Let’s get the important news out of the way first. On Friday, February 8th, I was given notice by Getty Images that they were terminating our “relationship” and my account at iStockphoto would be closed in 30 days. Well, that was a great way to end the week, eh?
Yes, honestly I was surprised and caught off guard as well. As one of the top 5 contributors at iStockphoto, having been there since August of 2004, with over 12,000 images and close to a million licenses sold, I thought I was a pretty valuable member of the community. I have spent a lot of my time answering questions for buyers here on my blog. I create scripts for use with the Greasemonkey plugin to help contributors and buyers overcome shortcomings on the site. With my knowledge of forum postings over the last 8 years, I am constantly researching issues that affect the community of stock contributors. I am one who cheers when it is deserved, and criticizes when there are issues, with the goal of fixing problems or changing workflows to ensure a more stable or fair business.
What Happened ?
As best I can tell, this started about a month ago, with the Getty Images/Google Drive licensing scheme. This sale of nearly unlimited rights ( in some mysterious and “proprietary” licensing deal ) by Getty to Google of some of our more valuable works returned the sum of $12 to the contributor, and had numerous other problems. The issue was pointed out to me by another contributor, and when I investigated it and questioned it on the iStockphoto forums, all kinds of chaos broke out. I was part of the group that criticized the deal, although in the last few weeks, I’ve remained fairly quiet here in my blog, and on site, as it was reiterated several times, that talks with Google are ongoing.
Other contributors in the stock community discussed, at an off-site discussion forum, the need to form a protest against over-reaching deals like this one with Google, and set a date of February 2nd to deactivate files in protest. Deactivating a file at iStockphoto is fairly painful, so I modified one of my existing Greasemonkey scripts to support the community, adding a time saving deactivation button to accommodate any need to deactivate a file. What people use it for is up to them. There is no rule against deactivating files. February 2nd came and went.
A week or so ago, I became aware of a new entrant to the stock agency world, still in Beta testing (not available to the public). As I have done at other times, at other sites, I took the opportunity to join the membership when it arose, to investigate the site, the workflow, the pay schedule, etc. For while I have been successful as an exclusive iStockphoto contributor, I am not blind to the opportunities that can be provided by others. Since I joined, I uploaded files to test and experiment with the system. Keep in mind, at this stage in the game, the other site is not licensing content and does not violate any exclusivity agreement.
And then ???
This past Tuesday, I received a rude and very threatening email from a Getty Images Manager. It questioned what my objectives at iStockphoto were – to “distract key resources away from improving the business” and “undermine customer faith” or did I want to to “create a constructive dialogue” on improving things. If my intentions were the former, then I should “terminate our relationship”. If the latter, we should have a call to have “a more efficient and constructive discourse”.
I did not immediately respond because I was quite surprised to receive an email like this. I could not read anything that I have done or said as “distracting resources” or “undermining customer faith”. Thursday, I received another threatening email that, because I had not responded, if I did not respond by Monday, that I was “not interested in a more constructive discourse and we will take steps to terminate our relationship”. At that time, I was also banned from the iStockphoto forums and site mail system. So don’t try to mail me there anymore.
After some more thought I responded with my impression on the tone in the initial mail, and outlined my goals and objectives, which were basically to “create salable content, work towards creating the best environment to sell that content, and to help my fellow community of contributors stay informed on industry issues”. It was then requested we set up a call as they “simply want(ed) to talk about our relationship”.
When I called in, I was notified by the original Manager that they were going to terminate our “relationship” and my account would be closed in 30 days.
Did they say why?
Well, it took a while for me to get reasons, as mostly I was told that discussion would not be “productive”. However, I was told they did not like how I handled the Google Drive situation, on and off-site.
Also, they did not appreciate the deactivation addition to my Greasemonkey script. The most odd part of this was that I was accused of leading the February 2nd deactivation day. Odd (and a complete lie), because I didn’t start it, never said I was going to participate it, and never actively encouraged anyone to participate in it, although I did encourage everyone to study the available facts and make a decision on what they felt was appropriate action. In fact, I sent several emails the week prior to iStockphoto/Getty managers to initiate a phone conversation, thinking I could provide suggestions on how to defuse the situation.
They also knew (somehow!) that I had joined this new stock site, even though it was closed to all but a relatively small group, and declared that this was against the “spirit of the exclusivity agreement”. I’m not sure what the issue was there, as I am not an indentured servant, and if I want to investigate things, that should not be threatening to them. It seems they either see this new venture as a danger to them, or are just vindictive towards anyone involved with it, for some reason. Looking at this now, I think they mistakenly assumed, or were told, that I was a bigger part of the picture there than I actually was.
Also, when I said that this seemed like something personal, I was told it was just “business”. Since it affects my family, obviously I find it a bit more personal than they do; iStockphoto and Getty provide nearly all of my income.
So, it appeared they were never interested in a discourse at all. It was just a way to cut me off. At least I got a phone call.
First of all, if you’ve read any of my iStockphoto related blog posts or tips here, I hope you enjoyed them, because I will be removing them all this week. I’m not interested, at this point, in providing back links to that site.
Over the next several weeks, I will be migrating parts of my stock portfolio to several other stock content sites, which I will detail in the near future.
Now that this “termination” has occurred, I’m most excited about being freed up to participate in this new venture that I mentioned above, which, ironically, Getty has forced me into. One thing I had been considering was discussing with iStockphoto the option of setting up and working for separate companies. One to allow continued exclusive contributions or at least hold the status quo on existing files, the other to contribute elsewhere. However, I see that they may have used this discussion as a way to initiate the “divergent objectives” situation. Doesn’t matter to me any more, but others might be thinking about that now.
If you’ve been a buyer of my work, and it has proved productive for you, I would encourage you to keep checking this blog, because I think you’ll be very happy with your new options in the future. I’ve also got some great new stock series that will only be available at the new site.
Although I’m very disappointed in the behavior of Getty management, and was caught off guard with this, I am looking forward very positively. Frankly, it has been frustrating the last several years, with the introduction of the RC system, the constant site issues due to old code, the buyouts by investment firms and on and on. I actually feel a bit free right now.
I will miss getting together with my iStockphoto pals at “officially sanctioned” exclusive gatherings. However, I have a feeling we may be continuing that at the new site in some form, eventually, and some of those pals will likely end up there. I also don’t hold anything against the old school iStockphoto crew – I don’t think they had anything to do with this.
However, I would like readers to take a word of warning from my experience dealing with them, and to tread cautiously in the times ahead. I know sales are down across the board, and contributor satisfaction is low, so hopefully you are working on “Plan B”.