Buyers Upset At Constant “iStock” Changes

Over at iStock – the new name iStockphoto’s parent Getty Images has put upon it – each month contributors chime in to a thread to report how sales have been going.  Years ago, the monthly thread was exciting.  It was great to see the boats rising with the tide.  We all reported “BME”s to each other (best month ever).  It seemed buyers were happy buying and contributors were happy selling.  However, the last few years, and even more so this year, that tide has turned – boats are sinking, sales complaints are rampant, and this month, even a buyer chimes in to express discontent.

From the thread linked above:

If you all want input from one of the people who has spent YEARS buying photos and illustrations from the artists on this site, I can tell you why some of you are seeing lower sales.   This site is quickly becoming too expensive.  Prices seem to go up every 6 months now, which might be OK in a normal economy.  But my web development and Flash clients are NOT paying more every 6 months for my products.  The economy is still in pretty bad shape here and I’m afraid I have found other venues to use instead.  Beleive it or not, I use a lot these days.  The quality of work is not on par a lot of the times, but I have found that if I spend 15 more mintues searching for an acceptable image, it can end up saving me $30.  I still have to edit it to suit my project as usual, so I just put in a little bit more time with a clipart file thats cheaper.   I know you guys all need to get paid, but istock is over reaching and your prices can’t keep going up and up while everyone else’s in the country stay static.

My regular budget for the past couple of years has been about $200 – $300 (sometimes even more) a month in various vector and photo files.  Now I have 4 credits in my account, am not planning on buying any more and will only do so if I am left no other choice.  Istock used to be the place where I could purchase decent art at an affordable price.  It has ceased to be that place.  Now I can only come here when I have a client with a top-notch budget who is willing to shell out the higher prices.  I can no longer just “include” them with the price of the web design.

And BTW, the “exclusive” thing you have going on with more expensive prices because they are only on istock…not good.  It’s not really an exclusive image, so why do I care if you can get it on another site or not?  If it were truly exclusive that would be one thing, but it’s not.  Anyone else can download them as often as they like so I don’t see any justification for the extra fees at all.  To me, it’s just a photo like all the rest and a more expensive one.

Most of the buyer’s statement rings true with a lot of designers.  The iStock collection pricing has risen and risen since its early days.  We discussed price rises at great length in the forums when they used to be an annual announcement.  The buyers realized the pricing was very low for the value they received from the content, and recognized that contributors needed to be fairly compensated for their time, effort and costs.  Somewhere in there, though, the pricing passed a comfortable place, and sales began to fall for contributors, no matter how many more images were produced.

iStock clearly realized this in the last six months as they rolled out their collection restructure, moving all non-exclusive content to a value collection, and dropping the high priced Agency collection.  This move was coupled with the infamous “1/2 our images are 1/2 the price, forever” ad campaign, which, of course, begs the questions “1/2 the price of what?” and “forever, based on past behavior?“.

Slid in there along the way was the elimination of smaller credit packs.  As recently as April 2013, a buyer could still purchase credit packs of 8 and 14 credits.  iStock must have decided that letting buyers off that easy was losing money, so the smaller credit packs were eliminated.  Now, a new buyer has to start with a $50 investment to buy a single image.


So now, not only are buyers dealing with images that may move between low and high priced collections at any time, they are forced into buying more credits than they really need, and also have the ongoing issue of the two step credit/image price problem.  At any time, credit prices can change, and credits per image pricing can change as well.  One may buy a certain number of credits to facilitate a project, only to find that the credit prices on all the images they want have changed.  Good luck going back to the client!

The other thing the buyer points out – “the “exclusive” thing you have going on with more expensive prices because they are only on istock…not good” brings up the long standing unique selling point that iStock used to have.  I detailed all the issues that iStock now has with their current “exclusive”, nay “only from iStock” program on this blog post.   Recently, my “case #2” point was partially addressed when iStock closed the “Partner Program” to exclusive contributors, in so far as “downporting” to the bargain basement sites and were concerned.

However, the problem exists in another form.  A contributor in the thread asks:

I thought from this month foward, new exclusive files were no longer in the partner programs and ARE Exclusive to Istock and Getty. That should make them more valuable to buyers and “Only from Istock” is a true statement now

One part of the problem is that “only from iStock”, as a label, is still applied to the hundreds of thousands of images imported from Getty Images, images that are shopped around to all kinds of other stock distribution sites across the net.   The other part is that their new “exclusive to iStock” collaboration with microstock house Yuri Arcurs allows that company, apparently, free reign to sell “only from iStock” images on their very own distribution portal, as well as keeping content up at other microstock agencies.  Thousands of their images have been added to MostPhotos since the summer, a time well after their initial “exclusive” announcement.   Below is an example from iStock, with the same content available on their house site.




So, buyers aren’t dumb.  Once a buyer realizes that “only on iStock” is not reliable, they feel free to shop at other sites for their content, to see if better pricing can be found.  iStock itself has destroyed the value of “exclusive” or “only from iStock”.  Also, she voices the opinion in her comment that exclusivity holds no value to her, that she should not have to pay more for an image just because it has the “only from iStock” label.  Is this because the collection is so large, that she can basically find the same image content and quality at a lower price somewhere else, either in the value collection, or at another site?  Is it because of the recent “accept every image” standard enacted there that has flooded the collections to the point where contributors compete to get the most substandard images into their portfolios?


Enough.  I read on twitter that buyers are tired of trickery with credits, from pricing changes to expiration of their credits.  They’re tired of price increases.  They’re tired of truths that aren’t so truthful.


That’s why I’m happy to be licensing my work at Stocksy United.  No credits, simple pricing, clear terms and advertising.  Try it out.

8 thoughts on Buyers Upset At Constant “iStock” Changes

  1. Hey Sean,

    We’ve been struggling to find images of quality at affordable rates as well and resort to simply taking our own, but even these are subpar at best. It’s nice to know that you run down the rationale for moving to other sites that offer quality photographs/art for fair pricing. Great post!


  2. great post,
    I just came back to Istock after a while and found out about the new prices.
    I used to buy lots of images there, the pricing allowed me to buy more images than i needed, but so i could propose several options to my client in highres. Sometimes i did spend the money on 20 images only to use 1.
    Now this is no option anymore.
    Sad to see such a great service going the wrong way. Sure there will be others to step into the void.
    Apparently the management is from a different era… Maybe they can start selling CD’s at a high premium price. looks like a good idea. 🙂

  3. Sean:

    I respect your decision to move from istock. I was a customer way back in the early aughts and was very excited to be able to afford decent stock for my client projects. That market had previously been a fairly closed/controlled one.

    However, I have watched the who greedy, Getty devolution – as they screwed over both buyers and contributors. I can’t stand them for this attitude alone. They aren’t even trying to be fair or equitable. They are feeding ravenous shareholders at the expense of everyone else. It’s just plain dishonorable.

    So, now I take my business elsewhere. I go to extra lengths to avoid istock wherever I can. Not specifically because of the pricing. But because of what their pricing/payment mechanisms say about who they are.

    Good luck to you in your new venture!

  4. Time to update this post. I just received an email from iStock trumpeting the fact that all image sizes are the same price — 1 credit or 3 credits. That sounds good. And then I scroll further and discover they are dividing my credits by FIVE! I typically buy low res photos for thumbnails and small illustrations online. Suddenly my price for what’s currently a 2 credit photo has increased by 2.5 times. My credits have been severely devalued. VERY disappointed!

This image is protected by copyright law. Please contact me for licensing information. Thanks!