Buyer Beware the Bait and Switch

Amidst the other changes announced and unveiled last week, iStockphoto also introduced some pricing changes to the new “Main” collection.  However, buyers who are drawn in by this news may find it costs them more than expected.

The Bait
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Last Thursday, iStockphoto announced (and it was effective immediately) that the pricing of the Main collection would be lowered.

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Based on what we have learned by watching customer behavior and customer feedback the Main Collection photo pricing is changing considerably.

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The Main collection, now primarily made up of work from independent artists, would now be priced as follows (original / new) in credits :

  • XS 1 / 1
  • S 4 / 2
  • M 7 / 3
  • L 10 / 4
  • XL 12 / 5
  • XXL 15 / 6
  • XXXL 18 / 7
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In what appears to be a desperate attempt to regain market interest, iStockphoto has cut their credit pricing on this collection by more than 50% from the week before.  Which harkens back to my “Angers Contributors/Confuses Buyers” post from last month.  What are buyers to think of such a drastic price change?  Were they being ripped off before?  Should they email support and request a refund on any images licensed in the last six months under the loose return policy?  Are prices going to change again?

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Well, as I said, that’s the bait.  Where does the switch come in?

The Switch
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The pricing, as mentioned, is in credits.  Credits are one way of disassociating the actual cost of the license from the perceived cost.  Here, a buyer, coming in from Google or elsewhere, may see a large image for 4 credits and think what a great deal that is.

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Users have been conditioned over the years to associate a credit with a dollar.  Alas, a new buyer coming in will find that to purchase just that image, a credit is nowhere near a dollar.

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As you can see, to purchase that license for four credits, a buyer must, at the least, spend $50 for a credit pack.  Which has a credit valued at $1.67 each – nowhere near $1 !  In fact, even a bulk purchase of a thousand credits prices them at $1.47 each.   What has happened here is that independent contributors have been “thrown under the bus” as a draw to try and get buyers to purchase credits they do not need and may never end up using.  Sort of a forced “brand loyalty”.

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The buyer does have an option.  Last September, iStockphoto finally introduced a cash payment option, where a buyer could pay without purchasing credits.  At that time, the “cash” option was valued roughly at slightly more than the number of credits needed times the highest credit price:

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For example, I’m looking at an image that, for a medium size, costs $19 or 10 credits. If someone is buying that image with credits from the 60 credit pack at $1.58 per credit, that image would cost $15.80. Vs. the $19 Standard Pricing cost, it’s definitely not double.

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So, for the cost of convenience, the buyer paid a slight premium over what the license would cost in credits.  Well, with the new pricing scheme, iStockphoto has started using the cash option as a way to try and sway the buyer the buyer towards credit packs (and forced brand loyalty).  So, our delicious looking large image up above, which would cost 4x$1.67 in credits, or $6.68, now looks very different if you switch the pricing to the cash option:

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That image that the buyer thought was a great deal at “4 credits”, turns out to actually cost $19 when using the cash option, or almost 3 times the price!  Even worse, the marketing for the “recommended” credit pack uses the 150 credit / $231 pack.  So, for a buyer to get the one image they want at $6.16, they have to outlay over $200 and their flexibility to use other stock agencies for the foreseeable future.

There’s your bait and switch.  The lower credit prices and high cash markups are just a way to get buyers to put out large sums on credits that don’t want and may not ever need.

For Contributors

As an aside, this price movement is a particularly bad thing for independent contributors.  The royalties that contributors make are based on the number of “credits” that have been used to license their files during the year.  These numbers are set in January, based on the sales from the year before.

Now, halfway through the year, not only have all of the independent contributor’s images been moved from higher valued collections to the Main collection during the big “restructuring” but that Main collection has had its pricing dramatically cut.  Independent contributors will now likely find themselves making 30-50% less “redeemed credits” this year towards their goals, dropping them to even lower royalty percentages.   The charts are unlikely to be modified, as lowering the numbers for independents would cause exclusive contributors’ rates to go up, something which is the opposite of parent company Getty Images’ goal.


You know my line.  Look for a company that treats its contributors and buyers fairly and ethically, without all the tricks and shenanigans.  Need a suggestion? 🙂

7 thoughts on Buyer Beware the Bait and Switch

  1. Wow! I hadn’t noticed the MASSIVE shift in the cost per credits for the convenience of buying istock images without credits… almost $5 per credit??? And great point about that making it more difficult for contributors to hit the canister levels, thus dropping more of us to lower payout percentages.

  2. A nice summary of the realities, and one that filled in some gaps in my understanding. Thanks, Sean.

  3. Coincidently, just found this review on a website:

    “This site is not what is use to be and they care about one thing – Cheating People Out Of Money! Don’t be fooled. This site is in the business of thievery and have no Respect or Value for their Customers! I have been using this site for nearly 2 years as a freelance designer for many clients. As a loyal customer, I had 3 photos to purchase recently and was forced into buying more credits than I needed so I called support to help me out and they they refuse to offer a refund on my remaining credits so that I can purchase the last photo a different way. The company changed their pricing/credit option recently with no notice to customers. They also impose a time limit to use the credits you pay for that you can’t get a refund on. No big deal, Just More Money down the drain. I will not use this site again as they are NOT CUSTOMER Oriented and they need to stop taking advantage of people. One Customer Lost for Life Here! We do have a choice of who to do business with and there are plenty of other options in the marketplace for creative professionals who don’t want to support Internet Crooks like iStock.”

  4. Scary! Thanks, Sean, for the lucid analysis. I’d seen some complaints in the forums but didn’t really get what they were on about until I read this.

    The “Redeemed Credits” system should be scrapped and replaced with dollar value of the sales the contributor brings in. Wishful thinking, I know…

    Sean, would you be so kind and give our old friend Bruce a kick in the pants, get him to open iStock Mark II? That’s what the market needs. Presently most iStock exclusives have no viable alternative. Stocksy isn’t it, and neither is any other agency. As you very well know and had proved with your own commitment to it, until a couple of years ago iStock was the place to be. We need a repeat.

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