Why stock imagery has become the story

Hester Gras

If you regularly search for digital images, you will most certainly know about Shutterstock. The company is a leading provider of high-quality royalty-free photographs, vectors, illustrations and videos. Shutterstock currently has more than 33 million images available for businesses, marketing agencies and media organizations around the world. Our colleague Kelly Verdonk had the opportunity to interview Shutterstock’s International VP, Gerd Mittmann, about his speech on visual storytelling during the Digital Innovators’ Summit 2014.  It was the 7th digital magazine media conference, hosted by FIPPVDZ and emediaSF.

Gerd Mittmann joined Shutterstock in 2011. Since then, he has been leading the company’s international
efforts, from product localization to content sourcing, marketing, sales and staffing.

Gerd Mittmann

How can photos influence reading behavior?
“Images can drag readers into a story. We are visual people and our response to images is psychological. In addition to this, images help readers remember a story. On the other hand, a poorly chosen or misplaced photo/video can negatively impact the reader’s user experience. The worst kind of impact occurs when people don’t click – or skip a page in a print magazine. Today, it’s all about KPIs and if readers do not click, they are simply not engaged. The time spent in an article is also one of these KPI’s. When you use images in your article, readers are more likely to come back and spend more time in an article.”

What role do cultural issues play in visual storytelling?
“Cultural issues between countries play a huge role. Even within countries, publishers might need to use different images. For instance, the color orange is very popular in the Netherlands, while this color is less popular in the surrounding countries. We summarized the local photography topic trends for countries in the image below. In Germany, for example, it is all about global connections, while black and white images are popular in France and vibrant textures are downloaded the most in the Netherlands. A funny fact about the Netherlands is that, while you would not expect this, the most trending image of 2013 was a stereotype one: a picture with tulips.”

Shutterstock popular topics per country

When exactly does a video strengthen the user experience in a digital magazine or newspaper?
“Whenever you want to explain complex things, a video adds great value to digital content. A picture can tell a great story but a video can communicate excitement much better. This is the case especially for showing landscapes and cities. For instance, you will need to publish various photos to show the sunset at the Grand Canyon, while a video shows all of this in a single go. Our data illustrates this as well. The video categories cityscapes, 3D renderings, transportation and education are seeing the most explosive growth.”

Shutterstock - video trends

Has visualization become more important for digital magazines than for print magazines?
“Yes, that’s the beauty of digital. Publishers should enrich what they already have and engage their readers with visualizations, because you can do so much more with visualizations and interactive elements in this new media age. That’s also why I would never publish a PDF replica, because it doesn’t leverage the possibilities interactive publishing offers. A digital magazine that tells stories through images and videos would work perfectly. Pictures create a great user experience and that’s why I also see huge opportunities in interactive advertising.”

Do you think that the introduction of tablet apps has lead to more visualization?
“Definitely! There is a whole industry for developing infographics now. You can develop your own word clouds and infographics at a low cost. Mobile devices have sparked a new visualization industry. This is also why we saw a combined total of 11,340 downloads for vector, photo, illustration and video and a 332% increase in search terms for infographics.”

Shutterstock - Top downloads: photograph, vector, illustration, video.

In your view, which UX trends will become most relevant for digital magazine and newspaper publishers in the coming years?
“The trends that have an impact on design on a global level are filtered, flat and authentic design. However, it is hard to tell which trends are going to be relevant in the far future. One trend that will continue for sure is to leverage what a device can do: create more interactive, visual content. That’s the content people would pay for!”

Shutterstock - design trends

What are your thoughts on visual storytelling? Feel free to share your opinion with us in the comments!

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