Visual Steam 2014 Buyers Survey

Posted on 9/17/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

In June 2014, Visual Steam surveyed thousands of U.S. art buyers, art directors, art producers, creative directors and marketing professionals to better understand stock image buying behavior today (still photography and motion). The company has published the results of its 2014 Buyers Survey. 100% of the respondents are buyers of stock photography.

Of the respondents 89% use stock in 50% to 100% of their projects and 99% use stock in at least 25% of their projects. Two-thirds (67%) of the respondents license rights to at least 50 images a year.

When asked which is more important Quality of Price, 77% of respondents said they would sacrifice Quality for Price. For 3% Price was always the deciding factor and the other 74% said they sacrifice it sometimes.

The buyers were asked to rank the factors of greatest importance to them in their decision making process. The results were:
    1 - Quality
    2 - Rights in-perpetuity
    3 - Ease of Access

    4 - Price
    5 - Exclusivity
Rights in-perpetuity jumped from 4th place in 2013 to 2nd this year.

The following is a list of the subjects most in demand and the percentage of buyers that responded to each usage type.

People 28%
Concepts - Background 18%
Business and Industry 16%
Medical - Health 9%
Food and Beverage 6%
Travel, Nature, Destinations 6%
Science and Technology 5%
Sports (leisure action) 5%
Beauty and Fashion 4%
Historical/Archival 2%
Fine Art 1%

When asked to list their Favorite Agencies, or the agencies they think of first they listed the following:

Getty 77%
iStock 57%
Shutterstock 53%
Corbis 40%
Veer 32%
Thinkstock 28%
Masterfile 2%
Google 1.5%
Media Bakery, Pacasearch, Stocksy 1%

Also mentioned, but not in significant numbers, were: AGE, Imagesource, BigStock, Alamy, Superstock, Offset, Pond5, Junkinvideoand stockxchange.

However, when asked to list their First Stop when looking for images Thinkstock jumped from 6th to 3rd place.

Getty 40%
iStock 23%
Thinkstock 17%
Shutterstock 8%
Google 5%
AGE and Veer 2.5%
Pacasearch 2%

The difference between Thinkstock and Shutterstock is a little strange. If we assume all of Thinkstock's sales were in the U.S. we know that Shutterstock’s U.S. sales alone are 2 to 3 times those of Thinkstock. Thus, we have to assume that there is a big community of buyers who either were not reached by this survey or failed to respond. Nevertheless, the full survey results are well worth examining.

Leslie Hughes, Visual Steam’s Founder and CEO, said, “Art buyers tell us that stock agencies can do better. Searching for stock imagery is difficult and takes too much time. Even so, nearly all use stock imagery in the majority of their projects. Additionally, 60% say their use of stock images will increase in the coming year.” 

Copyright © 2014 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:  


  • john tunney Posted Sep 20, 2014
    The results seem contradictory. 77% say they would sacrifice quality for price, yet they list quality as the most important factor in their decision making.

  • Leslie Hughes Posted Sep 25, 2014
    John - You are right. When answering most important factors, every year clients say that quality comes first. However, we keep hearing in our daily business, clients say that they don't have the budget. This is why we added the question this year asking if they ever sacrifice quality for price. We think this is the difference between intent and practical reality. Creatives truly believe that quality comes first and yet the majority say the often have to sacrifice it for price.

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