Techcrunch reported on Monday that Shutterstock filed its plans for an IPO on the NYSE from which it hopes to raise $115 million (story here). IPO’s are interesting because you get to look at the financials of a privately held company that thinks it’s the next big thing. From the story:

According to its S-1 filing, Shutterstock currently offers one of the largest content libraries in the commercial digital imagery industry with over 19 million photographs and illustrations and about 500,000 videos from more than 35,000 contributors. In 2011, the company delivered more than 58 million paid downloads. The average cost per image on the site in 2011 was around $3. Shutterstock says that it had more than 550,000 paying customers in 2011.

Shutterstock is the infamous long tail in action, generating $3 here and there for its 35,000 contributors and according to the S-1 filing (read it here), reaping $120 million in revenue for the company in 2011.

Perhaps there’s a hedging strategy for photographers who see a continued decline in their own stock sales and a continued rise in micro stock?

In a report published in October 2008, BCC Research estimated that the market for pre-shot commercial imagery was $2.7 billion in 2008 and was projected to grow to $5.1 billion by 2013. Within this market, BCC Research defines two segments: the “traditional stock photography” segment and the online marketplace segment. The traditional segment is characterized by higher-touch customer relationships, negotiated image prices, and stables of professional photographers who shoot content exclusively for one agency, some on a salaried basis. The online marketplace segment, in which Shutterstock has historically participated, is characterized by self-serve ecommerce with simple, inexpensive licensing options and a large number of contributors from around the world. BCC Research estimated that the online marketplace segment would grow 51% annually between 2008 and 2013 to a total of $2.0 billion in 2013. In the same time period, the traditional pre-shot image market was estimated to grow 5% annually to a total of $3.1 billion in 2013. As the quality, quantity and awareness of pre-shot image licensing options continue to increase over time, we believe that pre-shot images will satisfy an increasing portion of the demand for commissioned photography, which BCC Research estimates to be a $12 billion market in 2013.

Since imagery is often a component of an advertising campaign or media production, the demand for commercial digital imagery is largely driven by the global marketing and publishing industries. In 2011, more than $466 billion was spent in the global advertising industry and $379 billion in the global publishing industry (including books, newspapers and magazines), according to Zenith Optimedia and IBISWorld, respectively. We believe that disruptive technological trends are expanding the role of commercial digital imagery within these industries and driving growth in the demand and supply of images.

Recommended Posts


  1. That $115MM extracted by the ShutterStock founders is the value left on the table by the 35,000 contributing photographers who sold stock photography for $3 a pop.

    Good to see *someone* is making money from stock photography.

    • Its easy to point blame on someone like Shutterstock, but its really not their fault… they are just trying to run a business like the rest of us. Yes its really frustrating at times to know that I lose work to them (I live in a small town, and most of ad stuff around here is stock), but its just as much the contributors who are to blame. Their aren’t many places teaching you the value of Images, and the people to blame are all of the photo schools out there who dont even touch on this subject. I am really grateful to both your blog and this sharing this information. As a young photographer its very easy to get bullied around price wise by big companies, especially when you are hungry for work.. so its easy to see how SS has gotten so huge.

      • It’s very sad that photos are averaging $3 a sale, but as Seth said, it’s not really ShutterStock’s fault. Corporations exist to make a profit, not to advocate for photographers. Why would they pay more when they have many thousands of photographers eager to sell images for this price?

        I’m all for educating photographers about valuing their work and charging as much as they can (something I regularly do), but in a free market you can’t get around the principle of supply and demand–there is a glut of photography that people are willing to sell cheap.

        Even if you were able to educate every single person selling stock photos, that wouldn’t solve the problem–many people would rather sell their pictures cheap than not sell them at all. I’m not happy about semi-pro photographers selling pictures at $3 a piece, but in a free market why shouldn’t they be allowed to do that?

        • Are all Americans born blind towards the benefits of regulation? Why do so many of them have such a big hole in their logic when it comes to economics, the market forces, etc.? I just don’t understand it.

          Hey, this is a free market, right, what’s wrong if millions of people decide to accept working for food and lodging, as slaves to large corporations? Why should we blame the exploiters? How could we possibly stop people from renegating from their dignity, labour rights, etc.? After all they are free to do so….

