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Q&A: More Insights into GDUSA's 2013 Stock Survey

Ellen DesmaraisFor the fourth straight year, iStock by Getty Images is the exclusive corporate sponsor of GDUSA's annual Stock Visual Reader Survey. We asked Ellen Desmarais, Group Manager at iStock (pictured left), to help us put the results of the survey in perspective.


Q: GDUSA surveys over the past quarter century shows that stock visual use has evolved as a resource from marginal to mainstream to essential to virtually indispensable. 95 percent of creatives use it in their work and roughly two-thirds of creatives use stock more than 20 times during the year. The attitude has moved from grudging acceptance to an embrace of stock's value. Did iStock and its founders foresee this, and how much did their innovations and activities speed this process?

A: I don’t think the founders of iStock would be surprised. Getty Images predicted mid-priced stock would be a growth market and of strong interest not only to advertising professionals but other creatives as well such as small businesses. This foresight is why they decided to acquire iStock. The reality is photo shoots have become extremely expensive ‒ the delta between the price of a shoot and finding an affordable image has made stock more of a necessity today.

Our relentless focus on quality and unique imagery has helped advance stock as the core source of image use in marketing and advertising. People have this cliché idea in their head of what stock imagery is, but we offer extraordinary imagery that far surpasses what they envision. The line has become so blurred that it’s hard to distinguish whether or not a print ad or a TV commercial was created with stock imagery. That speaks to the exceptional quality of stock offered today.


Q: GDUSA's survey shows that iStock is our readers' favorite stock visual site by far (70 percent picked it as one of their favorites with the second place agency at 40 percent), and it is also their one 'go-to' site for microstock images (51 percent versus 16 percent for the second place finisher). Why did this happen? How did iStock craft a business and a business model that is so popular? What products, services, qualities seem to matter most to your customers?

A: iStock was an industry innovator when it was founded in 2000. What started as a platform for photographers sharing their photos evolved into the creation of the value-priced stock category in response to the need for creative professionals to deliver great work on time and on budget. iStock’s “for creative, by creatives” roots is still what our brands stands for today ‒ helping free creatives do their best work and remain inspired.

Specific to our business model, iStock pioneered the creation of a credits model in 2002 which has been extremely successful. The bigger credit pack a customer buys, the bigger the discount per credit which ensures our customers can find high quality content on a budget. In addition to maintaining our commitment to affordable pricing, including our recent decision to offer half of our library at half the price, we are constantly adding new, fresh content. As we’ve continued to expand and grow our collection, offering over 15 million files today, we’ve never strayed from bringing in a breadth of content that meets the highest creative standards. We have over 170 dedicated iStock creatives around the world, many of whom are contributors that review, edit and curate content for artistic quality before it goes live. To us it’s not about volume. We don’t accept every image that is submitted. Our focus on fostering quality is why we have this curation process.

In speaking with our customers, we persistently hear that quality matters ‒ although quality remains an elusive “you know it when you see it” construct. While our customers are budget sensitive, they are also looking for exceptional imagery they cannot find anywhere else. The overall search experience also remains a key priority.


Q: GDUSA's survey shows that designers are licensing stock visuals for multiple media, including print, digital/online/mobile, pop and packaging, and TV/film/video. How has iStock adjusted to the move from print and stills to a more diverse media world?

A: Areas like mobile and video are a huge area of growth for the overall communications industry. As you may have noticed, we recently dropped “photo” from our name, becoming iStock by Getty Images. When the site was launched in 2000, it was completely centered on stock photos. Today, we offer over 15 million hand-picked photos, vectors, illustrations, videos and audio tracks. By providing all of these files on one site, we offer the necessary resources for a producer to source all of their needed assets from one place. It’s such a dynamic market that we are constantly adjusting to ensure we provide what our customers need.


Q: GDUSA's survey shows creative license an extremely broad range of subjects areas. Some of these subjects are perennial such as People and Business/Industry. Others reflect changing economic, social and political factors such as a rise in Multicultural, Medical, and Nature imagery. By the way, a consistent criticism of stock imagery is that it is still not diverse enough – especially with regard to ethnicity, gender and age. How does iStock keep current with trends in demand? Do you believe you have done a good job accommodating changing demands as the world changes?

A: Getty Images has a research team that actively monitors visual trends. Internally, the team analyzes what search terms our customers use on our web sites. For example, if we see an influx of customers searching for ‘nature’ we can review our content and if we don’t feel we have enough images in our collection, our curators will make it a priority to source that content. Externally, the team tracks the changing use of visuals in advertising campaigns and marketing communications. A recent trend that our team has noted is what we call “Modern Maturity” or the increasing use of baby boomers in advertising with a focus on healthy, active, experienced faces that convey a sense of confidence, stability and freedom. We leverage these trends to surface the right content on our sites or educate contributors on the types of new content that is in demand. Right now, one of our big areas of focus is adding new local content ‒ with an expanding geographic customer base, we are constantly seeking new contributors who can bring fresh local perspective. Today, we work with more than 130,000 unique contributors from 103 countries.


Q: GDUSA's survey indicates that creatives are very pleased with the choice, content, affordability and delivery that the stock visual industry current provides. Looking ahead, they are also strongly confident that stock visual providers will be there for them with better choice and more robust technology. Still, there are some concerns and suggestions of change in the air: the growing fear of oversaturation and duplication as stock imagery becomes even more popular; the impact of the camera phone; the potential of crowd sourced image buying; whether searches will eventually migrate from desktop and laptop to handheld devices, etc. How does iStock view the future of stock imagery, which if any of these potential changes may come to fruition, and what do you see as the role of iStock (and/or Getty) in the future of the creative professions.

A: In the future, we’ll see a higher priority placed on quality rather than volume ‒ if we don’t, the customer gets short changed. Within the stock industry, every site has millions of images; it’s the basic cost of entry. For customers, having the right image rather than multiple images is what matters. With the ongoing content explosion, it will become increasingly important for customers to learn how to determine if content is exclusive. There is a surprising amount of overlap in the images you see from one site to the next.

People always ask me why exclusive matters. The answer is twofold ‒ it matters both in terms of the search experience and finding the perfect, stand-out content. In our experience, stock purchasers typically search and/or shop on three to four stock photo sites. If you’re searching that many sites, do you really want to see the exact same images? In addition, creatives want to find an image that can’t be found elsewhere. On iStock, we’ve added “Only from iStock” labels to make it easy to find content that is only available when offered by iStock. Customers can also see how many times a piece of content has been downloaded, providing a better understanding of its relative popularity which would otherwise be impossible to determine when shopping across multiple sites.

As for device proliferation, the reality is customers will work across devices. Stock image providers must continue to be where its customers are. Today, many of our customer searches come from mobile devices. Both at iStock and the Getty Images family of brands, it’s critical that our sites work across any channel our customers use over the course of their day. For example, a designer could use his or her phone on their morning commute to conduct a search, then use a tablet at a team meeting to show his or her colleagues the content, and finally complete the transaction from their desktop. We have a team actively exploring not only how to advance our customer experience but also anticipate what they’ll want next.