January 2, 2009

Spotlight on Shutterstock

Shutterstock is a subscription-based stock photo agency and one of the largest online purveyors of stock photos. Founded in 2003, the company has grown to include more than 5 million royalty-free photos in its library. The services are available by subscription, a departure from other online stock photo agencies which often charge per image. Contributing photographers are required to apply and submit ten images for review before they become a regular submitter to the library.

We recently spoke with Jon Oringer, founder of Shutterstock.

What kind of features does your service offer as compared to other stock photo sites?

Perhaps the largest and most fundamental difference between Shutterstock and other stock photo sites is that Shutterstock is a subscription-based service, which means that our subscribers pay monthly or annual fees instead of paying per image. Many of our customers use stock images on a frequent basis and enjoy the flexibility of having a subscription because they know they always have enough images for their needs.

A pioneer in the stock image world, we were the first online stock company to implement the popular “25-A-Day” subscription plan. These subscription plans provide the greatest savings per image with 25 downloads every day, totaling 750 each month.

Shutterstock also offers On Demand subscription plans, which are lower-commitment plans that allow subscribers to download images anytime over a one-year period. The On Demand subscription plans are ideal for businesses and individuals who do not need the volume of images offered in our traditional 25-A-Day subscription plans but still want the savings a subscription provides over a one-time image purchase.

Shutterstock has a number of unique programs such as the Red Carpet Program, which gives press passes to Shutterstock photographers for a wide variety of celebrity and special events. Another popular service is Shutterstock Footage, an online collection of stock video that operates in a similar fashion to our stock image site.

What's been the key to your company's success?

The key to Shutterstock's success has been our commitment to both sides of our business: servicing both the submitters and the subscribers. We have made uploading to the site as intuitive and financially rewarding as possible, which in turn has helped us become the largest online stock photo agency in the world.

Our commitment to a user-friendly experience is also evident on the subscriber side. We pride ourselves on providing flexible and affordable pricing plans and an easy-to-navigate extensive library of high quality images.

What do you think draws the creative community to Shutterstock?

Shutterstock's appeal is simple: we provide the greatest selection of quality, royalty-free images and footage at the most affordable price points. With the largest library in the industry -- over 5 million images -- as well as appealing pricing plans, we have the best combination of quality and affordability in the online stock photo industry.

How does your payment plan differentiate your website from your competitors?

The nature of Shutterstock’s payment plan is intrinsically linked to our success as an online stock photo agency. While other companies have a "pay as you go approach" or a complicated system of credits, Shutterstock employs a straightforward, subscription-based price plan, which we pioneered.

What different types of payment plans do you offer?

Most users subscribe to one of Shutterstock’s 25-A-Day plans; you can subscribe for one month, three months, six months or one year, with the full year subscription providing the lowest cost per image. We also have On Demand plans, where you can purchase a fixed number of downloads for use any time you want over the course of a year.

How can Shutterstock submitters make money?

By submitting a lot of quality images. Shutterstock’s service is designed to reward frequent submitters of marketable images - the more accepted downloads you have, the greater your payout is likely to be.

How many stock contributors do you have to the site?

Shutterstock currently has over 120,000 submitters.

How much money does the average submitter make? How much do your top earners make?

Submitters earn 25 cents for each image downloaded, which goes up to 33 cents when they reach $500 in total earnings, with extra raises implemented when they reach the $3,000 and $10,000 total earnings milestones. Submitters’ images can be downloaded hundreds or even thousands of times. As a result, submitters have the potential to make a sizable income, and many do.

What are the guidelines for submissions?

Our reviewers judge potential images by two basic categories. First, the image needs to be technically sound. Second, it needs to be marketable. Ensuring a technically sound image consists of having appropriate framing, focus, lighting, and lack of noise. Taking a marketable image can be more difficult; it is important for first-time submitters to keep in mind that what makes a good stock image is not necessarily the same as what makes a good photograph. We encourage first-time submitters to spend some time browsing through other successful images before they submit to get a sense of what a stock photo should look like.

What kind of photographs are you looking for?

Shutterstock looks for technically well-executed images that have a strong central idea or concept.

What are the other ways to make money on the site?

Submitting is, of course, the main way. However, we also offer a bonus of 20 percent (up to $50) of a subscription price if you refer a stock image buyer. Also, if you refer another submitter, you can earn 3 cents each time one of their images is downloaded.

How do you feel about Getty Images and Flickr working together? What sort of effect do you think partnerships like these have on Shutterstock?

The Getty/Flickr partnership is an interesting concept, but it is not likely going to have an effect on our core business. Flickr users are not uploading their pictures with stock photography in mind. Further, whether Getty Images will be able to thoughtfully cull viable stock images out of a library of more than 2 billion photos is yet to be proven. This said, since online stock agencies are beginning to affect Getty’s business model, it makes sense for the company to implement partnerships and strategies to increase its online stock presence.

Where do you see the stock footage business going in the next few years?

The online stock image marketplace has grown dramatically in recent years, and we expect the same for stock footage.
Businesses are increasingly using online video content to design more aesthetic and interactive websites, and the economic downturn has caused broadcasters, production houses, and advertising firms to look for affordable alternatives to shooting original footage or buying footage from traditional providers. As a result, more and more companies and individuals are turning to Shutterstock to fulfill their footage needs without compromising quality. Also, since Shutterstock provides a new revenue stream for filmmakers and videographers, our footage library grows by almost 1,000 clips per week and we recently exceeded the 80,000 mark.

Shutterstock is offering a special discount subscription rate to Black Turtle Media members. Please use CODE: BTM10 when signing up at