Picture of success

When Shutterstock burst on to the scene more than a decade ago, its proposition was very straightforward: a two-sided, crowdsourced marketplace that brought contributors together with customers looking to buy their images. At its heart was a promise of affordable assets and simple licensing.

Twelve years on, Shutterstock has grown exponentially – 80,000 contributors now meet the needs of more than 1.3 million active customers from 150 countries – and, while the business has diversified to include illustrations, music and even video, Gerd Mittmann, VP, Marketing APAC & EMEA, says its core principles continue to set it apart.

Gerd Mittmann ()

“As the leading global provider of royalty-free media assets, we want to provide a valuable service to businesses, marketing agencies and media organisations around the world through a straightforward, two-sided marketplace. That still stands in everything we do.”

“Both sides of the marketplace are equally as important to us,” he adds. “You can have the best content in the world, but if you don’t have the right platform, you will never succeed. Likewise, we can’t attract the best customers if we don’t have the right content providers – so our two-sided market is really our main strength. It allows every storyteller to download affordable assets, in an easy way, and for whichever platform they want.” 

Mittmann adds that, in today’s multi-channel publishing world, Shutterstock’s straightforward licensing model is all the more valuable. “We offer a truly royalty-free license,” he says. “You can license an image once and use it across platforms and for as long as you like. You don’t have to negotiate different media rights and different lengths of use. It’s that simple. We do offer an enhanced license for those with a distribution of more than 500,000, or for those looking to license for merchandising purposes. But for the majority of our customers, our standard license is cost-effective and simple, no matter how many platforms you have.”

Evolving with market demands

In the 12 years since Shutterstock’s launch, its offering has evolved considerably – expanding into new areas as the media landscape has rapidly changed and publishers’ demands have evolved. Having launched with still images, illustrations and vectors, in 2006, Shutterstock began adding video, as publishers realized the value of including the medium into their content – although Mittmann says the real opportunities around video began to emerge four years later.

“Recent advances in bandwidth and camera technologies have really driven demand for video,” he says. “We have seen marketing companies increase the use of video in their ads, and that’s partly due to the quality of footage available now. Better camera technology has a direct impact on the quality and volume of video content submitted to Shutterstock. It’s allowed us to attract customers we couldn’t previously reach. Now, for example, we are seeing our content appearing in Hollywood movies – in the latest Wolverine movie, there is a scene containing an explosion. Rather than film original content for that explosion, the footage was sourced through Shutterstock. We now have over three million video clips on the site and it is one of the fastest growing areas of the business.”

Shutterstock Summer 2015 Reel from Shutterstock on Vimeo.

Other launches have also taken place. Music is now available in the form of PremiumBeat, a high-end curation of royalty-free music. Bigstock, a value-oriented stock media agency has also been added, as has Skillfeed, an online marketplace for learning. WebDAM, a cloud-based digital asset management platform for businesses, is another new product now available.

Mittmann says all these product launches were driven by in-depth analysis of data.

“Data drives all of our decision-making,” he says. “In our product development world, we are always using data to drive decisions. Our decision to add music, for example, was the result of our customers telling us they wanted music or sound effects to accompany their content.”

“But we don’t just use data for product launches. It is at the heart of what we do on a daily basis. It is data, combined with the fact that we have the same relationship with all our contributors, that allows us to offer a completely fair service for all our customers. That combination means that when someone searches for a green apple on Shutterstock, they will get images of green apples. We have no incentive to put forward a certain – and possibly irrelevant – image due to certain terms with a certain supplier. And the green apple that comes up will be the most relevant – or popular – depending on what the client stipulated in their search query. That translates to helping our customers to find the content they need – fast.”

Looking to the future

Another major development in the growth of Shutterstock has been the rapid rise of social platforms.

“Research tells us quite clearly that when you add imagery or video to a story, you get better engagement and better response rates,” says Mittmann. “The click-through rates rise and the amount of time people spend on articles goes up. Since content producers, publishers and storytellers have increased the volume of content they are pushing out through social, the demand for our assets have also increased.”

So how does Mittmann see Shutterstock evolving form here?

“We are always thinking about how we can continue to evolve and innovate – to help our customers further and to ensure we are providing the services they need,” he says. “That’s why, for example, at the moment we are looking at how we can help Facebook’s advertising clients. For them, we have come up with a solution whereby they can select up to five images to help drive the click-through rates of their Facebook ads. Again, it’s one agreement and royalty-free.

“Moving forward, we are of course focused on content hubs and editorial,” he adds. “By acquiring Rex Features, our London-based editorial image agency, and having recently developed a partnership with Penske Media (PMC), it is clear that we are taking a significant step towards that area.

“And we will continue our international expansion. Four years ago, our business was purely based in New York City. Since then, we have opened operations in London, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam, among others. International growth is an amazing opportunity for us. It allows us to build teams who are focused on publishers’ very specific needs. In different countries, publishers act differently and have different requirements – so it is important we get close to them and provide the services they need.”

Whichever direction the business goes in from here, Mittmann is clear that the principles and ethos of the business launched 12 years ago will continue to be at the heart of the modern-day Shutterstock – easily obtainable, high-quality assets, at affordabable prices.

This article was written for FIPP.com as part of a Shutterstock sponsored content series.

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