Visual Stream Announces Results of Art Buyer Survey

Posted on 9/10/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

VisualSteam has announced the results of its annual survey of art buyers regarding the use of stock photography and video. Getty Images, iStock Photos, and Shutterstock take the top 3 spots (in that order) as the go-to resources for art buyers.

VisualSteam ( launched its annual survey to thousands of U.S. art buyers, art directors, art producers, creative directors and marketing professionals to better understand stock image buying behavior (still photography and motion). Survey results provide a glimpse into what is driving stock image licensing today, how clients perceive top destinations, and what stock image providers can do better. Results indicate that stock remains an important tool for art buyers; a majority of buyers regularly sacrifice quality for price; and, a majority of buyers now have at least one subscription for stock images.??

Leslie Hughes, VisualSteam’s President and CEO, said, “Art Buyers are frustrated by stock agencies because of the time it takes to find ‘high quality’ content. They believe stock is too “stocky,” and many believe that pricing is still too high. Buyers want content that is fresh, easy to find, and authentic. Even so, nearly all use stock, and more than half say their use of stock images will continue to increase in the coming year.” Hughes added, "I would like to thank the sponsors of this year’s survey: the Digital Media Licensing Association and ImageProtect. Their support is invaluable.

To request a copy of this year’s survey, please go to: or email fnyrf@ivfhnyfgrnz.pbz. The 16-page analysis of the survey results is free to members of the Digital Media Licensing Association (DMLA). For all others, there is a service fee of $49.95.

My Observations

I’m sure this survey reflects the attitudes and opinions of high end image buyers in the United States, but the results may not be an accurate representation of those who actually purchase a majority of the images. Many of the majority are probably small players that are hard to identify and were not asked to participate in this survey.

Consider the respondent’s preferences for their “first-stop, go-to source.” About 32% indicated Getty Images, 23% iStock and only 9% Shutterstock making up 64% of all the sites listed. The remaining 36% of first stop destinations were divided among 15 other agencies.

Clearly, if these are their first-stops they are not an accurate reflection of where images are purchased. Shutterstock is expected to have gross revenue in 2015 of about $427 million. Getty Images’ 2015 revenue for RM and RF combined will certainly be under $300 million. If we add in all of Getty’s footage revenue (Shutterstock’s footage is included in the above number) we might get to $360 million.  iStock revenue will be under $200 million. Of Getty’s $300 million about 60% is traditional RF, or at most $160 million. The remaining Getty revenue is RM.

When we consider actual images used we must remember that Shutterstock’s prices are much lower than Getty’s traditional RF prices. Therefore, in terms of actual number of images purchased Shutterstock vastly exceeds Getty even though the survey respondents say they go to Getty first more than three times as often as they go to Shutterstock.?

In terms of license type, survey respondents broke down their use as follows:

Traditional RF 34%
Microstock 25%
Right Managed 25%
Free Images 16%

Based on the analysis I have done of images downloaded worldwide, more than 96% of all images downloaded are at Microstock or Subscription prices and less than 3% are traditional RF. Clearly, any group of respondents that makes this much use of traditional RF are high end buyers that represent a small percent of the users and buyers of stock photography.

Nevertheless, the detailed results of this survey are extremely important and valuable as long as they are in the context of the real market.   

If “a majority (74%) of (these) buyers regularly sacrifice quality for price; and, a majority of buyers now have at least one subscription for stock images.” And there is an increasing belief that the price of stock imagery is too high. Then stock prices will continue to decline.

Since prices are already at a level where most producers trying to earn a living from their photography can no longer justify continued production; even lower prices do not bode well for the future. At current prices many stock photo agencies are also finding it difficult to remain in business. Image producers and sellers should carefully consider these survey results and the direction the industry is headed.

But on top of lower prices buyers want:
    “More unique images – we are seeing the same images everywhere.”
    “CURRENT (not dated) images.”
    “Fresh images at a faster pace.”
    “Better and more accurate keywords for search”
    “Stop posting photographer rejects.”
    “High quality images of real people and situations”
    “Pricing for social media”
    “Real photography that’s creative and realistic, affordable, and easy to get to. In other words, we want it all.”
There is a major disconnect between what buyers want and expect and what is economically possible for supplier to produce and deliver.

Copyright © 2015 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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