GDUSA Reader Survey: Stock Imagery Use Among Designers

Posted on 8/25/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Graphic Design USA (GDUSA) has released some of the results from its 25th annual survey of graphic designers to determine their use of stock imagery. A total of 1,008 readers responded to the survey with 96 percent saying they use stock imagery in their work and 60 percent using it at least 20 times a year. Both represent new highs for the survey.

When asked what factors go into choosing a “go to” stock agency, the most important factors are price (84 percent), quality of collections (76 percent) and ease-of-search (70 percent).

Rights Managed/Royal Free Uses Compared

While there is still a market for rights managed images 93% of the designers said they use royalty free while only 32% acknowledged that they ever use rights managed. Obviously, a number of the rights managed users also use royalty free.
One of the most revealing questions was the one that asked designers whether they spend more of their total image budget acquiring royalty free or rights managed imagery. One might expect that because rights managed tends to be a more expensive product than royalty free – particularly than microstock – that designers would spend more acquiring rights managed imagery than royalty free. However, 81% of respondents said they actually spend more of their total budgets purchasing royalty free imagery than rights managed; another 13% said the amount spent on both licensing models is about the same. Only 6% said they spend more purchasing rights managed images than they spend on royalty free.

The implications of these numbers are worth considering. If the average price of a rights managed image is significantly higher then customers are purchasing a lot more royalty free images than rights managed. We believe that to be the case. We estimate that, worldwide, approximately 2 to 3 million rights managed images are licensed each year while we can easily account for over 100 million royalty free image licenses.

From a technology standpoint, 25 percent of designers now develop content for digital media for more than half of their projects. Most have a fairly sophisticated understanding of the technical details and concessions that must be made when creating online material.

Ageism An Issue

The survey also examined the issue of older workers leaving the industry. 80 percent of the respondents believe ageism exists in graphic design firms and older workers are being pushed out of the business. An astonishing 30 percent of designers believe ageism becomes a factor as early as age 45. Not keeping up with technology and contemporary culture were cited as the two greatest contributing factors.
“Looking back at the past quarter century, our industry has gone through tremendous evolution, which has largely been driven by technology,” said Gordon Kaye, editor and publisher of GDUSA. “While technology has freed designers from many arduous tasks – and allowed the stock imagery industry to flourish – it is also a demanding mistress that demands constant attention and drives continuous change. Clearly there’s a perception in our industry that older people might not be able to rise to that challenge.”
Additional Findings
Similar to recent years, designers remain generally satisfied with the range of choices and the quality of stock imagery available today. Most believe quality continues to improve, but some asked for more originality and contemporary imagery. They also pointed to a need for greater diversity in cultural, ethnicity, gender and age offerings. These same designers indicated that they are willing to pay a premium for this kind of content.
Designers use multiple stock sites
    •      Use only one – 11%
    •      Use 2-3 – 47%
    •      Use 4-9 – 31%
    •      Use 10 or more – 11%
Top 5 categories of images used most often
    •      People
    •      Business/industry
    •      Lifestyle
    •      Abstracts/backgrounds/concepts
    •      Food and Beverage
Publications doing the best job at extending print design to online platforms
    •      Wired
    •      Martha Stewart
    •      New York Times
    •      Oprah
    •      National Geographic
This year’s survey was sponsored by iStockphoto. For complete survey results, see the September issue of GDUSA, which hits news stands September 12.

Copyright © 2011 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:  


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Aug 25, 2011
    Interesting, Jim.

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