          BS, IMHO. There is no such thing as a free market, never was and never will be, speciailly in the most regulated of all markets, the United States of America. To those who do not believe that, I reccomend reading Robert Reich’s Supercapitalism.

          I doubt Shutterstock is a bussiness, I guess it is just trying to catch as much money from naive investors as possible before their bussiness model implodes. And if it is, it’s just because they keep the money that should be earned buy the photogs. I may be wrong, of course.

          But it’s no surprise. I understand the guru of the long tail, Chris Anderson hired people telling them Hey, come write for me: I won’t pay you, but you’ll get plenty of exposure and, who knows, maybe somebody else will notice you and offer a paid job…

          Why sound’t him right, it’s a free market. After all Arianna Huffington did the same and she became a millionaire. Those who accepted her offer didn’t, though.

          • I’m not blind to the benefits of regulation; I think the U.S. needs more of it (our recent financial crisis is one example of lax regulations leading to trouble). And I agree we don’t truly have a free market.

            But could you explain how regulation could help in the example of Shutterstock? Or specifically what kind of regulation would help professional, experienced, talented photographers from this race to the bottom economic reality?

  2. Web-based micro stock also has an “outsourcing” component to it, too, that seems to be just getting started. I’ve started to noticed more and more photos of, say, India that are made by Indian photographers in India. These “locals” from around the globe contributing to the stock pool will have a significant impact on the market going forward (which is as it should be).

  3. I’m trying to figure out what the actual estimated market for various segments would be in 2013.
    A link to the BCC report would be nice to have.
    2008 estimate of Total Stock Photography is $2.7b
    2013 estimate of Total Stock Photography is $5.1b
    The BCC breakdown:
    Estimated to grow %5 annually to a Traditional 2013 Estimate of $3.1b
    2013 $3,100,000,000
    2012 $2,952,380,952
    2011 $2,811,791,383
    2010 $2,677,896,555
    2009 $2,550,377,672
    2008 $2,428,931,116
    Estimates to grow 51% annually to a Online 2013 Estimate of $2b
    2013 $2,000,000,000
    2012 $1,324,503,311
    2011 $ 877,154,511
    2010 $ 580,897,027
    2009 $ 384,700,018
    2008 $ 254,768,224
    The article goes on to say, “we believe that pre-shot images will satisfy an increasing portion of the demand for commissioned photography, which BCC Research estimates to be a $12 billion market in 2013.” There is no growth estimate so I can’t compare estimated market share differences.
    If I plug their estimates into the future I get this:
    Year Trad. Stock Online MKT Total Stock
    2008 $2,428,931,116 $ 254,768,224 $ 2,683,699,340
    2009 $2,550,377,672 $ 384,700,018 $ 2,935,077,690
    2010 $2,677,896,555 $ 580,897,027 $ 3,258,793,582
    2011 $2,811,791,383 $ 877,154,511 $ 3,688,945,894
    2012 $2,952,380,952 $1,324,503,311 $ 4,276,884,264
    2013 $3,100,000,000 $2,000,000,000 $ 5,100,000,000
    2014 $3,255,000,000 $3,020,000,000 $ 6,275,000,000
    2015 $3,417,750,000 $4,560,200,000 $ 7,977,950,000
    2016 $3,588,637,500 $6,885,902,000 $10,474,539,500
    I dunno. 51% seems unsustainable. Maybe their investors don’t think so.

  4. The $3 average is kind of misleading. At this writing, it’s more like 25 to 38 cents per download for the bulk of images which are downloaded by buyers on a subscription plan. They get the $3 average by factoring in unique non subscription payments and extended licenses. The 25 cents is for new sellers and the 38 cents is what a contributor who has amassed over $10K will earn.

  5. Yep. I did a few stock shoots (self funded) only to find that although sales were brisk… my quarterly checks were about $20. That’s not per photo, that’s for a page-long list of photos. And that’s not with a penny stock site, it’s with a major player in RM/RF and subscriptions. Some sales are as low as $0.18. So lesson for me? Don’t bother shooting or contributing. Over a three year period, I’ve earned about $0.30 per image per year of high-quality fully-produced images. And it’s not easy, fast, or cheap to produce them. It’s not worth my time or electricity to make or submit more. I can earn more per hour working at WalMart. Now that’s saying something about the market.

Comments are closed for this article!