My name is Yuri Arcurs, and for those of you who don’t know me, I’m the world’s top selling stock photographer and founder of www.peopleimages.com. I have spent the last 10 years as a stock photographer and I´ve worked with over 100 stock agencies. Today I’m exclusive with Getty, but prior to that, I distributed to as many agencies as possible. Together with my distribution manager, I would go through a series of analysis for each new stock agency that would pop up to determine whether it would be worth our while to work with them. Back then I only had 40 000 images, but considering the time spent on uploading, categorizing, attaching model releases, etc. it still took months to get the images online. Before making the call to engage with new agencies I´d make a preliminary evaluation of the site’s potential success. Most of the time the assessments we made were right, and I believe part of my success is attributed to not wasting time on the wrong distribution partners.
Just recently a new player has entered the Stock arena. Adobe launched its “Adobe Stock” which is the biggest entry from a foreign entity that the stock industry has ever seen. On the online communities there are many opinions and ongoing discussions about this newcomer and the impact it might have on the stock industry. Instead of diving straight into the middle of these discussions, I thought I would do something different. Why not put Adobe Stock through the same preliminary evaluation process that we used to perform in order to determine whether or not we would submit our images to them? In the following article I will rate Adobe Stock on a scale from 1-10 on various critical criteria.
These days, the customer’s expectation regarding server speed is very high. They pretty much expect a loading time that is equal to that of Google, which is not easy to achieve. The first thing I noticed is that the stock.adobe.com website seems slow. At first, I thought the problem might be my connection or geolocation since I live in South Africa. To be sure, I ran it through various site speed testers and the results were quite interesting. The landing page of stock.adobe.com loads very fast, but a simple search for a keyword like “cute” loads very slowly. Repeat searches load quickly, but first time searches take as long as 6 seconds to start loading. In comparison, my own site, peopleimages.com, with a much lower “server budget” than Adobe, scores an average of 65/100 on Google’s PageSpeed Insights on a search for the keyword “cute” for example. Adobe’s stock site scores 52/100 on average. Shutterstock scores 47/100 on average between mobile and desktop users. If you get other results when testing this, share your findings in the comments section below.
Shutterstock.com 47 / 100 (Seems faster than scores dictate however)
Peopleimages.com 65 / 100
Stock.Adobe.com 52 / 100
Conclusion on Adobe Stock site speed: First search so slow you notice it. Second search ok. Not impressed!
Score: 2 out of 10.
Ease of Sign-up and Purchase
I logged in to my existing Adobe Cloud account and purchased a subscription for stock.adobe.com as an addon to my current account. To my surprise, it turned out that I had not purchased a subscription anyway and to this day I am still unsure what I actually purchased because I am not able to download anything. To add to this, support was of no help as I was referred to Danish support pages, which had no entries. A highly frustrating experience to say the least. Checkout and customer support are very standardised nowadays so I am sure these issues will be fixed. The puzzling aspect here is why the Adobe team chose to launch their new stock site without sufficient customer support. To me, the launch seems rushed, and the ease of signup and purchase experience seems to have a general lack of attention to detail. Personally, I tested my own site for weeks prior to the official launch date and would never have launched it in the state Adobe has. I believe the reason behind their premature launch is founded in them wanting the product out before the Adobe MAX conference in L.A. on Oct. 3rd 2015.
Conclusion on ease of sign-up and purchase: Sign-up and purchasing is troublesome to put it mildly. However, these issues are easily fixed. What worries me is that they chose to launch anyway.
Score: 1 out of 10.
Let’s compare search results. Simple search results for a set of common to not-so-common keyword combinations. Although the results I have listed below speak for themselves, I will go ahead and comment on them for the ease of reading this article and to spare you the trouble of visiting all the links. Keep in mind that these are keyword searches that I have chosen because they are cases where Adobe performs particularly poorly, it is not a fair judgement of quality per se.
About two years ago a similar comparison of search results was done by stock journalist Jim Pickerell, where my site peopleimages.com was compared to shutterstock.com. Jim Pickerell concluded that my site looked the best (hurray), which prompted Shutterstock into immediately optimising their results for the given searches rendering the comparison “fake” or staged. To put a damper on the “quick fix temptation” I´ve linked screenshots of the search results as they appear at the time of writing this article.
Common Keyword: Cute
Shutterstock.com – Accurate result, but pretty much only vectors and illustrations. Not ideal at all.
Peopleimages.com – Accurate result, but only a few images due to quality cutting.
Stock.Adobe.com – Very outdated and mediocre images. They are even serving some of the exact same images as Shutterstock on the first page. By exact, same I mean identical.
Rare Keyword: Retrenched
iStockPhoto.com – Very accurate result for a pretty rare keyword. iStock has been known to uphold a strict policy of correct and accurate keywording towards its contributors.
Peopleimages.com – Accurate result, but only a few images.
