I'd agree, with the millions if not billions of images available online the idea that website designers or other media publishers patiently trawl through all the pictures that match their search criteria is a little optimistic to say the least. From what I've seen from the buyers end it is a question of having a couple of favourite stock agencies and limiting their purchases of imagery to them simply because of the time constraint. This I feel is another factor in the web becoming ever more boring for not only is it increasingly orientated to selling you stuff rather than informing but a lot of the images used are 'safe' multi purpose sort of pictures that stand no risk of offending and are easily understood in relation to the content of the website. Trendy young business type people happily solving the world's problems in a meeting or cheerfully holding hands in a circle etc etc have become the default imagery for far too many sites in my view and I skip past these sites whenever I see this sort of picture, far too tedious and in one case I am familiar with, uncomfortably misleading.
I find myself agreeing with you on this one; the ‘typical’ stock shot is a travesty of original thinking. Someone somewhere came up with a good image that encapsulated the idea of something, and then the world copied it to death. I wonder if this is self-propagating? Do buyers see these stock images so often that they come to understand them to be a shorthand for whatever emotion or fib they want to convey? Does cliché, in the end, become the new appropriate, the new goal for the successful stock snapper, or even elsewhere?