23 Sep 2009 Shutterstock Acquires BigStockPhoto

Market leading microstock agency Shutterstock have today announced their acquisition of rival agency BigStockPhoto. In a brief press release, the company explains that the two agencies will continue to operate separately, but that Shutterstock will invest heavily in BigStockPhotos’s marketing, infrastructure and user experience. The announcement didn’t include any financial details.

Shutterstock and BigStock

A Nice Fit

While not equal in size or performance, the two companies complement each other well. Shutterstock is the leader in subscriptions and the only one of the top agencies to not offer credits. BigStockPhoto is the only one of the top agencies which doesn’t offer subscriptions.

Shutterstock CEO, Jon Oringer, says in the announcement, ‘This addition will enable Shutterstock to better satisfy the diverse payment preferences of stock photo buyers worldwide. Given the different payment models, it’s possible BigStockPhoto shares fewer customers with Shutterstock than any of the other top microstock agencies.

A Much Needed Boost

BigStockPhoto has always been a quiet but solid outlet for selling stock. For many years they’ve been considered to hold a firm grip in the top five agencies.   However, in recent years most contributors experienced StockXpert moving into fifth position with the support of the Jupiterimages network. For the past six months, CanStockPhoto with the help of FotoSearch, has also surpassed BigStockPhoto in my earnings.

You can see the effect of BigStockPhoto’s falling appeal in the slower growth of their portfolio in this chart:

Microstock Agency Portfolio Growth Chart

With the additional investment from Shutterstock, BigStockPhoto has a greater chance of resuming their position in the marketplace.

Likely Positive for Microstockers

Microstock photographers have welcomed the announcement. By keeping the two agencies separate, contributors won’t lose an outlet. Additionally, the extra investment in BigStockPhoto’s marketing, infrastructure and user experience will presumably lead to increased sales.

It’s probable that the bulk of any increase in sales will come at the expense of other microstock agencies. As BigStockPhotos’s commission rates are neither the best nor the worst, that could go either way for contributors.

  • R. Kneschke
    Posted at 09:35h, 23 September Reply

    Since I haven’t bothered yet to create a BigSTockPhoto account, I would prefer to see the two companies joined… 🙂

  • microstockphoto
    Posted at 14:33h, 23 September Reply

    All these recent high-level acquisitions are both exciting and dreadful. They’re a sign of a vibrant market but also mean that fewer and fewer agencies will hold more and more power.

    Not sure whether this is good or bad for contributor: let’s hope less competition and better marketing will stop the price drop throughout the market and bring in new buyers, although this hasn’t always been the case recently. Luckily, Shutterstock is not used to lower paycuts – hope they keep on.

    • Steve Gibson
      Posted at 20:32h, 23 September Reply

      It will take many years, and I’m only guessing, but in the end there will be a couple of big players (corbis – getty owned?) and few small specialist outfits filling niches? crowdsource and the web might make things more even to what happened in RF, but well when Getty bought Istock the takeover ball started rolling…

      But it’s great news for bigstock and all of us contributing to them!

      • Lee Torrens
        Posted at 22:10h, 23 September Reply

        Interesting thoughts. I believe that if there become fewer top agencies it will become easier for new agencies to break in. I suspect this is a factor in Jon’s decision to keep operating BigStock as a separate business and Getty’s decision (at least so far) to keep StockXpert going.

  • Ann
    Posted at 01:36h, 25 September Reply

    Shutterstock buying BigStockPhoto strikes me as a good move, regardless of whether they remain separate or not – it’s a relief to read about a Different Big company buying stock photo agencies.

    About “Likely positive for microstockers” – I wonder if “increased number of outlets” tends to be a true plus for many contributors. I personally know only one microstock contributor who has reached payout with a newer (under two years old) company, but I also realize I don’t know the sales stats of the heavy hitters, and you have a much broader view of sales performance than I do.

    Economy’s tight, and a significant % of images are available on multiple sites (and customers are increasingly aware of it). As long as that continues, I don’t see new agencies breaking in, regardless of how many or few big agencies there are.

    There are subscription, credit buying, and literally buy-one-download opportunities; plus, downloads are already going for very reasonable prices. So acquiring agencies, acquiring exclusive satisfactory images and videos, acquiring new-to-stock-photo customers are the ways to go. Any big company that stays out of mischief and does one or two of those well should continue to prosper.

  • Theo
    Posted at 09:35h, 25 September Reply

    I am still really new to microstock but this sounds like exciting news. In my world, we get to keep the super friendly rejection messages from BSP but get a better looking and more streamlined website.
    That said, there is a tinge of sadness that sites really can’t do well against the big companies. Still, way of the world I suppose.


    P.S On a side note, excellent site Mr Torrens. Keep up the stonking work.

  • Holger Mette
    Posted at 21:44h, 27 September Reply

    Nice summary Lee. I agree that the change is probably beneficial for contributors, but I guess only time will tell. I think a good situation for contributors would be one where there are a fewer number of more successful agencies, while still maintaining competition. There seems to have been a pause in sites increasing prices – hopefully consolidation will allow for more opportunities to do so.

    At the moment it seems difficult for the many smaller agencies to break through the big gap that seems to be between them and the big 4. This move seems to consolidate Shutterstock’s position against istock which seems to have been gaining in dominance again lately – if it increases earnings for BS, that would be a bonus of course.

  • John Richie
    Posted at 20:05h, 18 October Reply

    Obviously there is strength involved when such companies combine, hopefully making it safer and more reliable for contributors. Whether the benefits of scale are passed on is another matter.

    However, small companies are usually on shakier ground, and vulnerable to the strong winds of recession and other variables in the marketplace.

    I have, for example, noticed that the small UK stock library Picture Nation (picturenation.co.uk) has been offline for about 10 days! -without communication directly to members like myself, although they have put up some sparse news on twitter. They talk about IT problems.

    Quote: twitter

    We are having some IT issues at the moment so apologies to all – we are working to get things sorted asap.
    2:44 AM Oct 7th from web

    We will be back online in the next few days – apologies to our members but the site will be faster very soon…..no pain, no gain 🙁
    7:22 AM Oct 12th from web

    18.10.09 The site still reads:

    Temporarily Unavailable
    We are sorry, our site is temporarily unavailable, we hope to be back with you as soon as possible, Regards


    Ten days offline!!!

    No recent twitter.

    Not sure what the heck is going on, so perhaps you or some of your readers may throw some light on the matter. Members pay £10.00 P.A. to submit.

    Regards, John.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 14:58h, 19 October Reply

      Sorry John, I have even less information about that company than you. There’s a discussion about them going on at Microstock Group where you’ll find people with more familiarity with the company discussing the situation.


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