The State of Shutterstock

February 25, 2014

2:38 pm

Is Shutterstock the bellweather of the stock photography industry, or the exception to the norm?

Shutterstock reported strong results, with 2013 revenue of $236 MM, up 39 percent from the year prior, and EBITDA margin of 23 percent, up from 20 percent the year prior. Even though sales and marketing increased by 25 percent from 2012, the company reinforced that their cost per acquired customer remained the same.

But how does that compare to the industry, and how far can this growth go? The total stock image market is estimated to be between $1.5 MM to $2.88 MM or more, depending on the estimate and whether you include and how you account for video footage, illustration, individual producers, and more. Shutterstock has indicated that the market can grow to $6 MM by 2017, but that’s an expansion that doesn’t fit industry expectations that the market is stagnant or declining.

So, how is Shutterstock growing? While Getty is far larger, with estimated revenues of ~ $900M in 2013, Getty certainly isn’t growing at a rate anywhere near Shutterstock, and neither is any existing stock photography company in the market. Simply put, a solid product for stock buyers, a wide library of images, smart partnerships, and strong marketing have driven Shutterstock’s growth to date, and continue to be the core of their business. Additionally, Shutterstock noted on the earnings call that their enterprise business doubled in 2013 and now represents 15 percent of revenue. While the company refused to estimate that the enterprise business would double again, they did predict growth would be at “the higher range.” Additional growth from international expansion and diversification with their education product Skillfeed are growth areas, but also come with their own risks and challenges.

The bigger question is how the stock photography market itself, and how the rising imbalance between the volume of images on stock photo marketplaces and community photography sites, impacts strategies in the space. Do emerging “social stock” companies like Twenty20Foap, and Scoopshot to an opportunity to source stock content from a broader community of contributors? Do community-driven photography sites like Instagram and others have the opportunity to turn their community into photo sellers? Do buyers want, at scale, more “authentic” imagery that can be sourced better from the crowd than professional photographers? Can social stock expand the stock photo market, or does it merely steal market share? Many observers cite the quality of imagery and the difficulty in filtering through images as major barriers to social stock, but I think the technical challenge of improving image search is one that someone will solve, to great profit. The issue of model and property releases is more challenging, and requires significant investment from the new photography community sites to build the infrastructure necessary to manage releases, but it’s possible to build.

Stock photo companies innovated in pricing (microstock) and mobile technology (of note, Getty, AlamyFotoliaImageBrief, Shutterstock and others have mobile apps that allow contributors to upload content directly from their phones and/or buyers to find images through their phones). But will they innovate in social?

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CEO of Foresight (http://foresight.is), building financial forecasts for thousands of growing companies.

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