Stock Photos & Technology with Shutterstock’s Jon Oringer


Shutterstock is a leading provider of stock photos, illustrations, and footage, with a collection of 12 million crowdsourced images. Shutterstock specializes in subscription products and pioneered the model of stock photography on subscription.

Answering questions on technology in stock photography and the future of the industry is Shutterstock’s CEO Jon Oringer:

Bob:You’ve made some excellent tools to reach more customers through social media over the last year or so, partly by leveraging contributors’ eagerness to share their own portfolio updates and improve their sales. Have these tools provided real value to the business and do you see projects in this space continuing to develop over the long term?

Jon:The innovative tools that we’ve developed, such as our Facebook application and Shuttertweet (both of which enable our contributors to alert their followers when they’ve uploaded or sold images), have certainly been a factor in our growth. We see social media platforms as an important, long-term way to maintain relationships with our customers and contributors.

Bob:Most of your stock photography sales and customer relations take place online, in contrast to traditional agencies that often have closer ties to individual clients. How has this affected the ways you find and retain customers on such a large scale?


It has always been our goal to make buying from Shutterstock user-friendly and convenient, so from the start, we’ve been committed to providing the best customer service possible. Our site is translated into 10 languages and we have dedicated customer service representatives who provide support in each of those languages.

Planning for growth is a challenge for any online business. Thanks to a talented IT team, we have been able to stay ahead of many technical challenges and focus on innovations, such as making our search engine more intelligent.

Bob:Most stock imagery is independent of spoken language, but is instead applicable based more on culture. Do you find that trading globally you have to face this issue, and with significantly different cultures coming online (Africa, parts of Asia and South America) more over the next few years, how (if at all) will geolocation technologies affect the imagery you provide for customers from different cultures?

Jon:It is absolutely true that images are not one-size-fits-all. Different pictures resonate in different markets. We are fortunate to have contributors all over the world, who supply us with images that serve the needs of international customers. We feel having a diverse collection is important to our growth, and we keep encouraging our contributors to supply ethnically and culturally diverse images.

Bob:Crowd-sourcing relies on the power of the Internet to find, manage, and support content producers and the images they produce, whereas traditional agencies can often create closer links with a smaller number of artists. How does operating on a large scale affect your relationship with contributing artists?

Jon:Despite our large scale and the long-distance relationships we have with many of our artists, we have a good relationship with our contributors. Our artists put great effort into producing better and better images, and we keep working to improve the contributor experience, including adding new features to our site. Of course we are especially proud that many artists say we’re their top earning site.

Bob:Established microstock agencies are often criticized by contributors as having lengthy submission processes (some better than others), especially given that content-producers are increasingly providing a greater volume of images as their business develops. Is your agency hearing this directly, and if so how are you using technology to address these issues?

Jon:We believe our review process is among the fastest and most transparent in the business, especially with our new batch upload system. Reviewing is still a human process, however, and we have to reject a lot of images to make sure our collection meets our customers’ high standards.

Bob:Image-theft (both intentional and through ignorance) is rife at present, with search engines making it so easy find images, but with very little information about what rights people have to use the images they find. How do you see technology to educate image-users about image rights developing, and what technologies do you see most useful in converting stolen images into legitimate sales in future?

Jon:We believe we’re part of the solution to the problem of image infringement. Simply put, we provide a place where customers can browse a large selection of images and legally download them for use, with the artists getting compensation.

Bob:The popularity of cheap digital camera technology, easy global Internet access, and photo websites such as Flickr (which Getty is already making inroads to capitalize) and Facebook, is leading to increased popularity of guerrilla-licensing models (creative commons, mpl/gpl, elective public domain and even WTFPL). There are millions of images (and videos) which could affect the industry, do you think this is a blip, or a long-term trend, and if the latter do you think there is anything the industry can do to mitigate any negative effect.

Jon:We’re a long way away from DIY licensing models being trusted enough for professional use. We spend a lot of time, energy, and money to make sure every image in our library stands up legally, because we know customers count on us for that. We also back all our images with a $10,000 legal guarantee.

Bob:There are a lot of people concerned about the effect services like Google image-search is having on the ability to find images. Some hail them as the savior of image sales, others as the devil incarnate. Do you see Google/Bing/Yahoo image indexing as a risk or an opportunity for your agency (or image licensing in general), and how do you intend to mitigate/capitalize on this?

Jon:We view image search sites, especially Google Images, as opportunities for potential customers to find us. We’re doing everything we can to make sure our images are in there and indexed appropriately.

Bob:Due to the increasing popularity of the iPad and tablets like it, the rich-content magazine format is finally becoming popular, giving a potential boost to a previously bemused traditional print market. It offers a huge opportunity for digital licensing, but may be mostly in favour of traditional agencies where the print organisations already have a contact-base. Do you see it affecting your business, and if so, how?

Jon:We love the iPad. Have you seen how good pictures look on that screen? Any product that results in demand and appreciation for high-quality, professional images can only be good for us and the photo industry in general.

Bob:What do you think will be the new big technologies coming into stock photography over the next few years, is there anything on the horizon you see as a game-changer, or has the stock-revolution ended since migrating online to a crowd-sourced model?

Jon:We can’t predict the future, but we know this business doesn’t stand still for long. Will motion be the next step? We were the first to offer crowdsourced royalty-free footage, and are watching the evolution of HD video very carefully.

Profile: Shutterstock – Microstock Photography Agency

Shutterstock is a leading provider of stock photos, illustrations, and footage, with a collection of 12 million crowdsourced images. Shutterstock specializes in subscription products and pioneered the model of stock photography on subscription.

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One Comment

  1. Posted February 10, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the interview Bob. I hope the iPad and other tablets creates a hot market for our images. It is a very fun device, it would be very cool if it it also created significant profits for photographers.

One Trackback

  1. […] dem letzten Interview mit dem Shutterstock CEO John Oringer auf dem PicNiche Blog hatte die Social Networking Funktion Shuttertweet auf jeden Fall einen Anteil am Verkauf. Ausserdem […]

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