Stock.Adobe.com – Exceptionally unsatisfying result. With more than 30 million images to source from, the 29 images that come up are disappointing to put it mildly. People with army helmets and machine guns have nothing to do with being fired, and there are fair amount of them below what is shown in the screenshot.
Natural Language Keyword Search: Being Entertained
iStockPhoto.com – 200+ images. Result is not bad actually, taking into consideration that we are now looking at some very difficult searches.
Peopleimages.com – I must be honest and admit to a somewhat unsatisfying result here.
Stock.Adobe.com – Quite humorous and completely disconnected search result. There is pretty much nothing here that makes sense. From tomatoes and babies to grannies with massive laptops and hippies eating topless in a kitchen. The only thing to say about this search is that I was most certainly “being entertained” by looking at the results, but we are definitely not finding images of people that are actually being entertained.
Another issue to discuss while on the topic of search results is that Adobe Stock does not allow me to search in English. It keeps giving me zero results and forces me to search in Danish. I believe my Adobe account has it’s billing address set to my Danish company, but even if I logout the site simply won´t allow me to search in English. Does this mean I´ll need to change my billing address to an English speaking country and delete some cookies or? I can only imagine the desperation of design teams around the world who, in order to use Adobe Stock, will be forced to search for images limited to the language of the billing address
Conclusion on search result quality: Highly unrefined search engine that needs a lot of TLC and desperately needs new and modern images to compete convincingly. In the spirit of how this test was done I will still give Adobe Stock a solid 4, since some searches returned decent results.
Score: 4 out of 10
Adobe’s 33% flat rate in photographer commission reminds me of 2005. Literally nobody in the industry works with a flat rate royalty structure anymore, not even the agency that Adobe bought (Fotolia). If you want mediocre images, flat rate commission is great, but if you want excellent photography, you need to give more to the ones that go the extra mile and produce images that are more expensive, more competitive, more interesting, higher resolution, and higher selling. If an agency decides to give these photographers the same commission as everybody else, it is the same as saying that they don’t care about dedication, or at least that they don’t want to pay for it. Bad idea.
However, I’m pretty sure it won’t stay like this. The 33% commission is probably the biggest misunderstanding in the Adobe offering and I simply think it is an overlooked aspect right now in favor of higher priority issues. A commission of 33% is exceptionally low in microstock and most agencies have top tier commissions into the 40%+ range. This leads me to believe that the reasoning behind the low commission is either that it is “coming soon” or that Adobe really wants to make money on their new project. If the royalty rate of 33% is not a “mistake” or “to be defined later” then we need to seriously upgrade our thoughts on Adobe’s ambition here. Then they are setting out to make serious money, take a huge chunk out of the stock industry and be a big player.
Conclusion on Photographer royalties: I think there is a pretty good chance that we can use this 33% flat rate decision as good indicator of initial ambition, even if it’s changed later on. Adobe wants to make money, right now… and takes on a “too simple” and “too low” royalty structure.
Score: 2 out of 10.
With single images costing as little as 5USD, and mini subscriptions of 10DL per month for 30USD per month, Adobe is placing themselves in the lowest price category we have ever seen from a “serious” agency. This kind of price point only makes sense in ultra high volumes, and since they are serving the exact same non-exclusive images as Shutterstock, the strategy appears to be clear here. Adobe Stock is not trying to take customers away from higher priced agencies such as iStock and Getty, they are trying to underprice the “underpricer” (Shutterstock) and simply convert its customers to Adobe Stock. It is ironic for me to have been part of an industry for more than 10 years now that got the nickname “micro” stock, and now witness a new competitor entering the scene 10 years later with a pricing strategy that aims to underprice microstock. What are we to call this? Nano-stock?
Regardless of whether we believe in this “low-price strategy” or not, we have to accept that the offering is extremely competitive. The only problem they will face selling images this cheaply is getting new images, because at these prices photographers make so little, that they can’t afford to produce new content.
Conclusion on pricing: Adobe is going for an aggressive low-price strategy that aims directly at taking customers away from Shutterstock, Depositphotos, Dreamstime and similar microstock sites, but less from higher quality/higher priced sites. As photographers we might not agree with this strategy, but for customers, this might just work out to be a great solution to supply their “basic” image needs.
Score: 10 out of 10
What search functions? Adobe Stock has five basic search expansions in the sidebar and they are by no means convincing. The industry is way beyond that. On peopleimages.com you can search for countries in the fashion of “Norwegian girl” and get images that are rated by Norwegians as looking Norwegian. You can search for looks, for copyspace placement, for clothing type, body type and the list goes on. Also keep in mind, my site is not the only one with highly advanced search functions. On iStock you can search for copyspace in a manner that is even more refined than on my site. While these search functions are rarely used by customers, they are loved dearly by the types of customers that use stock images frequently. These customers represent a small percentage, but they buy a lot!
Conclusion on usability and search functions: Not impressed by search functions at all. Way behind industry standard. Even for a first launch.
Score: 2 out of 10.
