twitter instagram linkedin pinterest GDUSA on Google+ follow us on Facebook

27th Annual Stock Visual Survey

10 Things You Should Know About the Future of Stock

First, stock visual use has evolved into a staple ‒ indeed, essential ‒ designer resource in an image-centric world. Essential is a loaded word and some may chafe at it. But if you simply look at frequency of stock visual use, it is hard to argue otherwise. As a practical matter, frequency of use continues at an all-time, record-breaking, once-unimaginable level. Nearly every designer uses stock visuals in his or her work, and it is not unusual to utilize several images in a project and hundreds over the course of a year. The 50 year trend has moved stock elements from marginal to mainstream to essential to (almost) indispensable.

Second, stock visual usage works because its central value proposition ‒ choice, accessibility, convenience, affordability ‒ dovetails perfectly with the tight budgets, the short turnarounds, the challenging assignments, the multiple media, the demanding clients and the digital workflow that now shape the graphic design business. In addition, content has taken its place, along with the other attributes, as a primary reason why designers turn to stock The result: an abundance of choices at a broad spectrum of prices delivered by an increasingly fluid and responsive infrastructure.

Third, search, delivery and licensing methods have undergone a revolution for the better, driven by the spread and maturing of digital technology. Given the importance of stock imagery in the creative and budgetary process, it is no surprise that designers want to control the decision as to image and method of license. And nearly nine-in-ten designers do so, while a mere one percent disclaim any role. The primary reasons for selecting a particular stock provider? Price, quality and ease of use are at the top of the pyramid.

Fourth, the subjects for which stock is used and the media in which they are used continues to expand. The perennials ‒ people, business, and lifestyle ‒ remain popular. But many more categories are now in demand, reflecting economic and cultural shifts: for example, this year, medical/healthcare, education, and multicultural/ethnic images are among the most frequently licensed categories.

Fifth, it goes without saying that creatives today work in and across multiple media. Not surprisingly, they license stock in and across multiple media as well. Print remains the number one medium for stock is licensed, and other print-related media such as point-of-sale and packaging also generate lots of stock usage. But, of course, stock elements for online design continue to soar and motion graphics, such as film, video and television make their presence felt.


Sixth, over the decades, royalty free licensing has come to dominate the creative marketplace. The reasons are clear. Royalty free possesses traditional advantages of rights managed stock but promises even greater ease and affordability. And two models have pushed the envelop with great success. Micropayment sites are now used by two-thirds of designers and subscription plans have been adopted by more than half of the respondents. Neither model was envisioned two or three decades ago but they are hugely popular and exquisitely calibrated to the times.

Seventh, rights managed collections remain viable when they add value. More than one-third of respondents license rights managed in their mix, and many say they turn to rights managed imagery for its originality, distinctiveness, exclusivity. Loyalty is deep for selected rights managed collections and for specialized or niche collections that offer depth, expertise and personality.

Eighth, stock has achieved legitimacy. It is widely accepted, largely appreciated and often preferred. With the facts on the ground has come a subtle ‒ but meaningful ‒ change in attitude. As skeptical as designers can be, they understand that stock visuals help them work smarter and stay balanced on the tightrope that is the graphic design business of today. Not everyone loves it, but everyone gets it.

Ninth, there are a few potential disrupters out there, for good or ill, to the way stock imagery is sourced, licensed and used today. One is the growing fear of oversaturation and duplication as stock imagery becomes even more popular. Another is the camera phone, and how camera phone pictures and user-generated imagery will be used and may otherwise influence styles. A third is crowdsourcing, where clients request what they want and Interested upload photos in the hopes they gets picked. Yet another has to do with what device designers will use to search for stock: so far, they strongly prefer their desktops and laptops but the shadow of tablets, handhelds and apps is out there. And, finally, will search engines challenge dedicated stock sites as a starting point of stock searches? So far, the answer is no. But tomorrow is another day.

Tenth and finally, designers see the future of stock imagery as more of the same and that is a good thing. They expect the future to bring even more abundant content, higher quality imagery, and increasingly efficient infrastructure.What is the future of stock visuals for the design community? There is nearly universal belief that stock visuals will continue as a central creative resource because the value proposition will be as pertinent five, ten or twenty years away as they are now. In addition, most designers also expect aspects of the stock experience to further improve as content becomes more sophisticated and technology advances.