In this article I will analyze the activity of the main stock photography agencies I have collaborated with in 2019.

The ranking and personal opinions are coming from an independent photographer, actively involved in stock photography for over 15 years, who has multiple collaborations with different stock image agencies. Last year, I was constantly supplying all the agencies with an average image flow of 80-100 images/week and occasionally footage, making a total of about 2000 images and 400 footages to my total portfolio of over 20,000 images.
The top ranked agencies of this classification received photos very frequently, as I am trying to maintain a daily supply rate with new images. This rate decreased progressively so that the agencies from the last positions and those that did not reach the top 8 ranking received images only a few times a month.

As overall impression, the year 2019 was marked by the implementation of AI (Artificial Intelligence) technologies in different processes and at different scales, practically in all the agencies I’ve been collaborating with. Technically, their results are impressive, but their application needs to be done very careful to have positive effects for all. As any incipient process, it is still marked by errors.
In 2019, there was a significant decrease in income for almost all agencies, generating a performance that can only be compared with the beginning years of the whole process of modern stock photography, between 2000-2004.

As usual, my classification has two aspects. The ranking of the agencies is given exclusively by their financial performance. Every agency has a secondary characteristic, which is stability. This is a highly subjective measure because based on my great experience gained in this field, I’m estimating the future evolution trend of the agency. In a previous post I described the criteria I used to make my classification.

I am personally interested in working with agencies that can provide solutions and lasting results, which help you develop and sustain certain portfolios and I am not at all interested in those that are based only on temporary results, completely neglecting a long-term relationship.
Here is the 2019 ranking:

1.Shutterstock(B2-drop from B1): Shutterstock is probably the most illustrative example for its attempts to bring up complex AI-based new technologies. At the moment it is an agency with an extremely well-developed technique. Pay attention, I didn’t say perfect! They automated quite well the process of receiving images; they created an interface for photographers with highly useful functionalities that can integrate very well into their overall workflow. Image presentation and real-time sales reports are done extremely well, genuine technical jewels in this field. And yet they are only “B2-negatively moderate”, which means one very small step from “C-Bad” category, that is, one step away from being a bad agency. Why? Because all these technical jewels are not related to growth, or even maintaining a reasonable level of profit for the photographer, who is the basis on which they were able to develop this technique. For some time now, the evolution of financial results on Shutterstock has been declining, lately reaching limits which are hard to accept. If they continue in the same way, they will begin to descend definitely in my top where, for a very long time they held a firm leading position.
In addition, the impressive automation of their systems had a negative impact on the support department aimed for photographers. This was “updated” in a way that it became extremely difficult to access and also, they lacked direct and rapid contact with people directly involved in their management team. For a while they excelled in this area.
I really hope that in 2020 they will upgrade their level of organization in which all these technical developments to be at photographers’ service, who with great work and dedication are supporting them. That is, to help photographers to achieve appropriate income according to their efforts.
They should be concerned about adjusting the income of all active photographers, not just those who specialize in topics that are selling easily. At their level, all types of images are extremely important to them and contribute to ensuring the success of the agency. A good idea would be if they would introduce a differentiated system of photographic retribution: those that are sold in large quantities to generate smaller profits for each photo sold, and those that are not sold in large quantities to generate larger profits for each photo sold. In this way any photographer, regardless of his specialization, will be able to reasonably earn, according to his professional quality and abilities. Considering their level, they could achieve this, as technologically this is possible.
It is worth mentioning their tendency to present themselves as a technology company trying to minimize the role of their contributors, who have made and still are making important efforts to create their database that allows them to successfully implement futuristic technical measures.

2.Istock by Getty Images(B2-drop from B1): Surprisingly, they remain in second place in terms of income and as stability they are, just like Shutterstock, about to be a bad agency. The generated income is extremely reduced. Their story is different from Shuterstock’s. They are now an integral part of Getty Images. Getty Images is the largest stock agency. They reached this position by practically being the first agency that in the past managed to introduce a system for selling pictures on the Internet. They did this a long time ago, before the microstock period. In this way, with different aggressive marketing and management strategies, they have developed a huge market. Their development was stopped by the appearance of the microstock phenomenon through istockphoto.com. Then, in order to stop the disaster they purchased the istockphoto and tried to transform it.
I recounted a bit of this story in order to understand their paradox:
In recent years, as an old and highly powerful agency, they did not have the capacity to modernize and generate an integrated, performant and fully functional solution from a technological point of view for selling pictures. At this moment, they have an extremely hard-working system in which, for example, the process of supplying new images is extremely difficult and laborious. To this is added an earning reporting system frequently marked by painful and worrying delays. Also, the lack of a live sales reporting system, which is now a standard in this area, seems to be an extremely uncomfortable reminder of the old photo selling systems from their glory days long before microstock and isotckphoto.
To these extremely negative technical problems is added, to complicate the situation even more, some hesitant managerial attitude and an extremely distant support for photographers.
The shortcomings of Istock by Getty Images and Shutterstock may actually be the expression of their inability to manage such a large and complex number of images in the face of high-performance technological changes and upgrades that are happening at an amazing speed.

