GDUSA Stock Visuals Survey Results

Posted on 11/1/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The results of Graphic Design USA’s 31st Annual Stock Visual Reader Survey are now available here. Ninety-two percent of the respondents use stock photos, 72% use stock illustration and 41% use footage and animation. This is a must read for anyone trying to produce imagery that the market wants.

Forty percent of respondents use stock imagery more than 40 times a year and 80% use it more than 21 times a year. 89% of the respondents use stock for print, 72% use it for digital, online and mobile and 28% use stock imagery for point-of-purchase or packaging. The use of stock imagery for retail promotions has declined compared to previous surveys which may be the result of more customers doing their buying online rather than at retail stores.

The subject matter in greatest demand is overwhelmingly (1) People, (2) Business and Industry and (3) Concepts and Ideas in that order. Closely following are: (4) Technology/Computers, (5) Lifestyles, (6) Health/Wellness (7) Ethnic/Multicultural and (8) Families. (Go to the site for the top 25.)

Sixty-nine percent of respondents have a subscription, but based on the question that doesn’t mean they get all the imagery they need via subscription offerings. 48% said they only use Royalty Free while only 5% said they use only RM. 49% said they use both RF and RM which would mean that only 3% always uses RM and never use RF.

Over half (53%) use some of the imagery they purchase for social media. “An early consensus is that social media is placing a priority on images that are simple, clear, user-friendly, and that “pop”, i.e., can capture attention in a fleeting instant.” Format is also important because social media is consumed on small and often vertical screens.

Be sure to also read the answers to the 4 questions in the comments section.

Personal Observation and Comment

Editor, Gordon Kaye summarizes the results as follows, “Creative professionals… appreciate the accessibility and abundance of stock offerings, but they wish providers would hurry up with imagery that better reflects how America lives, loves, looks, labors, and links.”

That may be what designers want, but its not likely to happen for one key reason. Budgets aren’t sufficient to encourage image creators to go out and produce what the designers need.

Photographers understand that “affordability” is a key issue for those who purchase images. They understand that designers are “squeezed by tight budgets (and) short turnarounds.” But professional image creators will not produce the quality imagery designers crave if it costs them more to produce carefully thought out and crafted images than they can ever earn from such production. Professionals are in business to earn a living. They are not charities. There is a limit as to how long they will give away their time and resources in order to support other private enterprise.
Let me offer a few statistics.
  • Today, Getty Images has 12 times the number of images in its Creative collection as it had in 2006. Yet the annual revenue generated in 2016 by this collection was less than half what it was in 2006. Thus, the average photographer is likely to earn 1/24th of what they earned in 2006 for each image accepted into the collection. Some cameras may be cheaper, but all the costs that go into producing the kind of images designers want have not gone down.

  • In the last 12 months Shutterstock’s collection has grown by 51% while the number of images licensed has grown by about 1.5%. In 2015 collection growth and growth in images licensed were about the same.

  • In 2008, Alamy had about 14 million images in its collection. During the year they licensed rights to a little over 1% at an average price of about $173 per image. In 2016 they had about 8 times as many images in their collection and licensed about 0.5% of them at an average price of about $45. While revenue was up in 2016 compared to 2015 it was still about 18% lower in 2016 than in 2008.
Consequently, most of the people who might go to the trouble of discovering what designers need and producing that kind of imagery have given up on the stock image production business and moved on to other things. This is particularly true of American creators. An increasing percentage of available stock images are being produced by people who live in Eastern Europe, Asia and lower cost of living countries. They may not even know what “America lives, loves, looks, (and) labors” are.

Today, most of the people producing new images are amateurs who photograph things that are easy to find and that they enjoy photographing. A high percentage of these images don’t seem to be what designers crave or want to use.  

In summary. Producing images on speculation is no longer a wise business plan.

If there isn’t a way to get slightly higher prices, particularly for online uses, designers shouldn’t expect much improvement in the quality and availability of the imagery they are seeking.

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:  


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