I was doing some research recently into the stock image market as I've been involved with it for a few years and I was interested to see if I could find any data to try and build up a picture of where it is going.
One of the things I found out was the very clear downward trend on the number of searches in google for stock images. This chart (http://www.freestockimages.net/images/other/g_trends1.png) shows the negative pattern year on year.
The trend for free stock images was showing a decline but since mid 2008 appears to be have been going sideways and even starting to move upwards.
The Reason For These Moves
The credit crunch is likely to be having some kind of an impact, so as we go back into positive territory on the global economic scale the number of searches for 'free stock images' may start to decline and searches for 'stock images' start to go in an upward trend.
I don't believe the overall stock image industry is declining (I may be wrong, I'm only an affiliate), I'm making more sales then ever despite the recession.
I believe it is only the searches in Google are declining because customers of websites like Dreamstime are settling down with the services they currently use, IE loyalty is now playing a part.
What This Means For You (if the trend continues)
If you are an affiliate like me, this probably signals less revenue in affiliation, people aren't going searching for stock images companies so we have less people to recommend to.
If you are a photographer then I think now is the time to push yourself into being one of the main providers on these sorts of services, where all the customers are staying. Embed yourself in so you can begin to build up loyal customers.