27 Jul 2011 Why Shutterstock’s New Keyword Trends Tool is a Big Step Forward

The data that would make the biggest difference to microstock contributors is locked up tight inside each successful microstock agency. Only rarely does any of it leak out. Why is that?

It’s Competition

If microstock agencies gave the information to their contributors, there’s no way to stop it getting into the hands of their competition: other microstock agencies.   You may ask what’s so bad about that given the competition already has their own data.   Well, not all agencies are created equal, and most of them think they’re better than their competition, so they hold on tightly to their data. There’s also a possibility that a microstock agency does better with a certain type of image or certain type of customer, so they don’t want their competitors analyzing their data to discover their strengths.

And Cost

There are, of course, many other reasons. But one that keeps coming up is cost.   This excuse is over-used by agencies.   It’s brought out to justify every denied request for changes that would make life easier for contributors. The specific wording varies, but it’s usually something like: “We can better serve our contributors by allocating our resources to attracting more buyers.”

We all know what that answer is and we all see the self-interest behind it, but we’re making these requests in order to maximize our profits, so we can’t be upset with microstock agencies for doing the same.

Breaking Through the Excuses

That’s why the new keyword trends tool from Shutterstock is so significant.   Shutterstock has invested resources in creating something not to boost their margin or to gain market share, but to help contributors know what images to create, what keywords to apply to them, and when to submit them. There are clear flow-on benefits for Shutterstock, but it’s a reversal of the pattern of investing in tools that benefit Shutterstock with flow-on benefits to contributors.

And in this case it’s no trivial investment.   They collected data for a year, then designed, built, tested and deployed a new interface. They also did so knowing that the data would help their competitors – Shutterstock is an entirely non-exclusive agency so the benefits for their contributor base are shared with other successful microstock agencies.

But They’re No Angels

But let’s not get too carried away by Shutterstock’s generosity just yet.   They are the only agency in the top four not to publish download figures which is clearly the most valuable data available to all stock photographers.

They’ve also blocked most attempts to overcome their under-investment in contributor tools by placing a CAPTCHA block on the contributor login page.

They also have no contributor functions in their API.

Still, this new tool is a positive step forward that we contributors would do well to encourage.

Useful for Both Trends and Comparisons

In addition to spotting trends to know when to produce or submit certain content, the tool can be used to compare keywords. This is powerful because you can know which of a few keywords is searched most frequently and then prioritize those keywords for your description (Shutterstock ignores titles).

You can also use comparisons to understand what to shoot.   Not only can you compare the demand for certain topics, but you can use the tool to drill down to details, like knowing what props to use and how to style a shoot. See Roberto’s comparison of technology props for a timely example. The tool is a little rugged for too complex an analysis, but as a free tool the quick insights it provides are extremely useful.

Do you see any other uses for this tool?

3 Comments
  • Cutcaster
    Posted at 13:01h, 07 September Reply

    I am confused by this comment,”They’ve also blocked most attempts to overcome their under-investment in contributor tools by placing a CAPTCHA block on the contributor login page.”

    What are you trying to say? They are using a CAPTCHA to keep contributors out?

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 20:30h, 07 September Reply

      Yes John, they have a CAPTCHA on their login page which inhibits most automated systems from logging in. Contributors logging in manually are fine, but it’s no longer possible to have 3rd party services logging in to your Shutterstock account automatically.

  • Ian
    Posted at 18:46h, 25 February Reply

    I’m experiencing very low sales on the other “top three agencies”.

    Is there anything contributors should do differently on those sites?

    To be honest I don’t understand it, I checked their visitor numbers, compared them with Alexa and Quantcast and I earn way less than the difference between their visitor numbers.

    Can somebody help me out / en-light me / give tips what may be the reason behind this? — I use the exact same titles and keywords. I only use 50 keywords on Dreamstime (I don’t have the time to include thirty more). My subjects are very varied… I’m an illustrator, I do classic illustrations in modern implementation, the works sells pretty good on Shutterstock. At least once, but more often 2-6 times a day.

    I don’t have a massive number of images… and I could use some extra bucks… :I

    Sorry this is a bit of topic, but I haven’t even known I’m uploading to the four biggest…

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