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Shutterstock Clone Website - How to Create a Website like Shutterstock?

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Yuri Musienko
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In order to create a decent and competitive application like Shutterstock, first of all, you need to decide what you will have to deal with, not only from the point of view of the client, but also from the position of the developer and service provider.

Competing with Shutterstock is not easy. This company has managed to do a lot on the way to its success since its foundation in 2003. The conclusion is simple: you need to take into account all the shortcomings of the company and repeat its achievements, both technical and tactical, adjusted for the current pace of development and general development of technologies.

The main thing is to understand that not everything can be implemented right away. This platform rose from relative lows for a long time, while absorbing other companies and receiving large investments from outside. It is difficult to count on this in this context, because, although there is no doubt about the success of the project, it is almost impossible to initially understand at what stage and in what volume the investments will come.

And the last thing to understand: creating a complete copy of a stock photo with slight design differences is a big mistake. The main points should be repeated, but a lot will have to be added, and sometimes even reinvented.

Shutterstock's historical journey (milestones, achievements, comments)

Let us analyze all the main milestones in the existence of this microstock. This is necessary in order to determine which steps on this path were correct, which were wrong, and which do not stand the test of time. It would seem that it is enough to copy a ready-made software solution - and you can start filling your own database of images, hire authors and count your honestly earned money. In fact, the analysis of the achievements and mistakes of the past will speed up the development of your own project and avoid many problems along the way.

First stage

First of all, it is worth remembering that Shutterstock is not only a company with a name, but also a solid history, and this online platform has existed for 17 years (since 2003). Initially, its creator followed a fairly simple path, uploading 30,000 stock images to the platform and making them available according to the following scheme:
  • the user pays for the subscription (its price was $ 49 then);
  • he is given full access to all images with unlimited downloads for a month.
It is not recommended to start with this scheme at the present time, since the number of images for a similar price was worthy only at the moment when the photobank just appeared. Shutterstock currently contains no less than 260 million stock images. At the same time, a relatively non-standard policy allowed the platform to gain tremendous popularity. Soon, demand exceeded supply, and the site took the position of an intermediary between hired authors and clients. This move should be considered at least worthy, because, in fact, at this moment Shutterstock took the main steps towards transformation from a fairly typical, even at that time, photobank, to the largest online trading platform. Also, one of the important steps was the policy of hiring authors instead of uploading their own photos on their own.

In 2006 Shutterstock launches Shutterstock Footage, thanks to which the original power of this stock over the audience begins to spread to those who need video content.  Not only popularity, that also is a demand, is growing, but also proposition: in just a year (from 2006 to 2007), the number of images in the database more than triples (from 570 thousand to 1.8 million). In this case, we highlight two important points at once. The first is work for the audience in terms of mastering new and at the same time related industries. This allows not only to expand the audience of the platform at the expense of adherents of this type of activity (in this case, the priority for some clients is video over photos), but also to master a new, promisingly profitable type of activity, which, if the main content (and this is quite possible over time) begins to lose popularity, become a lifeline.

August 2008 was marked by a fateful decision for the company. Subscription-based operations are a thing of the past, giving way to the à la carte system. Its point is that each product has its own price and must be purchased separately. The “On Demand” service helps to implement this economic policy, which also removes restrictions on the number of downloads within one day. This scheme is still used by the company, which clearly demonstrates its advantageousness in comparison with the previous one. This is logical, because it is much easier to buy the desired product and use it for your own pleasure than to get temporary access to everything at once.

In 2009, Shutterstock will liquidate one of its competitors from the market through a purchase. It's about the rival photo agency Bigstock, which was involved in microstock photography. This purchase not only removed a competitor from the market, but also moved this microstock to the level of companies such as Getty Images (also a credit photo bank). Photobank creator Jon Oringer said the expansion would allow the platform to better meet the diverse payment preferences of stock photography buyers around the world. It was a decent move as the Shutterstock team killed three birds with one stone:

  • reached a new level of competition by absorbing a competitor;
  • expanded their audience and functionality;
  • competently presented this to customers, earning themselves popularity points.
The latter is no less important than purely market factors, since not only income, but also the very existence of the platform depends on the audience, some of which can be alienated even by incorrect wording. This is not to mention the fact that this whole combination consisted of only advantages, since it turned out to be the most profitable investment in all respects. Unlike, for example, the initial moves on the path to widespread popularity, this one definitely stands the test of time, since it is aimed at meeting the needs that depend not only on the technical side of the issue, but also on the human factor, which, with all its variability, still retains certain points to always consider.

