Shutterstock, your business models sucks

There's no need to expire your customers' credits. None.

You might be a little bit surprised to know that I have a couple of Shutterstock accounts that I use to buy, rather than sell, photos. While just about all of the photos here on Photocritic have been taken by me or Daniela, there are instances when I need to use stock photos, for example in my new role at Screencloud, at Triggertrap, or for other random personal projects.

I won't, however, be using Shutterstock any longer. Sure, it has an enormous library and they're affordable, but the payment structure is buggered.

The top (‘professional’) pricing model is clever: You can download up to 750 photos per month for a pretty hefty fee, but at least it’s easy to understand the model.

However, I don’t need 750 photos per month—not even nearly. So, instead, I buy 25 downloads for £139 ($220)—or around £5.50 ($8.50) per photo.

And therewith lies the problem: your credits are valid for 'up to one year.' If a year passes and you've not used up all of your credits, that's it: POOF! They're gone. You might have paid for 25 images, but you don't get to use 25 images. You lose the credits that you've paid for.

As you might expect, this is infuriating to a lot of people:

And it’s easy to understand why: it just isn’t fair. If you pay for X photos, you expect to get X photos: It’s not like the photos go stale or have a sell-by date.

So apart from not being a dick to your customers, what options does Shutterstock have?

  1. Don’t expire credits. This one is the simplest one. Basically: Don’t be a dick to your customers. There will be people who use the photos more slowly than others: Let them.
  2. Expire but refund. Maybe there’s a clause in Shutterstock’s contract with the photographers? Maybe Shutterstock wants the option of increasing the price per credit at a later date? Fine — but at least refund us on a pro-rata basis if you’re going to expire credits. If a customer paid £100 for 10 credits, and they have three credits expiring, give them a £30 refund. If, due to price increases, those £30 no longer buys three credits, that’s fair enough: At least the customer was treated fairly.

Yes, I can see the up-side to this business model: It must be lucrative to sell credits, then expire them. This is free money. But is it worth it?

As a customer, I'm going to say 'No!'

As a business model, Shutterstock is relying on one of two things:

  1. Its customers don’t notice. Maybe they won't; maybe they won't ever need to use stock images again so it passes them by. 
  2. Its customer don’t feel it’s worth the time or aggravation to complain. Maybe they're too busy, or too lazy, or simply don’t think it’s worth it over a few quid.

Either way, Shutterstock is making money by relying on its customers' apathy. There's nothing illegal about it, but it sure as heck doesn't look good for them. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to create a business where you default to treating your customers fairly?

Sure, Shutterstock seems to be happy placing a bet that its customers can't be arsed to pick up the phone or send an e-mail over £30 worth of photography credits, or that they won't be bothered to tell their friends about being shafted. But going by this article, and the tweets that I've found to the contrary, the bookie has kept Shutterstock's money. And Shutterstock won't be getting anymore of mine, either.

I wrote something similar over on Medium, too. But that came at things from more of a customer service angle.