GDUSA Stock Survey Results

Posted on 10/9/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Graphic Design USA’s 27th annual Stock Visual Reader Survey has revealed that 95% of creatives in the U.S. use stock visuals to some extent in their work. In 1986 only 34% of creatives used stock, but there has been a steady year-to-year rise in its use reaching 95% in 2010.

Questionnaires were sent to 5,000 graphic design firms, advertising agencies, inhouse designers, publishers and other creative businesses.

A record 63% of respondents use stock imagery more than 20 times during the course of a year. That breaks down to 18% using stock 21 to 50 times, 13% using it 51 to 99 times and 32% of respondents saying they use stock over 100 times per year. A few years ago only a little over 3% used stock 100 times a year.

Most of the creatives (95%) that use stock at all use photos to some degree; 81% also use stock illustration. Twenty-one percent use stock footage and 13% use stock audio.

Increasingly, designers are turning to high volume, low cost options of microstock and subscriptions. In the past year 58% of respondents licensed some images from a Subscription site and 67% licensed images from a Micropayment site. Only 1% of the respondents use only RM while 63% use only RF. Virtually everyone (99%) uses RF sometimes and 36% use RM sometimes.

When asked the “Main Reasons for selecting a stock provider or website” the responses were the following in order of priority.
    1 – Affordable prices
    2 – Quality of Collection
    3 – Ease of Search
    4 – Freshness of Images

    5 – Breadth of Files

    6 – Familiarity With Brand
    7 – Design of Website
    8 – Special Promotions
    9 – Site Includes Community
    10 – Exclusive Content
It is interesting to note the bottom 5, and particularly that Exclusive Content falls right to the bottom. Research has shown that creatives typically search three to four stock photo sites before making a decision. They may not like the fact that they sometimes see the same images on several sites, but that doesn’t seem to be a big enough motivator to drive them to only using sites that offer exclusive content.

While 93% of creatives use some of the images they license in print 77% also license images for online and mobile use. In addition about 40% have occasion to license some uses for Point-of-Purchase Signs; 24% for Packaging and 11% license uses for TV, Film and Video.

Always interesting is a list of subjects in most demand in the order of frequency of that demand. The order of this list tends to remain relatively the same year-to-year, but it is a good reminder of the subjects that are most likely to generate significant revenue for image creators. On the other hand, the over-supply of subjects at the top of the list tend to make the odds against licensing rights to any particular image much greater.
    1 - People
    2 - Business+Industry
    3 - Concepts+Ideas
    4 - Technology
    5 - Lifestyle
    6 - Medical/Health
    7 - Families
    8 - Ethnic/multicultural
    9 - Nature?10 - Education
    11 - Food/Beverage
    12 - Beauty/Health
    13 - Architecture/Buildings
    14 - Travel/Transportation
    15 - Fine Art
    16 - Landscapes
    17 - Arts/Entertainment
    18 - Historical/Vintage
    19 - Holidays
    20 - Feelings/Emotions
    21 - Sports/Fitness
    22 - Babies/Children
    23 - Animals/Pets
    24 - Homes/Interiors
    25 - Military/Space
Most respondents still prefer to search for images on a desktop machine (76%), but 22% prefer to use laptops and 1% each use tablets and smartphones.

The survey revealed that designers fear that oversaturation, duplication, and dependence on stock images threatens originality and exclusivity. And in response to the changing culture and demographics of America, there are heartfelt calls for more diversity in image offerings by race, gender, age, and lifestyle.

“Designers see the future of stock imagery as more of the same. They expect the future to bring even more abundant content, higher quality imagery, and increasingly efficient infrastructure. There is nearly universal belief that stock visuals will continue as a central creative resource because the value proposition (for designers and customers, not necessarily creators) will be as pertinent five, ten or twenty years away as they are now. In addition, most designers also expect aspects of the stock experience to further improve as content becomes more sophisticated and technology advances.

The following are a few of the comments from designers that responded to a survey question asking why they use stock images.
    “There are three major reasons why stock visuals have emerged with such frequency: 1) The digitalization of images has made production faster and, in some cases, cheaper. 2) The internet has made them available for review, purchase, and acquisition in a matter of minutes. 3) Electronic media and printing technologies have made the use of full-color, high impact images imperative on even second- or third-tier communications.”

    “They are inexpensive and immediate. When you need only one of one type of image, they're a no-brainer. In this world of high visual turnover, they make total sense for pieces that are more or less disposable. For a high-end piece or something that has some longevity, I most definitely hire.”

    “Stock visuals have always had a place in my creative toolbox, but as clients become more and more cost conscious, and campaigns become smaller and more “niche market” driven, big photo shoots are usually not in the budget. Stock photography, and especially royalty free stock photography offers a quality alternative to big budget campaigns.”

    “Stock visuals work wonderfully for smaller budgets, or when you just need an ancillary image but don't need to reinvent the wheel. Even for some higher-end budgets, rights-managed photos are a great asset for when there isn't enough time or money allocated by the client for a custom shoot.”

    “Bad in some ways, it takes the thinking out of the process and reduces editing to a process of elimination and settling for what's available.”

    “Yes. I just hope that stock companies break away from what they think we need and create new and creative visual trends. They need not be afraid to move into multi-media images mixing photography, video images with graphics. Show us something we have only dreamed about.” (Editors note: And sell it to us for $25!)

    “All about the money, honey. Budgets aren't there for custom shoots.”
GDUSA said, “Finally, the facts on the ground have led to a subtle but important attitude adjustment. Stock content is now widely accepted, largely appreciated and often preferred. As skeptical as designers can be – and should be – they understand that stock visuals help them work smarter and stay balanced on the tightrope that is the graphic design business today. Not everyone loves it, but everyone gets it.”

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 Oct 9, 2013
    I can read that RM images are almost dead.

    "Increasingly, designers are turning to high volume, low cost options of microstock and subscriptions. In the past year 58% of respondents licensed some images from a Subscription site and 67% licensed images from a Micropayment site. Only 1% of the respondents use only RM while 63% use only RF. Virtually everyone (99%) uses RF sometimes and 36% use RM sometimes. "

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