The Impact of Intense Competition between Shutterstock and AdobeStock: A Race to the Bottom in Image Quality

The Impact of Intense Competition between Shutterstock and AdobeStock: A Race to the Bottom in Image Quality

In 2016, the stock photography industry witnessed a seismic shift as two behemoths, Shutterstock and AdobeStock, the aquirer of Fotolia, engaged in a fierce battle for supremacy. What began as a quest for market dominance swiftly descended into a race to the bottom, where image quality took a backseat to quantity.

Initially, the competition seemed healthy—a drive to provide customers with the best possible images. However, as AdobeStock emerged as a formidable challenger to Shutterstock’s dominance, the dynamic changed. It became less about offering superior content and more about sheer volume, a race to see who could amass the largest database.

Shutterstock, long considered a leader in the industry, faced an existential threat. In response, it opted for a controversial strategy: abandoning the meticulous curation of its image selection process. This decision had profound consequences. Suddenly, the floodgates were opened, and a deluge of subpar content inundated Shutterstock’s once pristine library.

What’s more, in pursuit of quantity over quality, Shutterstock began accepting virtually everything submitted to it. This move led to a steep decline in the overall standard of images available. Even images of the poorest quality, once deemed unworthy, found their way into the catalog, diluting the pool of available content.

The repercussions of this approach were felt far and wide. For content creators, especially those entering the market, the landscape became increasingly challenging. With the absence of stringent selection criteria, new content struggled to gain visibility amidst the sea of mediocrity. Search results became dominated by established, popular images, leaving little room for newcomers to make their mark.

Professionals within the industry bore the brunt of this practice. Established photographers, who prided themselves on delivering high-quality work, found their contributions drowned out by the influx of inferior content. Their livelihoods were threatened as clients, inundated with subpar options, turned away from the platform altogether.

This created a vicious cycle, reminiscent of a dog chasing its own tail. The lack of visibility for new content stifled its potential for growth, perpetuating a cycle of stagnation that proved difficult to break.

In the end, the fierce competition between Shutterstock and AdobeStock had detrimental effects on the industry as a whole. It led to a decline in the overall quality of available images and hindered the ability of new creators to thrive. For Shutterstock, it’s imperative to reassess its strategy and reintroduce a degree of rigor in its image selection process. Failure to do so risks perpetuating the vicious cycle, ultimately undermining the entire stock photography industry.


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