iStockphoto to offer simplified purchase option

On Friday, iStockphoto issued a contributor update, wherein they announced the near completion of a new stock image licensing workflow, one which will allows payments directly from a credit card:

This week we have an early peek for iStock contributors into some upcoming site news: soon iStock customers will be able to pay for file downloads directly with their credit card, without first having to purchase credits.

Typically, at iStockphoto, images/content are/is licensed and paid for with “credits”.   The credit system was implemented way back at the beginning of the site when iStockphoto was a place for designers to trade images.  Bruce Livingstone, founder, recalls:

I bought the domain from Network Solutions for $25 and launched this site where you could register, download as many high-resolution photos as you want and use everything with a royalty-free license. About six months later, we kept hearing from all these photographers and designers that they wanted to share their images with everyone as well.  We also at that time invented this credit system where if (a person) downloaded one of my photos, then I would get a credit. I can use that credit to download one of Kara’s photos. It was a barter system. That worked for a while–until we got this massive (Web site) hosting bill of about $10,000.

This system of credits was copied and used across the microstock galaxy.   Apparently, these days, iStock feels that there is a need for a simplified system wherein a pre-purchased package of credits may be off-putting or confusing to some buyers.  Thus, the introduction of the simplified payment workflow:

This is a major change to how iStockphoto works. Our goal is to make it easier for people to download files, particularly new visitors to the site. We’re taking away a lot of the complexity and modernizing our purchasing process.

All files will now display a price in US Dollars (or your local currency) as well as the price in credits. Our customers will be able to pay the dollar price with their credit card without having to buy a credit pack. We will still offer credits for people who download files regularly.

This is not an unheard-of marketing strategy for iStockphoto.  Early site users will remember “BitPass”.  Bitpass was an external micropayment site/system that offered the ability to make purchases on partner sites without logging in.  As I remember, images were $2,$4 and $6 dollars, a premium being paid for the convienence of not having to register at the site in question.  This was actually the reason the partnership was discontinued:

We have discontinued Bitpass for the time being, principally because under the structure by which they accessed our images, Bitpass users were not entering into the Content License Agreement in a way that ensured we could track compliance properly. We determined that our photographers and other artists would be better served by proper protection of their copyright than any infinitesimal increase in revenue brought on by the higher price. We will look at this again when the issue is addressed properly.

With this new solution, buyers will still have to be registered members of iStockphoto, but more like Amazon or other online merchant, they will be able to pay at checkout time with a valid credit card, simplifying the process and releasing them from the worry that they are overspending for credits that they might forget to use in the future.

More news when the system is unveiled.

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