3.Adobe Stock(B1-stable): Adobe Stock is a great expectation among large agencies with great potential alongside Shutterstock and Istock by Getty Images. They are a newer agency than the other two. As we know, they are the manufacturers of the most advanced image processing software of any kind. They have a huge and completely different market than the other two. Because of this, they can afford to approach this world from a completely different perspective and generate a whole new concept of image distribution, truly creating innovation in this area. For this, they should be highly original and not follow the steps of their predecessors in creating stock photography (Getty and Shuterstock). They need completely new people to be able to generate unique innovative strategies.

So far, their evolution seems to be slow, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Technologically, they are still far from the Shutterstock’s level, but they have made important technological steps. The most delighting thing about them is that their commission policy seems to be much more favorable than the agencies mentioned above, but the number of downloads is still very low and the revenue generated is far from being satisfying. In addition, they have a very good support program for active contributors, with encouraging and positive offers of using their software for photographers.
Moreover, the support system for photographers is, practically, the most performant of all the agencies. I hope they will manage to maintain it as they develop. Direct access to the people involved within their systems is extremely easy, which is not the case for other agencies. For now, they are only in the “B1-positively moderate” category, with very high chances to advance in the main A-Good category. They are not yet there because their pace and direction of development are not very clear positive, and the number of downloads requires a significant improvement to validate the commission policy that seems positive, even innovative.

4.Eyeem(B2-drop from B1): It is an extremely new agency with a rapid evolution. And they have a perspective that could prove a great and positive innovation. They are in fact a combination of a common application, like Instagram, where potentially commercial photos are selected and presented for sale either through Getty Images or directly through their agency called “Market”. Unfortunately, this year it was revealed the secret of their incredible evolution from the incipient period. It was a masked positive remuneration of photographers by subsidizing sales through Getty Images, thus artificially increasing the commission of photographers.
After reaching certain levels it could no longer be sustained and generated a considerable decrease of revenue. In other words, initially to create a false impression of positive efficiency, the photographers’ incomes were falsely inflated. After returning to lower prices, normal ones, things went much more difficult, but the agency remains in position 4 and managed to overcome other agencies such as Dreamstime, for example. Technologically –wise it is extremely low. Their technological part is extremely confusing, being a combination between a social community photographic site and a stock agency that greatly disadvantages the absolutely necessary aspects for a commercial stock photographer. Also, the association with Getty Images makes the revenue reporting extremely random and insecure.
That is why, compared to the last classification, it has dropped from B1 to B2 and is one step away from being a bad agency. Also, after the events mentioned above, the management and the relationship with the contributors became a bit confusing. Still, it’s worth watching anyway. They are still very likely to be something really new, especially if they will develop their specific part of the agency (Market) instead of focusing on collaborating with Getty.

5.Depositphotos(B1-drop from A): their evolution was practically constant compared to the last classification. Communication with them is extremely good and constant. The performance it generates is extremely low to be considered in the powerful agencies category. For this, it should present a significant performance increase, but this was not noticed compared to last year. The decrease of the generated income was not significant but it was a decrease nonetheless. As a general opinion, it is one of the agencies with the best evolution in the last year.

6.Dreamstime(C-stable): Unfortunately, the evolution of Dreamstime is not at all encouraging. The decrease in performance observed in previous years continues very clearly and there are no signs that the situation will improve. Technically, it is an agency with a well-functioning website, probably with many facilities that are not necessarily needed. These good technological achievements are not at all correlated with a favorable evolution of the results they are generating. Maybe now that they have finished implementing different modern technical solutions, they will also find ways to improve their activity so that the results will be noticed also by photographers.

7.Pond5(B1-stable): It’s an agency with a very good evolution. Because the performance gained through them is low, they failed to progress towards stage A, but they are very close. It is an agency in which the income has been increasing compared to last year, but at a minimal level. It remains a solution only for the distribution of footage. Regarding photos, their performance is extremely bad. But in the video area, I think it is the most efficient agency. For remaining only in B1 category and not promoting in A contributes to a great extent also the fact that this year they were in a period of managerial perturbation. They tried to introduce all kinds of new licenses and to introduce exclusive and varied sales schemes. In my opinion, they complicated the system too much instead of simplifying it and making it more efficient for the contributors.
These assessments are perfectly valid for their part of photography because, as I said, for the video part they are much more efficient. On the other hand, I still not have a significant video portfolio and therefore I am not able to appreciate this sector. However, my video portfolio is growing faster and therefore, the results on Pond5 are improving. And Pond5 has ascend one step in my ranking compared to 2018. So, this is one of the most positive agencies at the moment. The support of the photographers and the communication with the management of the agency is good. The technical side is acceptable, however.

8.123rf(C-stable): It’s a disappointing agency, just like Dreamstime. Unlike Dreamstime, 123rf does not excel at all in the technical area either. The site is quite confusing, the image inspection system is very slow, complicated and random. The commissions and the number of sales are extremely small. Only by chance did they reach this top. Anyway, they have decreased a position and if they do not change something major, we definitely won’t find them here anymore.

If my classification is interesting to you, please leave your comments and opinions, especially related to the use of stability as a criteria in defining agencies.