From the point of view of the internal economy, the takeover of a rival firm always has both advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are a solid influx of customers, the availability of new, often unique functions, the ability to retain qualified personnel who previously worked for a competitor, as well as broad prospects associated with the merger. The disadvantages are more than obvious: a rather significant amount of money leaves the turnover, which takes time to recover. Also, it almost always takes some time to learn how to use the obtained technologies and methods as efficiently as possible, or the means that allow you to hire specialized specialists. Although the definition of these moments as shortcomings should be supplemented with the important word "temporary", since later they will be eliminated in a natural way: the funds will only increase, technologies will be mastered in full - in the case of a thoughtful and balanced purchase, this is inevitable.

The first stage ends in 2011. In February, the company's management announced a two-year partnership with AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) dedicated to providing hired authors with specific products such as creative inspiration. And again, a good move: to have a rather authoritative organization as a kind of allies and to focus on a necessary and at the same time very ephemeral factor. The result is known: both companies and clients and authors win - everyone gets what they want. Also, free app Shutterstock for iPad released this year, which is causing a storm of excitement among Apple users. When it comes to applications, it is always better to choose the giant as first partner, that has already achieved tremendous success, but at the same time is interested in making the application work with its products; it was difficult to find a better candidate than the brainchild of Steve Jobs under such conditions. As a result of all of the abovementioned, the company's management announced that the company licenses more images than any other brand in the world. It is possible that this was true, but at the same time it was more like boasting and had no confirmation from official sources.

Let's summarize the results of the first stage. As it turned out, there is definitely a lot to learn from the then seemingly amateur application. Here is a sample list that everyone can supplement for themselves separately:

  • combined support for photo and video content;
  • à la carte system;
  • service that removes the limit on the number of downloads;
  • the possibility of removing a competitor from the market by absorbing his company;
  • development and optimization of mobile applications for popular operating systems;
  • cooperation with reputable companies;
  • a constant increase in the amount of content, maximum speeding up of this process.
Now we move on to the next stage, when the project, which is gaining momentum, has finally practically finalized its policy and turned into, without exaggeration, a business giant in its industry.

Second stage

The number of downloads of licensed images and royalty-free stock images was gradually growing, in 2012 it reached 200 million and 18 million, respectively (and even then, the second number refers to April of this year, in May it was already 19 million - the growth is simply colossal). In May 2012, the companies announced a new tool - Shutterstock Instant. It was needed solely so that the images were shown in the form of a pleasant-looking mosaic, which increased the viewing speed. This is definitely worth considering for anyone looking to replicate Shutterstock's success. The mosaic will allow you to view all the photos together, compare similar ones and quickly scroll through the unsuitable ones, which again saves the most valuable resource of all existing - time.

The basis for the implementation of this tool was the recently launched Shutterstock Labs platform, which is designed to develop tools and interfaces for the site. Such platforms are simply necessary when working with photo banks, since without them the development of the necessary software components will be delayed, and the chances of success will significantly decrease.

The company then takes another major step and submits a subsequently accepted initial public offering application on the New York Stock Exchange. Collaboration with this largest US exchange was intended to show competitors that Shutterstock is currently a significant figure in its industry, which should at least be very seriously reckoned with.

The constant development of the company, of course, did not slow down further. Already in November of the same year, a universal application is published, which is supported by all devices using the iOS operating system. A comment on this issue has already been given above - cooperation with such a giant always gives points to popularity and good chances to raise your income level. The only novelty was that now the application could be opened on an Apple smartphone, and not just on larger devices. It should be added here that such an optimization scheme is a bit surprising: isn't it easier to optimize applications immediately for the operating system, and not for each specific device? Perhaps it really looks like this for clients, but the difficulties for the developer at that time were that there were simply no ideas for how to make viewing on the iPhone as rich and enjoyable as on the iPad, but this was only in the early stages of the existence of a mobile application.

It would seem what could be more, but in 2013 Shutterstock presents the world with a tool called Spectrum, which was created with the purpose of finding images. By that time, the number of photos, images in vector graphics and illustrations in the stock portfolio was, to put it mildly, an impressive 24 million. By that time, the company's website had already operated in two dozen languages, including Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Korean, German, Portuguese, Russian, Thai, French and Japanese. Such a language policy commands respect, since in order to attract a new audience, a truly colossal work was done on own materials, which gave a very high-quality result. This stage was closed by a cooperation agreement with the famous social network Facebook, which made it possible for everyone who orders advertising on the network to use stock images of this platform.

As a result, we have a few more fundamentally important points that can be easily borrowed from this platform:

  • display of content in the form of a mosaic;
  • “labs”-type platform for the development of interfaces and other software solutions and components;
  • if there are adequate opportunities - cooperation with the largest and most reliable financial institutions;
  • optimization of mobile applications for different devices, regardless of screen diagonal;
  • photo search tool;
  • serious language policy (the more languages the system supports, the better).

Third stage

Already in September 2013, Shutterstock launched Offset, a marketplace that prioritized the best high-end photography provided by renowned creators. As a result, the content becomes better, if not to say elite.

