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Shutterstock ventures into music licensing business

A company that had specialized in royalty-free imagery sales now offers music, too. The reason: more licensing revenue from its video-licensing business.

Shutterstock's music-licensing site
Shutterstock's music-licensing site screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Shutterstock, as its name suggests, got its start in the stock-art business with photography. Now the company is moving beyond the visual realm, licensing music, too.

The Shutterstock Music expansion is the first new content type in eight years for the company, which also licenses illustrations and video footage. The company initially is pushing a set of 60,000 tracks of high-quality music from Rumblefish, but it's building its own library of songs, too, said Wyatt Jenkins, vice president of product for the New York-based company. And later, it'll expand into other audio -- things like records screeching, cars crashing, glass shattering, and jets taking off.

"The most important reason to do this expansion is the growth of footage," Jenkins said. "Our video business is growing extremely fast. Over half of all the videos downloaded from our site require music."

The stock-art business is a widely used source of imagery for people creating brochures, advertisements, and presentations that need something beyond text. And in the Internet era, it's enabled a huge population of creative types to sell photos, videos, and illustrations without turning into full-time professionals. At the same time that that democratized and globalized the industry, it also pulled the rug out from under professionals who had previously had an easier time making a living.

But the early leaders in the new stock-art business, including iStockphoto, Dreamstime, Fotolia, and Shutterstock, also face competitive challenges as the market saturates and consolidates. Budget sites offer price competition, while second-generation sites bring specialization -- Stocksy United with high-end imagery and high payouts to photographers, for example, or ImageBrief, where buyers specify what they want and photographers scramble to supply it as soon as possible.

Thus it's no surprise that Shutterstock, which is publicly traded, is expanding to music and audio.

Each track costs $45 to license for unlimited use -- at least in the video creation process.

"We sell the right to sync audio with video or a theatrical production or a TV show," Jenkins said. "Once you're broadcasting, there are performance rights [holders] that are going to want a piece of that."

Crucial to the service is finding a way to get audio tracks in front of customers who may not know how to articulate exactly what they're looking for. "We're investing heavily in rich metadata like moods and descriptions," with music analyzed both by humans and computer algorithms," Jenkins said. The company also supplies various curated playlists -- classical, wedding, cartoon, salsa, corporate, and electronic, for example.

"The most important thing to do is get people listening to the track as soon as possible," Jenkins said.