Source: Shutterstock.

Despite the market's gains last year, digital-image provider Shutterstock (NYSE:SSTK) put in a subpar performance in 2014, with the stock falling 17%, and getting off to an even more dismal start in 2015 with a 20% loss as of Wednesday's close. Investors therefore looked at Shutterstock's Thursday afternoon release of its fourth-quarter and full-year financial results as an opportunity to see whether the company has any prospects for a rebound.

Shutterstock's numbers were reasonably impressive, but it's still unclear whether investors will have the confidence and patience in the company to stay the course after such dramatic past losses. Let's take a closer look at how Shutterstock finished 2014, and what lies ahead for the company.

Shutterstock adds green to its top, bottom lines
Shutterstock's growth continued to look impressive in the fourth quarter, although the 34% jump in its revenue, to $91.2 million, was just slightly less than what most investors had hoped to see from the company. On the bottom line, Shutterstock topped expectations, with adjusted earnings of $0.35 per share beating the consensus by $0.03, and representing a 35% rise from year-ago levels.

Shutterstock also kept seeing strong results in its operating metrics. Paid downloads climbed almost 20% from year-ago levels, to 33.5 million, and revenue per download was 10% greater than last year, at $2.68. Shutterstock saw further growth in its image collection, reaching the 46.8 million mark and adding more than 14.5 million images during the past year.

CEO Jon Oringer. Source: Shutterstock.

Shutterstock founder and CEO Jon Oringer expressed his optimism about the company's past results and future prospects. "We continue to be a market leader," said Oringer, "with strong revenue growth, solid profitability, and the largest collection of its kind." Oringer also thinks that Shutterstock is on the cusp of even greater things, saying that, "We enter 2015 well-positioned for another outstanding year building on a solid foundation, including our recent music and editorial acquisitions that expand our market opportunity."

What's in Shutterstock's next frame?
Accompanying Oringer's comments was Shutterstock's guidance for the current quarter and the full 2015 year. For the first quarter, revenue of $94 million to $96 million is slightly less than investors want to see, although adjusted operating earnings of $16 million to $17 million would be about 13% to 20% higher than year-ago levels.

Full-year revenue projections for $436 million to $444 million suggest a slightly faster growth rate than investors expect from Shutterstock, though, and adjusted operating earnings growth in the 27% to 33% range would be a nice acceleration from the company's 2014 growth pace. Still, the guidance is somewhat mixed compared to Shutterstock's previous views for the year, with its revenue range moving higher, but its operating income range lower than it was in its previous quarterly report.

Shutterstock can look at user behavior and predict creative trends. Source: Shutterstock.

Also, the acceleration in non-cash equity-based compensation remains somewhat troubling. Those costs soared 350% in the fourth quarter and almost quadrupled in 2014, and Shutterstock's projections for 2015 expect a further increase of more than a quarter, to $30 million.

In the long run, though, the key to Shutterstock's success is whether its acquisitions and broader business strategy pan out. Between its acquisition of cloud digital-asset management platform provider Webdam, and its launch of services targeting super-premium stock photos, instructional videos, and music licensing, Shutterstock has set the stage for massive growth in any of a number of different possible directions.

After climbing almost 7% in the regular session before the earnings release, Shutterstock shares barely budged in after-hour trading following the announcement. In order for the stock to start turning around, many investors apparently want to see more of the fruits of Shutterstock's strategic moves turn into cold, hard cash before committing to further share purchases.