Communications Arts 2003 Survey

Posted on 1/13/2004 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



January 13, 2004

Stock Photo Image Use Explored

Communication Arts has released data from its 2003 subscriber study indicating the use of
royalty-free stock continued to grow at the expense of rights-managed stock and
assignment work. However, the study indicated that the number of people using stock
remained flat, though overall volume usage has increased slightly.

Communication Arts subscribers represent one of the largest cross-sections of working
professionals in visual communication. With a paid circulation of 70,000+, a survey done
of CA subscribers, gives the industry some valuable benchmarks on product usage.

For more than ten years, CA has surveyed its audience through independent, third-party
research. During this time, it has tracked the growth of the stock photography industry
and this year, added questions about the usage of other types of stock. Below is a list
of observations of the 2003 results, provided by Mike Krigel, Communication Arts General

1. In 2003, 60% of CA subscribers purchased stock photography, about the same
percentage as for the past four years. Given that CA's circulation has also remained flat
for the past few years, this would indicate that the number of overall users of stock
from the creative professions hasn't grown.

2. However, overall volume usage is up for those who purchased stock photography,
albeit slightly. In 2003, 37% bought stock photography 10x or more, an increase from 32%
in 2002, though this is still below the 46% top score in 2001.

3. Not surprisingly, the availability of stock and the poor economy led to a
continued deterioration in the use of assignment photography. In 2003, 39% of CA's
subscribers hired individual photographers, down from 51% in 1999.

4. Use of royalty-free stock photography continued to grow at the expense of
rights-managed stock. In 2003, three-out-of-four purchases (77%) were for royalty-free,
compared to two-out-of-three (66%) in 1999.

5. Unlike art directors and graphic designers, the proportion of creative
directors using stock photography has increased slightly compared to the prior four
years. In 2003, 91% of creative directors reported using stock photography, up from 83%
in 1999; 82% of art directors used stock photography, the same percentage as in 1999.
Meanwhile, usage by graphic designers is actually down slightly, to 69% in 2003, compared
to 75% in 1999.

6. When broken out by type of organization, 83% of CA subscribers at advertising
firms purchased stock photography in 2003. Of these, 59% were "heavy" buyers, purchasing
it 10x or more during the year. 76% of those at design firms and 71% of "corporate or
in-house creative shops" purchased stock photography, and about a third would be
considered heavy buyers (36% and 32%, respectively).

7. Use of assignment illustration remained flat from 2002 and down from previous
years. In 2003, 31% of CA's subscribers reported having hired an individual illustrator.
In 1999, that number was 40%.

8. 2003 was the first year we asked about usage of other types of stock: 29% of
CA's subscribers said they used stock illustration, 11% stock footage, 10% stock audio
and 4% stock animation. We would expect usage of all these types of stock to grow in

9. As with stock photography, creative directors as a group are the biggest users
of other types of stock, with nearly half (47%) buying stock illustration, 20% purchasing
stock audio, 19% getting stock footage, and 6% downloading stock Flash/animation.


This report was drawn from five years of data collected annually via mailed surveys to
Communication Arts subscribers from an independent research company. These surveys were
done in accordance with accepted research standards and practices and are part of a
library of 10 years of research done by Communication Arts and/or its hired research


The follow are a few observation I have on the data developed through this survey. The
survey focuses on the number of people using stock images but was not able to get at the
specifics of number of images used. However, this data coupled with Getty Images data on
images licensed gives us a picture of what is happening in the industry.

  • According to CA the volume of usage was up slightly. However, this is based on the
    response to a question as to whether they used stock ten or more times. If we look at
    Getty's statistics (See Story 590 )
    the numbers of units licensed are down. Anecdotal information from
    others in the industry indicate Getty's experience may be representative of the industry
    as a whole.

  • Another thing that might be a factor here is that some respondents reported the
    number of times they "used" rather than "bought" a new image. They might be using an RF
    images they had purchased previously on a CD, or making new additional uses of RF images
    previously used. Since we have moved into the RF generation, it is important to keep in
    mind that new uses don't necessarily represent new purchases.

  • CA statistics show that 77% of the purchases of images were RF and this should be
    compared with Getty's 67% of images licensed being RF. It should be noted that CA's
    audience is focused more heavily on the advertising and graphic design community than
    Getty's. Getty's market includes editorial and publishing users that may not use as much
    RF as is used in the advertising community. If we had access to Getty's figures for just
    advertising and Graphic Design users we might find that their RF use is much higher than

  • The continued deterioration in the use of assignment photography is interesting.
    With the economy starting to come back some have expected a revival in assignment
    photography. It should be noted that this survey was conducted in May of 2003 so
    respondents were probably providing data based on their activities in 2002 before the
    recovery really got underway. If that was the case we might hope to see a better trend
    in the 2004 survey results which will reflect the activity in 2003.

    One factor not considered in these numbers is revenue. While the number of assignments
    may have been down, we don't know if the amount spent on the assignments was up or down.
    It could be that photographers were doing fewer assignments, but longer and more
    expensive project. The revenue number is a tough one to get at, but the critical issue is
    money, not number of jobs worked.

    Nevertheless, there is certainly an indication that more and more buyers are able to find
    all they need in the stock arena, and no longer need to go to assignments.

  • Another reason for a decline in assignments could be tighter and tighter deadlines
    for projects leaving little or no time to actually produce an assignment.

  • Despite the apparent trend toward using more stock and fewer assignments there is
    little indication from other sources that there was a significant growth in stock
    industry revenue. (While Getty and Corbis grew slightly, I think this growth was mostly a
    result of taking market share from others in the industry.)

  • The decline in stock photo use by graphic designers is interesting. The CA
    statistics indicate they weren't hiring more outside illustrators. Were they creating
    more illustration themselves? They might be making more assignments, but that would seem
    doubtful since they are usually the people with the lowest budgets. With the advent of
    digital cameras are they able to create the images they need themselves? Or are they
    doing more work that doesn't require visuals at all?

    One thing that might have been expected is that they were using images from CD's
    purchased previously, but it seems the question was worded to ask about actual use, not
    where they obtained the image so this wouldn't have been a factor. Whatever the trend
    this needs to be watched carefully by photographers because graphic designers are a big
    part of the photographer's market.

  • Copyright © 2004 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:  


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