in Interviews, Stock Performer

How did your forecast turn out? We ask Steve Debenport!

Steve Debenport is one of iStock’s leading exclusive contributors producing great content in large volumes. Back in 2015 we spoke with him and asked him how he saw the industry evolving. This is what he said:

It seems to me that Getty/iStock and Shutterstock are the only major players in town now. Adobe is trying to get in to the mix but I think their quality is rather lacking at this point. Going forward, I believe there will be more mergers and buyouts with Getty being even more active. I have no inside information on this, that’s just my gut feeling.

We reached out to him again, 5 years later, to ask him how his forecast turned out and what he makes of the current coronavirus situation. We couldn’t resist asking him how he sees the future evolve! Here the follow-up interview:

How do you feel your forecast back then turned out? 

Thanks for reaching out again Luis! The stock image market is a lot different than it was 5 years ago. Adobe has turned out to be a major player, and seems to already be rivaling Shutterstock and iStock in many ways.

Under the current climate it is extremely difficult for a new major player to enter and compete with the current leaders, but Adobe has been able to because of a few distinct advantages.

One, they already have a huge customer base in their graphic related tools, many of them also being stock image buyers. And two, their dominance in the software space allows them to not have the need to rely on image and footage licences as their primary source of revenue. They can essentially undercut the competition, since unlike their competitors, they don’t need to depend on stock image profits.

Copyright: Steve Debenport

How have you experienced the industry in these past years? Have you been able to adapt to the changes and maintain a sustainable business?

The last 5 years overall have been very good and fruitful for me, although it has not been without many challenges. But I also believe that without challenges, we will have very little growth both personally and professionally, so I see them all as a good thing.

In retrospect, I see how making whole-sale changes to my business model has made a huge difference. Some of these were in reaction to outside influences, and sometimes due to proactively anticipating changes in the industry. Early 2014 for example, was a very challenging time when iStock introduced a true subscription model. The long-term effect has been positive, but in the short term I experienced a large drop in revenue.

Then in 2016 I came to realize that I indeed had to make a few big changes to how I ran my business, as the stock image supply numbers were growing so exponentially fast and would continue to do so. That is when I ramped up production by beginning to assemble a solid production team, of which today has become a very gifted, creative, and hard-working group, all passionate about creating great commercial stock imagery. Together, we can create content at a much higher level of production and scale than wasn’t possible before.

That’s also the time that we started experimenting with the stock video market, and today produce about 1,500 footage clips per year. Video tends to take longer to reap consistent sales from, and are now starting to pay off. Video is where I see the most potential for growth going forward, due to the continuing increase in client video needs and the more difficult technical barriers of entry for artists.

How has the current coronavirus crisis affected your stock photography business? And how and when do you think things will get back to “normal”?

There are 2 sides for every Stock image business: sales and supply. In our experience, the Covid-19 pandemic did not drastically change sales overall. Most freelancers and companies were still spending a lot on stock, although their behaviour changed in what types of images and videos they needed.

For example, if you happen to have had a great deal of social distancing and surgical mask images before the pandemic, then your sales would have been quite good! On the supply side, it has definitely been a challenge to create great sellable content amidst the business shutdowns of 2020. We typically produce a lot of quite large shoots with 10+ actors, so we’ve adjusted down to more frequent, but much smaller sets. We’re also now spending more time investing in digital art media. 

Where do you think the industry is moving next? How do you see it playing out and how are you preparing for it?

Let’s see, where is that crystal ball I had laying around here 😉 It’s really anyone’s guess, but there are definitely current trends that I see continuing. Stylistically the industry seems to be moving more and more to an authentic and realistic style of shooting, almost documentary-like.

If you were to look back over the last 15 years of best selling photos, it’s clear how these styles have changed and are continuing to change. From the types of models, clothing style, lighting, shooting, and realistic settings, all have changed very drastically. And I see these stylistic changes continuing over the next few years, and also matching more and more of how young people use their mobile phones to take photos. 

We are making adjustments every year to how the market is valuing these types of stylistic changes.  And as I said earlier, we’re investing more and more into video. The footage market diversifies our offerings and also has a lot of growth potential for us. 

Thank you very much!

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