Shutterstock’s Drive To Add Images

Posted on 2/25/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A photographer recently asked if I could explain why Shutterstock is making such an aggressive effort to grow its collection. Currently, the company over 77 million images in its collection and is adding over 800,000 new images a week.

As far as I can tell Shutterstock believes their customers want more and more choice not only in subject matter, but in newer, more updated images. This strategy has always worked for them. Unit downloads continue to grow. They also want anyone who even thinks about licensing images to send their images to Shutterstock, as their first choice.

A couple months ago Shutterstock relaxed its submission standards. Now, anyone who has one image accepted from an initial submission can become a Shutterstock contributor. Acceptance standards seem to be based almost entirely on meeting certain technical quality standards, not on whether the subject matter of the image is something anyone is likely to want to pay for, or use.  Once a photographer is accepted, almost any image submitted that meets the technical standards is added to the collection in a race to make sure the agency has the world’s biggest collection of images.

Yesterday, Jon Oringer, CEO of Shutterstock, said they have over 100,000 contributors. He also acknowledged that they have been doing a lot in the past year to “improve search,” but most of that seems to be developing new algorithm, not editing.

They have also just added a “Reverse Image Search” feature, similar to Google Image Search, to make searching their offering easier. Now, a customer can save an image that is something like what they want, upload it, and the customer will be shown 100 thumbnails that are closest to what they uploaded. I’ve done a few tests and it seems to work well with certain images, but not well at all with others.

Consider if the customer is looking for a picture of a “smiling baby.” Use those keywords and the customer gets 446,303 images to choose from. Suppose the customer starts at the top, looks through a few hundred and finds something is more or less what they want. The customer can then save that image and upload it into the RIS. Within seconds 100 very similar thumbnails will be shown. If the customer finds something that is better, but still not right, he/she can do another RIS search.

This may be one way to dig out some of those images that get buried in keyword searches. I’m skeptical. I’m “old school.” I still think collections curated by human editors who understand the market and have data available to them about what is actually selling are more customer friendly.

I think back to the print catalog era, when a huge percentage of the images purchased were ones found in those catalogs. These images represented a fraction of 1% of all the images in the agency collections, but they were used time and time again. At that time customers wanted editors to save them search time by going through the huge number of images submitted by photographers and narro the selection down to those the editor though were best for the customer to review.

But editors cost money and that would reduce profits. This generation believes everything must be done with technology, even if in the long run it requires more effort on the part of the customer.

Culling Unused Images

It seems to me that there are a huge, and growing number of images in the Shutterstock collection that have never been downloaded by a real customer. If an image has been sitting in the collection for a year or two and never been downloaded, I would think it would make sense to remove it and streamline the collection. Shutterstock obviously disagrees.

Certainly, they have the data to do this easily and automatically. Maybe, if they don’t want to get rid of these images entirely they might just put them in secondary collection that customers could go to if they really can’t find anything in the primary collection. It would certainly improve the overall quality of search in the primary collection and make it more user friendly.

But this doesn’t seem to fit with Shutterstock’s strategy and I see no reason to believe that strategy will be modified in the near future.

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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