Shutterstock: Running The Numbers

Posted on 2/7/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Based on the number of downloads Shutterstock had in the first three quarters it looks like they will report about 167,000,000 total downloads for 2016 when they report their full year numbers on February 27, 2017. Last year they reported 147,200,000 downloads for 2015.

Based on the 2015 numbers I estimated that 40% of Shutterstock’s gross revenue for the year was for subscription downloads and that the total subscription downloads were about 133,280,000. It is now looking like subscription downloads may represent about 38% of the roughly $500 million 2016 revenue or $190,000,000. While subscription is definitely up it does not seem to be growing as a percentage of total revenue.

If we assume that half the subscription revenue came form subscribers who purchased the 750 images plan and half came from those who purchased the 350 image plan we would attribute $95 million to each of those plans. As I’ll show in a minute, it seems possible that a greater percentage might have purchased the cheaper plan, but I’ll stick with half-and-half for these calculations.

One also assumes that part of the deal with the 35,000 Enterprise customers is that they get the equivalent of at least one (some may get more then one) subscription that allow up to 750 downloads a month.

At $169 a month for the 350 image plan the customer would pay $2,028 a year for that plan. For the 750 image play they would pay $199 per month, or $2,388 a year.

If we divide $2,028 into $95 million we find that there were 46,844 subscribers to the 350 image plan. By dividing $2,388 into the other $95 million we find that there were 38,782 subscribers to the 750 plan for a total of 86,626 subscribers. These number are estimates, not exact.

The 46,844 subscribers had the right to download 4,200 images in the year or a total of 196,744,800 images. The 38,782 subscribers had the right to download 349,038,000 images in the year. Thus, together they could have downloads 545,782,800 total images.

If we assume $190 million in total subscription revenue and an average of $1.25 in revenue per subscription download, based on the royalties paid and the stated fact that royalties represent about 30% of gross revenue generated, then there were about 152,000,000 subscription downloads or 91% or total downloads.

Thus, it appears that on average subscribers are only downloading about 28% of the images their subscriptions allow them to download. Thus, those those that are allowed to download 750 a month are on average only downloading 210 and those allowed to download 350 are only downloading 98. These are averages. Certainly many with the 350 subscription are downloading many fewer than 98 in a typical month.

New Subscription Impact

The new subscription offerings for $99 a month for 50 images and $29 for 10 images are designed to compete with the iStock and AdobeStock offerings and encourage customers who don’t need quite as many images on a monthly basis to buy a subscription.

Given the average number of images 350 image subscribers download in a month, let’s assume that 25% of them discover they could get by with a 50 images per month subscription and maybe, occasionally, in a month when they really needed a lot of images, buy an extra single month subscription for $129.

That would mean that 11,711 of the 46,844 currently purchasing 350 images per month could  get 50 images a month for $1,188 a year. Gross revenue from this 25% would be 13,912,668. The other 75% would continue with 350 image subscriptions and pay $2,088 a year for $71,250,000. That would be a total of $85,162,668, almost a $10 million loss in revenue from what Shutterstock was earning before. They will have to pick up 8,281 new subscription customers (18% increase) to offset this potential loss from existing subscription customers.

If half the 350 image subscribers decided they could get by with 50 images a month the total revenue from the 46,844 contributors will be about $75,325,152 an almost $20 million loss from what subscription contributors paid in 2016.

However, one would think that rather than worrying about the impact these subscription offering might have on existing subscription the bigger concern may be the impact they will have on single image sales.


The potential loss on the Image-On-Demand side is even worse. If the percentage of revenue generated by subscription customers has been declining, but revenue overall has been going up it would seem that increasingly IOD customers are buying more images at the current higher prices.

With the new subscription pricing it seems that Image-On-Demand customers will now be able to get 2 to 5 images for what they formerly paid for each image. Why would a customer pay $49 for a 5 image pack when she can get a 10 image subscription for one month for $49. Customers could also get 10 images a month for $29 but they would have to make a 12-month commitment for a total of $348. That would give them the right to download 120 images over the year. That number of images may satisfy the needs of many single image users, as well as subscription customers. Certainly, it would seem that the number of people who purchase 25 image packs for $229 will decline.

Shutterstock may grow their subscription revenue, but at what expense to single image downloads?
One would think they have done careful calculations of current sales, but it is hard to see how this move will not lead to a decline in overall revenue. They may be expecting a huge growth in new customers, but I don’t see where those customers are likely to come from.

It may also be worth considering the trends in the last few years of the percent of growth of images in the collection compared with the percent of increase in gross revenue and also consider the percent of growth in downloads on a year-to-year basis.
  Images in Percent   Gross Percent   Downloads Percent
  Collection Collection   Revenue Increase   in Downloads
  Millions Growth   Millions     Millions Growth
2011 17     $120.30     58.7  
2012 23.3 37.1%   $169.20 40.6%   76 29.5%
2013 34.5 48.1%   $233.10 37.8%   100 31.6%
2014 48.8 41.4%   $327.90 40.7%   125.9 25.9%
2015 71.4 46.3%   $425.10 29.6%   147.2 16.9%
2016 110 54.1%   $500 17.6%   167 13.5%

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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