Will More Images Grow Revenue?

Posted on 5/2/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Will more images in an agency collection grow revenue? Is more choice always better? Shutterstock is adding 1,608,350 new images a week to its collection. That’s 229,764 new images a day. The average customer reviews 500 or fewer returns before changing search parameters. So how do they make it possible for customers to review all those new images?

Consider a few searches:

  Image Returns
Barbecue 1,184,479
Barbecue party 153,188
Family cookout 3,220
Soccer 1,158,849
American Football 145,006
New York City Skyline 154,773
Woman in office, computer 696,016
Family recreation 214,412
High school sports 29,221

There is no human editing of accepted images. The theory is that customers will do the editing for them. With technology and artificial intelligence, the agency is able to track what customers see and pass over, as well as what they purchase. Then they are able to show the next customers what others have liked.

But, at some point that no longer works. The agency doesn’t want to just show images that have been previously purchased in the first 500 returns because it wouldn’t be long before there would be enough images selected at least once that new images would never be seen.

On the other hand, they don’t want to show just the newest images that have never been purchased because none of the first 500 might be what the customer wants and they must assume that most customers will quit looking if they haven’t found what they want after reviewing 500 or fewer images.

Thus, if the purpose is to maximize sales, they will probably want a mixture of images that are brand new and have never been used along with older images that have been good sellers.  

Let’s suppose that within the first 500 images shown in any keyword search at least 250 have been used at least once and 250 are images that have never been used. The first customer to do a search chooses one of those that has been previously used by someone else, or she passes over everything and doesn’t find anything she wants to use.

Presumably, the next searcher will be shown a different group of unused images. With 229,764 new images a day to go through there as a lot of other new images that need to be shown at least once before they re-show to a second customeran image that was shown before and rejected. It would take 919 searches to get through all of one day’s new images at least once.

The next big question is how many times do you allow an image to be passed over before it is no longer within the first 500 shown. Shutterstock says they currently have six searches a second so they could go through 919 searches in about 2.5 minutes. Thus, it would be possible for the same image to be passed over 576 times in one day.

Obviously, not all the 279,764 will have all the same keywords. Some will be images of very popular subjects and others will be images that are seldom requested. Let’s assume they allow a new image to remain somewhere with the top 500 search returns and be passed over 250 times before it is pushed below 500 in the search return in order. Thus, new images of a “barbecue” or “soccer” might stay high enough to be seen for a little over 12 hours if one of the first 250 people to look at it doesn’t license its use.

Other images of subjects that are requested less frequently might stay where they can be seen for a few days, or a few weeks. But, of course these are of subjects that are not in very high demand and the subject is not purchased frequently.

If you still think more is better, consider these comparison figures between October 2015 and October 2018.

  2015 - October 2018 - October
Shutterstock 63.7 million images 233 million images
  38.1 million DL 43.9 million DL
  69% downloads 18% downloads
Adobe 40 million images 100 million images

Between October 2015 and October 2018 the number of images in the Shutterstock collection jumped from 63.7 million to 233 million. Downloads during the same quarters only grew from 38.1 to 43.9. So, if each image was downloaded only once and no image downloaded multiple times 69% of the images in the collection were downloaded in 2015 and only 18% in 2018. Of course, we know that many of the images used were downloaded multiple times during the quarter so a much smaller percentage of unique images were downloaded in each case.

Adobe’s collection grew at a much slower pace. We don’t know how many downloads they had in either case. However, we do know that in 2018 Shutterstock’s overall revenue only grew 12% while the revenue of Adobe Stock grew 25%.   

Copyright © 2019 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Thomas Wear Posted May 4, 2019
    Just a quick note on the Shutterstock to Adobe comparison. Shutterstock (and iStock and others) accepts unreleased "editorial" images, which opens up room for tons of images that Adobe won't take, especially "travel" photos with unreleased people and places. So Adobe isn't necessarily being any more selective than Shutterstock et al, just that there's a huge class of images they won't consider. But that might prove attractive for those shooting commercial images, since they may be part of a smaller pool, and one more specifically marketed to those clients.

    The revenue growth comparisons are interesting, but need to be understood in the context that Shutterstock, being older, is probably pretty close to a plateau in market penetration, while Adobe is still growing. Since Adobe seems to be (so far anyway) ignoring the "editorial" market, which is a larger consumer of images than "advertising", I do have to wonder how much more Adobe can increase its sales going forward.
    In my limited experience, in 2018 Shutterstock's Return Per Image (an imperfect but easy to determine stat) was considerably higher than Adobe's. Though that is without identical image sets to compare, so it's not a completely accurate indicator, but the different was about 3X.

    The good news is that there's really no need to choose one or the other since in general microstock agencies are non-image-exclusive (a few like iStock offer somewhat higher royalty rates for exclusives, but IMHO it's not really worth it, since the prices are so low anyway -- better to spread the images as widely as possible.) Each additional distributor requires some additional work after upload to conform to the agency's specific requirements, but in general the majority of the work (captions, keywords, enhancement of the image,etc.) is done before doing any uploading, so widely distributing the images increases the potential return on that work.

    OK, so it wasn't "a quick note"...

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff