VisualSteam Releases Stock Image Licensing Survey Results

Posted on 12/11/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

VisualSteam has released the results of its 5th Annual Survey of Creative Pros on the issue of Stock Image Licensing. The survey was sent to US art buyers, art directors, art producers, creative directors, photo editors and marketing professionals and provides a glimpse into what is driving image licensing today.

In years past, an average communication piece might have used a handful of visuals and lasted 6 months. A creative might have paid $600 per image for a total licensing fee of $3,000. Today, a social media campaign could be targeting 3 posts a day, 5 days a week for the next 3 months. This could require 180 visuals, instead of 6 and the gross spent on the project might be much less than $3,000.

The survey found that, “Getty remains the dominant top-of-mind brand followed by Shutterstock. Shutterstock, however is for the first time the #1 go-to destination. Adobe has moved up as a top-of-mind brand, but still lags as a go-to resource.”

“Given the importance of price, it is not a surprise to see that two agencies providing CCO licenses (free use) made it onto the list of favorite resources this year – Pexels and Unsplash.”

A high percentage of creatives search 3 or more agencies when looking for images that fulfill their needs.

Forty percent of the respondents were from ad agencies and design firms; 33% from editorial and publishing; 23% from corporations and 4% other. 60% use more than 50 images per year and 36% use more than 100 images per year.

Overall 43% of creatives say they licensed both still and video this year, but this is down from 47% in 2016. Advertising and design agencies seem to be licensing more video than the publishing sector.

“Creative Pros generally think the quality of stock images are about the same. 40% say that creative stills are getting better, 45% believe stock video is getting better, 32% say that editorial stills are getting better and 28% say that editorial video is getting better.”

Of total respondents, 43% says they expect their use of stock photography to increase in the coming year, but 57% expect no increase. When it comes to video 53% expect an increase and 47% don’t.

The additional breakdowns of this information that can be found in the full survey results are very revealing. Reader are advised to request a copy of this year’s survey by sending an email to: fnyrf@ivfhnyfgrnz.pbz.
Leslie Hughes, VisualSteam’s Founder and Strategic Advisor, said, “The importance of visuals to user engagement and retention is clearly driving overall increases in demand. Reliance on stock visuals has grown stronger because it is available, certain, abundant and relatively cheap.” While the survey indicates that client budgets are increasing, Hughes went on to say, “downward pressure on price continues as the appetite for images significantly outpaces any growth in budgets.”
A few highlights of what creatives had to say with regard to the kind of content needed include:
  • Less “stocky” content, fewer posed images.
  • More “real” people, more authenticity, “real life images,” real life in business and tech
  • “Too many trendy images, I need real life.”
  • “Quality, more quality, better shots, better locations, authentic models”
  • More diverse images – Hispanic, Native American
  • Women over 40 for health, fashion and lifestyle.
  • More 50 year old people – selections are too young or too old without much in between
  • Time is wasted weeding out 3 good images from 3,000 bad ones! Edit please”
  • Get rid of old, dated content. “I don’t care if you have 6 million images.”
  • Lower prices. Some sites are “ridiculously high.”
  • “I want quality for less, just like my clients.”
  • Get actual people from specific trades
  • Simpler photos that are easier to collage. Dead angles are best for objects
  • Better, more current and relevant keywords and metadata
  • Be competitive with Getty on price and subscriptions or we can’t use you
My comment: Photographers understand what they want, but they can’t produce such imagery -  on speculation - for the prices customers are willing to pay.

Copyright © 2017 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:  


  • Peter Dazeley Posted Dec 12, 2017
    Dear Jim, re your comment 'Photographers understand what they want, but they can’t produce such imagery - on speculation - for the prices customers are willing to pay.' Its very clear that today's stock photographers cannot produce imagery with high production values, as the likelihood of a return on their investment is tiny. The clients can ask for all they want but unless they are willing to pay its not going to happen. Whatever happened to the licence representing the value received by the client? How will the next generation of creators be able to afford to create?

  • Jeff Maloney Posted Dec 16, 2017
    As a former Getty stock photographer I have also stopped producing lifestyle images because of poor ROI. It seems that their is a standoff. Buyers want more quality but will not pay for it. Professionsals won't produce better images unless that time and financial investment is improved. What is the solution??? Perhaps an effort to educate the buyers on the very real costs of producing lifestyle on spec to meet their needs. However, the "Walmart" pricing over the last 10 years WILL NOT makes things easier for any of us. Getty and others need to make a stand and get back to real world pricing models and pull photogs away from Microstock. Just my two cents.

  • Jeff Maloney Posted Dec 16, 2017
    RE: " Getty Promotion Offers 31% Discount " This reeks of desperation on Getty's part and further pushes the industry's image down into the gutter and prevents professionals like from pursuing stock image production. Car makers offer models from Kia up to Ferrari at a variety of price points. They all seem to find buyers. Why haven't stock agencies followed suit? Jim, keep up the good work. We appreciate it!


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