Shutterstock Growth Trends

Posted on 12/6/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I was asked recently if I am optimistic that Shutterstock will maintain its momentum in 2017? The short answer is YES, I believe Shuttrstock’s 2017 growth will continue on the same track as it has in the last two years. In 2014 revenue growth was 39%. In 2015 it was 30% and in 2016 it is expected to be around 18%. I expect the company will continue to maintain its DOWNWARD trend.

From 2012 to 2014 revenue growth was around 40% and then it started to fall. Why?

From 2007 to 2014 Shutterstock benefited hugely from the fact that it’s only real competition was Getty Images and iStock. It dramatically underpriced the offering of both these companies and over a period of several years took significant market share. Beginning in 2010 Getty began to try to find ways to lower its own and iStock prices without giving up too much. It was a slow slog, but they have finally got to a point where both brands are reasonably competitive with Shutterstock.

In April 2014 iStock finally launched a subscription offering. Since then they have been holding their position against Shutterstock. Subscription prices for iStock exclusive images are still higher than Shutterstock subscriptions, but, given the number of iStock customers who seem to be using its site, the iStock offering is still very competitive. iStock’s subscription prices for non-exclusive images are actually 16% or more lower than Shutterstock’s.

Single image prices for iStock’s non-exclusive images are about equal to Shutterstock’s, but iStock’s exclusive single image downloads are three times as expensive as Shutterstocks. While iStock is charging a little more they may no longer be losing customers at the rate that was once the case.

Then, to make matters worst for Shutterstock, at the end of 2015 Adobe acquired Fotolia and in June 2015 launched Adobe Stock. Subscription prices at Adobe Stock are virtually the same as Shutterstock’s. But Adobe Stock’s single image prices are dramatically lower than Shutterstock’s. Shutterstock is no longer the low priced option.

Adobe Stock has a couple other advantages. First, they have a huge customer base that regularly uses images. For most of these customers it will be somewhat easier to find and use Adobe Stock images in their projects than to go outside of Adobe to locate and purchase images they want to use.

Second, and maybe more important, Adobe doesn’t need image sales to be a profit center. They can look at the licensing of images as a “loss leader,” if it helps them cement their relationships with the customers using their software products which represent over 97% of their business. Adobe will have no problem underpricing everyone else in the market.

While I expect there to be a continued decline in Shutterstock growth, it will not be dramatic. Total revenue in 2017 will be higher than 2016, it is just unlikely to represent 18% growth.

What’s Needed

In order to grow revenue Shutterstock needs to find a way to charge higher prices for at least some of its imagery. They have their Offset brand, but in my opinion it is priced way too high to ever generate significant sales. It is way out of line with iStock exclusive images.

Moreover, Shutterstock refuses to take any of the best selling imagery from its general collection and move it to Offset at a higher price. Their strategy is to keep the two collections totally separate. Never mix the two.

They insist that all images in their 100,000,000 collection be priced equally. That means every image must be available at the lowest possible price regardless of quality or demand for any particular image. Thus, the only way to grow is to find more users. It seems unlikely they will find significantly more. And if Adobe forces them to lower prices to compete for volume they will need to find even more users.

In addition, there are a significant number of images in that 100 million collection that no customer ever sees. Those images don’t generate any revenue. In Q3 2014 the images downloaded represented 81% of the images in the collection. Of course, in some cases the same image was downloaded many times so the actual number of “unique images” downloaded was much less than 81%. In Q3 2016 the images downloaded only 40% of the images in the collection. Many of the other 60% or more, were never actually seen or reviewed by anyone.

Shutterstock need to find a way to divide their 100 million collection into at least two different collections at different price points so that more of the images they are offering might actually be seen. It seems to me that they should move a portion of the images in greatest demand to a separate collection at a 50% to 100% higher price point. If no one purchases the higher priced images after 6 months or a year, move them back to the lower price point.

Start all new images at the lower price point, but after they generate a few sales move them to the higher price point. If some of the images that started out in the cheaper collection suddenly start selling well, move them to the higher price point.
The company has shown no inclination to want to do anything like this, but if they are to grow revenue long term they will need to modify their strategy in some way in order to continue to compete with Getty, iStock and Adobe Stock.

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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