revenue flat.

There has also been a decline in the use of images in print products. That looks like it will continue. This will undoubtedly lead to a loss in revenue generated by the higher priced Premium imagery. All the growth is in online use, and prices for those uses are declining as customers find cheaper sources of images. Shutterstock’s new deal with Facebook seems likely to lead to even lower prices overall for online use, although Shutterstock’s hope is there will be a significant increase in volume.

Where Do Website Developers Find Images

The key to growing a stock photography business is finding a way to communicate with the people who are developing web sites. There is very little opportunity to grow unit sales or take market share by focusing on print users. Many who buy images for online use are also in the print business. They are familiar with both Getty Images and Shutterstock and use both depending the needs of each project. Price is important to them. But, as we have pointed out their numbers are not growing.

Most new image users are web developers. Many have never heard of Getty Images. If they know of Getty at all they believe they will never have the budgets necessary to use images found on the Getty site, even if the image quality is a little better. These web developers also get most of the information they need about where to buy things through the web.

Battle Of Adwords

In an attempt to grab market share back from Shutterstock, Getty appears to be making a major move to position Thinkstock as a Premium Subscription product. Getty has made images from its higher priced RF brands and from Jupiterimages and iStockphoto available on Thinkstock. Having done this Getty is telling customers that Thinkstock offers a collection of better quality images at the same prices as Shutterstock charges.

To make the image buyers aware of its new improved offering Getty is increasing its search engines marketing on Google, Yahoo and Bing. In the past Shutterstock has tended to dominate all web searches related to photography. Thinkstock seldom appeared on the first page and even Getty Images was often far down the list. The key, of course, is adwords. In 2012 Shutterstock spent more than $30 million on marketing. A good portion of that was on adwords.
Getty can raise its bids for adword to move up in the search return order, for a time. But undoubtedly Shutterstock will counter with even higher bids. The real winners in this battle will be Google, Yahoo and Bing, not anyone involved in the photography business.

I did searches a couple weeks ago for “Stock photos,” “stock photography,” “stock photo distributor,” “stock footage distributor,” etc. Thinkstock Photography and Getty Images were nowhere to be found on the first pages. Today, with the search term “stock photography” on Google Thinkstock is first, Getty second and Shutterstock third. Thinkstock and Getty don’t fare nearly as well when other terms are used. With “stock photos” iStockphoto comes up as number one, Shutterstock as number two and Getty in third place. On Yahoo and Bing Getty and Thinkstock are usually not even on the first page.  

Consider this, on that first page of the search for “stock photography” where the first three are Thinkstock, Getty and Shutterstock, Shutterstock appears a second time in fifth position. The other distributors that can be found on the first page include istockphoto, dreamstime, bigstock photo (owned by Shutterstock),, Corbis, canstockphoto, and Veer. The last on the first page is ToddKlassy, an individual photographer who actively sells his work on Flickr. Where are the other stock photography distributors?

Where To Put Marketing Emphasis

Getty is faced with a dilemma as to what to promote. If they push only Thinkstock they run the risk of cannibalizing their other brands. If the try to push their Getty premium brands as strongly as they push Thinkstock they may confuse the customer, particularly if those web customers with no money and happen to go to the Premium or Midstock collections first. Getty will also be required to spend a lot more on adwords than Shutterstock because they will be trying to bring three brand names to the top instead of just one.

If Getty is successful and draws a lot of customers to Thinkstock they must hope that none of their existing, or customers figure out that they can buy a good percentage of the images that can be found on these sites for a fraction of what they have been paying, if they simply purchase them through Thinkstock. Given the huge differences in price between Thinkstock and Getty’s other brands Getty will need to make a huge number of Thinkstock sales to offset a small number of lost sales on their other brands.

With the “Search by Image” feature on Thinkstock Getty has also made if very easy for customers who find an image they want to use on one of the other Getty sites to check to see if it is available on Thinkstock. Once customers learn of the existence of this feature they will want to use it every time they need to buy an image in order to see if they can save significant money.

Image Producers

There is not much image produces can do, but sit back and watch the battle while considering whether the efforts and expense they must put into producing new images are likely to generate enough revenue to offset the costs.

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:  


  • Jaak Nilson Posted Sep 4, 2013
    Not sure that young web designers using a phrase like "stock" and "stock photography" at all. They may use a words without prefix stock.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff