GDUSA Stock Visual Reader Survey

Posted on 10/26/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The 30th annual GDUSA Stock Visual Reader Survey, is now available. GDUSA says that stock visuals have become a vital creative resource for graphic designers, moving over the 30-year period from marginal to mainstream to essential.

This is because “Society and business has become more visually hungry and more visually sophisticated at the same time (and) the creative business is squeezed by tight budgets, short turnarounds, challenging assignments, multiple media, demanding clients and digital workflow.”

Ninety-Five of the respondents to this survey use stock image; 80% use stock illustration and 41% use stock video, footage and animation. They also use stock images a lot. 42% have used stock images more than 100 times in the last year and another 15% used them between 51 and 99 times. Still another 18% use stock between 20 and 50 times a year and 25% us them fewer than 20 times.

A decade of so ago nearly all stock images were used in print. Now 95% of the users still produce print projects, but 91% create digital, online and mobile projects as well while 32% of also produce TV, film and Video projects.

One of the big changes in the last few years is that images used to be purchased for use in one specific project. Now, 77% of respondents are looking for images that will be used across multiple channels. For this reason, a huge percentage of the user want images with an RF license so they can be used in multiple ways in a variety of projects without having to deal with complex licensing issues.

Ninety-five percent, or almost everyone, uses RF images at least some of the time. 60% only use RF and only 3% say that they will only use RM. 48% say they still use RM some of the time, but it is unclear how frequently and how often the prices for those RM images have been discounted to a point where they are the same as RF, or lower, and in come cases lower than microstock.

The survey ask respondents to list the “Main reasons influencing your use of a stock visuals site/provider?” Not surprisingly the Number One issue was Price followed by (2) Quality and (3) Quantity.

It is interesting that quantity rates so high since most of the major sites today have many more images in every subject category than customers are able to review. It is unclear why they want sites to have lots of images if they are not going to be able to look at, or consider all of them. I guess they believe that the best images for their particular need at the moment will flow to the top of the search-return-order.

We do hear from other sources – not in the responses to this survey – that more and more art directors are complaining about the time it takes them to find the right image. The GDUSA respondents did indicate that they are under more and more pressure to get more projects out the door faster. Many said that a reason for using stock is that they don’t have the time or budget to do assignment shoots anymore.

The other seven of the top 10 reasons “influencing their use of a stock visuals” were: (4) – Search Capability, (5) – Freshness, (6) – Special Promotions, (7) – Site Design, (8) – Exclusivity, (9) – Advice/Trendspotting and (10) – Peer Recommendations. One thing I found very interesting is that Exclusivity is very low on their list of important factors.

Buyer Responses

One important feature of this survey each year is that they ask several questions that dig deeper into what buyers are really thinking. This is one of the few opportunities for creators and sellers to really get a deeper sense of buyer perspectives. Below, I’ve printed the three questions asked this year and selected responses, but I encourage readers to go to this link and read all the comments.

Why has the use of stock visuals become so frequent and common?

Stock photography is convenient and readily accessible for tight deadlines. It offers good value for my clients at a reasonable price.

With the rise in quantity there as been a rise in quality and authenticity.

The trend is for more natural, candid looking shots, not the cheesy artificial smiles of the past.

There is a large quantity of choices available at fingertips.

Quick turnarounds are expected! (of their work so they need something fast.)

Stock has become the cost efficient method to obtain images. Photo shoots for clients across the country are near impossible and even regional/local shoots are costly.

Project deadlines seem to be getting shorter. Usually, I can find something that’s close enough on a stock image site.

Project timelines have become shorter and budgets have become smaller. You can’t justify the expense of custom photography or illustration on most projects.

The quick turnaround required for most of our projects has led to more frequent use of stock imagery.

In my experience things are not getting better; most stock images are unusable.

Does stock imagery reflect the Diversity and Fluidity that increasingly Characterizes American Life, Business, Society, Culture?

Stock photo content is definitely changing as time passes, but more growth is still needed in order for the imagery to match American culture. Specifically, when images pertain to diversity in gender, age and race, many end up trying to include too much. When choosing a photo of five people in the work force, each of a different age and race, the image starts becoming ridiculous and is not a true reflection of American society.

I often struggle to find images of what people consider blended families, same-sex couples or somehow represent foster care.

Also some stock, mainly lifestyle, has a very European look to it. -- The majority of the photos on the big stock sites I use seem to be of people living outside of America. (Ed note: Could that be because prices are so low that it is no longer profitable for American photographer to produce stock photos, particularly those requiring models.)

Depends on the company. Some do a better job than others, but those are generally more expensive agencies and, in my case, are cost prohibitive.

Much of our work requires multicultural images. Many stock group photographs do not reflect the diversity of North America.

The overwhelming majority of family images are Caucasian.

In my opinion, it still reflects the work culture of the early 2000s. Caucasian males in suits with coffee.

Do you use images shot by a Camera Phone in Client Projects?

Absolutely. Ultimately, what makes the decision is the photos pixel size first and then the composition.

(Ed. Note: However, the general consensus was NO.)

No. Image quality is good, but color handling is still really problematic. The money I used to pay a photographer now has to go to the retoucher for more Photoshop adjustment in terms of color.

Not if our lives depended on it. Quality of the image, in both resolution and composition, are generally unacceptable for our needs.

I have used them for conceptual work; have not used phone imagery for final deliverables yet.

Copyright © 2016 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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