And already a few months later, what many fans of this stock have been waiting for a long time happens: the team releases an application optimized for the Android system. In theory, this should have happened approximately at the same time with the release of the application for Apple, but, apparently, at that time the company did not have the capabilities or desire for such a move.

The number of clients of this image exchange eventually increased to a colossal figure for that time - 750,000 live users, thanks to which the company's shares began to cost $ 2.5 billion.

Next year, Shutterstock again makes a very smart move to buy Webdam, an online digital asset management software provider, while relocating its headquarters to the Empire State Building. This inspires respect from competitors and genuine admiration from users, as it means that the company, perhaps, has reached its peak. However, the team of creators and developers did not stop, and that same year, Shutterstock and Salesforce partnered to integrate a stock photo library into Salesforce called Social Studio. Next, the company introduced the Palette tool, which allows you to search for images by multiple colors. The stock also did not forget about video content: in 2014 the site crossed the milestone of 2 million video clips. This showed that a completely logical and expected business move made at one time fully justified itself. The last application that closed this stage was intended to help authors upload and categorize photos.

The conclusion from the third stage of development can be called such moments:

  • launch of a marketplace claiming high quality and elitism of content;
  • optimization of the application for as many operating systems as possible in the shortest possible time;
  • online digital asset management software;
  • integration of image packages into third party services;
  • a tool to search for combinations of multiple colors;
  • paid attention to all system components.
So, let's move on to the last stage - modernity.

Fourth stage

In January 2015, the company acquired Europe's largest independent photo agency Rex Features and stock music and sound effects service PremiumBeat. The purchase came out, to put it mildly, not cheap, a total amount of about $ 55 million, but it was definitely worth its money, since it also provided audio files to the site in addition to photo and video content. Soon the management of Penske Media Corporation announced its desire to become Shutterstock partners, thanks to which by 2016 the photobank will receive a license for the archive of this company, which at that time included the magazines Variety, Women’s Wear Daily and Deadline. This move might seem excessive, but in reality, this purchase weakened its main competitor Getty Images as much as possible, which had PMC as the main supplier of fashion and entertainment photos and videos. The move is smart, tactical and ensuring the result.

It finished off its competitors by purchasing another independent photo agency BEImages. As a result, by March 2016 the stock content base had about 70 million images and 4 million video clips, all of which are available for sale and licensing.

July was marked by the beginning of cooperation with another giant that currently has no worthy competitors - Google, including AdSense, AdWords and AdMob. This integration allows sellers who create Google ads to have direct access to images from the Shutterstock photostock, and to track ad performance via the Shutterstock API. In October, the company finds a new business ally, which turns out to be the European Pressphoto Agency distribution deal. From these steps, it is noticeable that Shutterstock, in a manner typical of the company, is looking for worthy partners, cooperation with which not only promises large profits, but also eliminates most of the problems that could arise without them.

February 2018 showed Shutterstock management as highly forward-thinking businessmen when they invested $ 15 million in Chinese company ZCool. This strategic support builds on successful operational relationships between the two companies since 2014, when ZCool first became the exclusive distributor of Shutterstock's creative products in China. Webdam, which was acquired by Shutterstock in 2014, was sold to Bynder, based in Amsterdam, for $ 49.1 million, after which Shutterstock's strategy shifted away from digital asset management.

In May of the same year, it was confirmed that IBM's Watson Content Hub had officially announced a partnership with Shutterstock, which was to take effect in July. Watson Content Hub is a carefully crafted content management system that empowers the seller to create content using the IBM Watson search engine with artificial intelligence technology. The move was also more than tactical and thoughtful, as customers could now use artificial intelligence to quickly browse the Shutterstock library, which then included millions of professional-quality works, as well as create and launch campaigns that resonate with their target audience and inspire them to action.

So far, the end of the story is the company's announcement in May of this year that from June 1, the author's income structure will be updated, based now not on a fixed rate, but on the interest model. Simply put, an author's income can be reduced from the previous minimum payment for an uploaded image of 25 cents to 10 cents or 15 percent of entry-level sales, with author ratings resetting to zero at the beginning of each year. Many photographers have expressed disagreement to these changes. This move can be explained by any internal circumstances of the company, but the disagreement of those on whom the system rests is a reason for a compromise, since people have no choice but to look for another employer.

The final stage makes it clear that the last pieces of the Shutterstock clone puzzle will be such components:

  • the presence of music and special effects in the form of audio files;
  • liquidation of a competitor by buying out a large supplier of photographs;
  • purchase of independent companies and their takeover by the body of the firm;
  • smart investment;
  • cooperation with Google;
  • search tools on the basis of artificial intelligence;
  • competent and flexible policy in relation to hired authors.
We wish you good luck in creating your own micropayment photostock!

Shutterstock Clone Website - How to Create a Website like Shutterstock? key takeaways:
  1. First stage
  2. Second stage
  3. Third stage
  4. Fourth stage
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