​Adobe Stock opens photo sales channel straight into Photoshop

For the thousands who buy and sell photos, the rules are changing again as Adobe links its software to its own stock-art site. Next up: an upstream connection so photographers can contribute works to the marketplace.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
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Adobe Stock offers imagery from the company's Fotolia service, but with a direct link to Photoshop and other Adobe software.
Adobe Stock offers imagery from the company's Fotolia service, but with a direct link to Photoshop and other Adobe software. Adobe Systems

For decades, Adobe Systems has supplied creative pros with tools like Photoshop. Now the company is supplying photos and illustrations, too, through a new service called Adobe Stock that the company launched Tuesday.

Adobe Stock is based on Adobe's $800 million acquisition in January of stock-art site Fotolia, an online marketplace connecting creators and buyers of photos, illustrations and video for use in projects like advertisements and annual reports. Fotolia and now Adobe Stock compete with companies like Shutterstock, iStockphoto, 123RF, Dreamstime and many smaller players.

It's a crowded market, but Adobe hopes to get ahead by integrating Adobe Stock into Photoshop and other products it offers through its Creative Cloud subscription program. Adobe keeps 67 percent of the revenue from each stock stock-photo sale -- a single image costs $10 to license, but that's not the only reason to enter the market. Adobe also can sell its software to the photographers and others who contribute their works to stock-art marketplaces.

"We estimate 85 percent of all customers buying stock images from these stock services are users of Adobe tools. At least 90 percent of all the content available through these stock services was made using these Adobe tools," said Scott Morris, senior marketing director of Creative Cloud for Adobe. Adobe hopes that existing relationship will become even closer once Adobe Stock is linked with the company's flagship design tools, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro and After Effects.

The move is one of a series of steps to completely overhaul how customers see Adobe. In earlier years, the company would come by every couple years trying to persuade people to pay hundreds of dollars for a new version of Photoshop or some other software. Now, it wants customers to pay continuously for services -- including access to its software -- that it delivers continuously.

The core of the idea is the Creative Cloud subscription, starting at $50 a month for a full-year commitment for the full range of Adobe's software, or $10 a month for just the Photoshop, Lightroom, and Lightroom Mobile photography tools. The service comes in the form of continuous updates to that software, rights to use Adobe fonts and electronic publishing services, online storage to sync and share files, access to Adobe's Behance social network -- and now, a price break on Fotolia images for Creative Cloud customers who add on an annual commitment for imagery, too.

Adobe ran into a lot of vocal opposition two years ago when it announced that only the Creative Cloud versions of its software would be updated with new features. Adobe has nearly 4 million subscribers now, though, and that opposition has since dwindled, Morris said.

"We see very few concerns from customers around that issue anymore," Morris said.

Adobe Systems had nearly 4 million Creative Cloud subscribers at the end of February 2015.
Enlarge Image
Adobe Systems had nearly 4 million Creative Cloud subscribers at the end of February 2015.
Adobe Systems had nearly 4 million Creative Cloud subscribers at the end of February 2015. Stephen Shankland/CNET

New revenue for Adobe

More directly, Adobe stands to gain a new source of revenue. The stock-photo market will grow at 7 percent annually from $2.7 billion in 2014 to $3.8 billion in 2019, according to a forecast by Technavio Research.

Adobe has a big challenge with Fotolia and Adobe Stock: buyers like big marketplaces where there's a lot of inventory for sale, and sellers like big marketplaces where there are lots of buyers. Fotolia, is in fourth place behind No. 1 Getty Images, No. 2 Corbis and No. 3 Shutterstock, claiming only a sliver of of the market ranging from about 3 percent to 5 percent, Technavio said. That's not doom, though; fully half of the market supply all the images, so there's room for consolidation of smaller players.

Why is the stock-art market interesting now? Because digital tools have rewritten its rules, leading to a huge growth in the number of participants. In decades past, a relatively small number of professionals concentrated in the stock-art market, selling images like businesspeople shaking hands or famous tourist landmarks to a wide range of clients.

But digital photography and Internet sales revolutionized the business, making it possible for a large number of amateurs to contribute and sell their works globally. That blew up many professionals' livelihoods, but it also enabled thousands of others to make a little money on the side, converting a hobby into a part-time job -- and providing enough income to justify new photo equipment and editing software.

The Adobe Stock debut accompanies a host of upgrades Adobe is announcing Tuesday for its Creative Cloud products -- Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects, Premiere Pro, Illustrator, Muse, Dreamweaver, and more. For a full run-down on the changes to that software, check the Creative Cloud 2015 report from my colleague Lori Grunin.

Fotolia will continue

Fotolia will continue as a standalone site -- indeed, Morris said Adobe will invest in it: "In many markets, especially in Continental Europe, Fotolia is a large and thriving business that we do not want to disrupt."

For the Adobe Stock service, individual photos cost $10 each, but annual subscriptions are available for those who need more. For those signing up for a full-year Adobe Stock subscription, it costs $50 per month for 10 images per month, but the price is discounted to $30 for those already paying for a Creative Cloud subscription.

Those with heavy-duty needs can pay $200 per month for 750 images. Customers who don't download all their images can "roll over" one month's unused allotment into the next month.

For those who contribute imagery to be sold on the marketplace, Adobe returns 33 percent of the sales revenue with no requirement that contributors sell their works exclusively through Adobe Stock and Fotolia.

Tighter integration coming

For now, customers pick photos they like from the stock.adobe.com website. Adobe then synchronizes photos with its Creative Cloud apps' library function. That can be either low-resolution watermarked comp images or, when the image rights are purchased, the full-resolution final images.

Adobe plans tighter integration later. One part of the plan is the ability to search for images directly from within the apps instead of looking with a browser at the Adobe Stock website, Morris said. Another part is the ability for contributors to submit images to the marketplace directly from the apps.

"It would be great to simultaneously publish an image to Behance and to make it available on Adobe Stock," Morris said.

There's a growing appetite for stock photos, with an 496 million being purchased in 2014 and 630 million forecast for 2019, according to Technavio. While that's been good for stock-art services, plenty of people just lift images they find off Flickr, Wikipedia, Google image search, or other photo-rich parts of the Internet.

That can violate copyright -- but not always. A organization called Creative Commons crafted a license of the same name explicitly to let people share their work. The Creative Commons was initially something of a counterculture oddity, but increasingly it's becoming accepted.

In the stock-art world, one new Creative Commons site called The List lets educational organizations, journalists, nonprofits, and others request Creative Commons-licensed photos, bypassing stock-art marketplaces. Another called Ascribe, a Creative Commons France partner, lets people share their photographs under Creative Commons licensing, but it uses the "blockchain" technology developed for the Bitcoin virtual currency to publicly record who created a photo and when.

Fotolia has its competitors. But with 40 million photos and illustrations and a new Adobe Stock sales channel, it's also got a shot at real growth, too.