The Adobe offering is nowhere near ready for a big marketing push or spending millions on Adwords, which it seems they are currently doing. My site was also spending a lot on Adwords up to a few months ago when Adobe launched, and the price per clicks suddenly became so high that it made no sense to do so anymore. So somebody is spending a lot, and it is most likely Adobe. In the current state of their site, I believe it is money right down the drain. That being said, Adobe has a lot of it and can push marketing to an extreme that the industry simply cannot keep up with. Nobody in the stock industry would be able to financially keep up in advertising spend should Adobe decide to push hard. This is rather scary. Particularly because Adobe Stock will not stay as unrefined and unpolished as it is now. Most of the problems we have identified are all fixable and will probably be fixed in the not so distant future.
Conclusion on marketing and future potential: Adobe has a huge brand that every creative person in the world knows. It has deep pockets and they are probably already putting that to use from the increase in Adwords prices since their launch. I believe they are spending money prematurely on Adwords marketing, but they can afford it.
Score: 8 out of 10
Overall Conclusion – A rough start for big ambitions
(Overall Average Score: 4.1/10)
So to answer the question “Would I, back in the days, have distributed my images to this agency?”, the answer based on the above evaluation would be a definite “no”. If this new agency was anyone other than Adobe, I would not have considered joining the site. However, it is Adobe, and it is unlikely that the issues highlighted above won’t be fixed over time.
The only problem that is not easily solved is image quality and in this regard, I will put my head on the block and claim that Adobe bought the wrong agency (Fotolia) to get into the market. My own customers on peopleimages.com are often complaining that shutterstock.com and fotolia.com looks outdated and refer to the images as looking “old”, “bad”, “too similar” and too heavily populated by cartoons and vectors. Peopleimages.com is doing better than ever exactly because of this quality drop and my iStock and Getty sales are on the rise for the same reason. By purchasing fotolia.com Adobe got themselves one of the biggest collections of mediocre images the world has ever seen and now they must find a way to deal with it. It´s pretty clear to me that Adobe got themselves a really bad deal in spending 400mil USD on Fotolia.com and with my customers feedback in mind about disliking an outdated look, I believe they have a much bigger problem than they think they have.
While analysing Adobe’s entry into stock it’s worth mentioning that Shutterstock offers the exact same images as Adobe Stock (and I mean identical). They offer the exact same type of subscriptions and single image download models. Shutterstock is finding themselves face to face with Adobe like no other stock agency out there. They even acquire customers the same way, using millions on Adwords and SEO, except now Shutterstock has a bigger brother, with deeper pockets. I see Shutterstock as potentially the biggest loser from the entry of Adobe Stock and it seems to show already since their stocks have dropped so low that if they go just a tiny bit lower, Jon Oringer will no longer be a member of the billionaires club… ouch.
Another problem Shutterstock is facing is that unlike Getty, Peopleimages, and iStock they don’t have a distinctive look nor do they have exclusive images as a selling point. To make things worse, every single buyer of a Shutterstock image loads that image into an Adobe program at some point. Adobe basically has their straw straight down into Shutterstock’s customer list. So if Adobe decides to, they can entice their users to sign up with Adobe Stock and make it very attractive to discard any Shutterstock subscription. What do you think will happen when the avid Photoshop user starts experiencing small in-program suggestions to join Adobe Stock with offerings that are cheaper than Shutterstock for the same images? Let’s face it, Shutterstock is replaceable but there is no other viable alternative to Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc.
I think Adobe will get around the initial IT hiccups pretty fast and do quite well. The defining moment for when I would consider Adobe dangerous in terms of impact on this industry is when they solve two major problems: a) Image quality and b) Photographer commission and ultimately quality of submissions. That would also be the point in time when Adobe could start pushing Adobe Stock via their product line, primarily through Photoshop and Illustrator. The photographer commission structure that gives more royalties to better photographers, is an easy fix. The image quality problem is a much bigger issue.
I believe Adobe think they have an idea about how to fix the image quality problem: They would probably think that they could use the Adobe product line to push for photographers to make submissions via their applications (i.e. directly through Photoshop). They would use this to gain access to new photographers and new content that was currently not associated with stock photography and build a unique collection that way…
STOP RIGHT THERE… That is not going to happen.
There are no decent photographers in the world that don’t know what stock photography is and haven’t tested the waters already. The barriers of entry are the same for submissions via Adobe Photoshop as they were back when they tested the waters. Images still have to have model releases, have to be keyworded and retouched. It is not because photographers do not know about stock photography that they don’t submit images, it’s because it is heavily time consuming to do so, and to make things worse, images are often rejected because of quality issues. Submitting directly through Photoshop (if that was to become an option) is no different and Adobe will be unpleasantly surprised about the quality of images coming through that channel and the actual impact they will have on sales.
Adobe needs to look outside the range of their new pet, Fotolia, to actually find good enough images to stand out and that is not going to be easy.