Shutterstock: A Thought that Built an Industry

Images and other media files like videos, music, or GIFs are increasingly being used across blogs, social media channels, and ebooks. Over the years, with the booming popularity of visual-based contents, the need and demand for media files have strikingly increased. This has caused individuals and businesses to turn towards stock media agencies to buy images and other media files, which are free from any copyright issues.

When talking about stock media agencies, Shutterstock’s name is probably the first that comes to our minds, and for all the right reasons.

Shutterstock is a leading global technology company, offering high-quality assets, tools and services through its creative platform. Together with its growing community of over 400,000 contributors, Shutterstock adds over 1 million images each week, and currently has more than 200 million images and more than 10 million video clips available on the platform.

However, before the surging popularity of Shutterstock, the company was shouldered by one man, Jon Oringer, amidst all the challenges that he had to face.

The beginning

Back in 2003, Jon discovered a business need for affordable images, while building a website for an online pop-up blocker company which he had started. His options were limited. He could either go through a long, complex and expensive licensing process or produce his own shoot with a professional photographer, which was quite expensive at the time.

Jon knew that if he, as an entrepreneur, was facing this problem then there would be thousands or millions of people like him around the world in a similar situation. Over a one-year period, Jon shot over 100,000 pictures and put 30,000 of them on a website which he coded himself and was later on called Shutterstock. With $10,000 of his own money, he carefully spent each dollar and worked to get a return from the start.

Over time, Shutterstock revolutionized the stock image industry with a simple subscription model, royalty-free images and a user-friendly interface. It was pretty much profitable right away as people were buying his images, it was an exciting phase as he knew he had really hit on a global need. Once he saw that, Jon opened it up to other contributors so they could sell their work through the site.

Current market standing

Today, in addition to the creative assets sold by Shutterstock, the company also offers free editing tools to its creative customers, allowing them to create something unique and personalized for their company or brand. From the Shutterstock Editor, you can also post directly to social media channels, thereby speeding up the whole process for its customers.

Shutterstock has also seen a rise in the need for authentic branded imagery that reflects everyday life today on a hyperlocal level. As a result, Shutterstock Custom, which enables businesses to scale the creation of custom branded visual content, is amongst its fastest-growing products. As methods of marketing and advertising keeps on evolving, Shutterstock anticipates the demand for more diverse and personalized visual content to continue rising.

In addition to all these, Shutterstock owns companies like Bigstock, a value-oriented stock media agency; Offset, a high-end image collection platform; PremiumBeat a curated royalty-free music library; and Rex Features, a premier source of editorial images for the world’s media.

The initial hurdle

As mentioned beforehand, Jon started Shutterstock with 30,000 of his own images and $10,000, which he carefully spent and worked upon to get a return from the start. “Getting started was the most challenging part,” recalls Jon.

Self-funding motivated Jon to focus on the essentials needed to move to the next phase. This translated into a complex lifetime-value calculation which drives Shutterstock’s acquisition model to this day.

Jon also set out to introduce the subscription model to the stock photography industry. At the time, the only option to purchase stock images was to pay per image and you had to know where you wanted to use the image, for how long, in what countries, what formats, etc. It was complex and expensive, but Jon knew he could change that to be better suited to the digital age. He understood that Shutterstock could only be successful if the marketplace had the network effect of both the buyers and the sellers.

To kick-start the marketplace, Jon licensed 30,000 of his own images on the platform to attract the first customers. From there, he opened the marketplace up to other photographers, designers and illustrators and now the community has grown to more than 400,000 artists, videographers and musicians from all around the world.

The changing landscape

Digital transformation and the evolution of technology has left Shutterstock’s customers, including those in the advertising, film and media industries with an ever-increasing need for more visual content.

Speaking about the changing landscape of the industry, Jon mentions “The world around us is becoming increasingly visual as businesses compete for their customers’ attention and try to stand out as their audiences scroll through the noisy web. The competition for attention has led the market to grow beyond images to include video and music as well as innovative tools to improve the customer workflow in the creative process. As Shutterstock expands into workflow and tools, the market gets much larger.”

With its vast pool of collection, the importance of being able to surface exactly what a customer needs with advanced search and discovery tools is essential to the continued success of Shutterstock. The company’s 15 years of experience have provided it with more than general knowledge and know-how.

“Shutterstock has collected data on search and download patterns, and we’ve also grown better at identifying where the company should be dedicating resources to the next big thing, whether machine-learning technology or new content offerings. All of this is shared with Shutterstock’s customers and contributors in a variety of ways to further inspire them as they work on projects,” Jon asserts.

The vision ahead

Shutterstock is focused on further developing its existing business, particularly within the fast-growing areas like its enterprise offerings, as well as more editorial contents. Shutterstock has also always distinguished itself by providing the highest quality of customer service, fresh contents and the best search experience, adding up to the superior value for the customer. The company is continuing to build industry-leading technology to improve its offering by leveraging computer vision and AI technology that will enhance the customer experience and ultimately improve the creative workflow process.

Jon’s vision for the future of Shutterstock is bright. As the Founder and CEO, he directs the company’s focus which remains on providing customers with all of the content and tools they need to bring their ideas to life. Jon is constantly assessing technological advancements and industry changes to determine the best step forward for its business and to ensure there is plenty of room for growth.

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