iStock Leaves Small Buyers Behind

With their recent changes, iStockphoto has essentially left smaller buyers (the occasional buyer, small businesses, churches, students, etc.) in the dust.  Read more on this “strategy” here: .  The buyers aren’t being quiet about their discontent.

First, though, as one of these small buyers, where should you be looking?  (Note, I’m offering agencies that I contribute to.)

First, if you’re needing everyday “useful” images, the kind that are “essential” for a wide range of design work, try out GL Stock Images (formerly Graphic Leftovers).  As a small business owner yourself, or someone who wants to be treated fairly, you’ll be happy to know that GL pays a fair royalty to its contributors, and can use some market share to show the value of such practices.  GL has vectors and images, icons, isolated objects, backgrounds, lifestyle, and more.  It’s where I license my blog images when needed.



If you need video as well, try Pond5 . While they are known for video, they host a huge library of images as well.  The prices are set by the contributor, so they can vary a bit, but they do, again, pay a fair royalty of %50 to the contributor.

If you don’t have a lot of time to go poking about a library of 40 million images, and you’re looking for some creative “zing”, check out Stocksy United.  Stocksy, of which I am a founding photographer, also pays a fair royalty to its contributors, and is actually a co-op, owned by the contributors.  Stocksy is setting the trend for real and authentic imagery, plus some more stylized stock.  Travel, lifestyle, animals, people, backgrounds – there’s a little bit of everything.


So, what are smaller buyers like you saying about the recent changes at that other place?  Here’s a recent comment from my blog:

I’m a buyer only.

My primary use of stock photography is in the reports I produce for clients. But I also use photos sometimes in focus groups as projective exercises. And I present at conferences a few times a year, using graphically heavy presentation slides.

I’ve been proud of properly paying for photos, instead of just snagging things off Google image search. (And have chastised others for doing that!) I’ve been an iStock customer since the beginning, and have frequently recommended it to others.

Today, I thought I would pick up some fresh images to illustrate a report. I thought this one would be perfect. But at $39 this is a non-starter.

In the past, I have actually purchased images to illustrate my blog ( That would be prohibitively costly now.

The price slider is gone. I tried finding something suitable from the Signature collection.

The problem here is that there are two classes of buyer. Buying something for a web site or for advertising use is one thing. And then there are folks like me.

I’m prepared to spend about $500 a year for photography. Pretty good for a small business. But I’m going to have to find an alternative to iStock.

Buyers haven’t been quiet on the IS facebook page:

As I often do, I visited iStock yesterday morning to find an image that would illustrate one of our blog projects. I had 5 credits left and, while I realised I’d need to purchase more soon, I knew I had enough credits to see me through a week’s worth of blog posts. But what’s this? A new pricing structure? 5:1? I now only have 1 credit left? Images for my blog will now cost me 4 to 5 times as much as before?

150 credits used to cost me £166 a time and would allow me to illustrate up to 150 blogs. I’d purchase this package 2 or 3 times a year. Now, to illustrate the same 150 blog posts, I am expected to pay £864 (a 520% rise) – unless I want to subscribe at a cost of £779.00 a year.

So, having been a regular customer of iStock for more than 5 years (and NEVER out of credit since January 2009), I now find myself unable to afford the service anymore – let alone justify its regular use, except in exceptional circumstances.

I’m not alone – a lot of smaller companies and independent bloggers who have been loyal to this site over the years will lose out because of this pricing change, and most will find themselves having to go elsewhere for stock content.


There are times we need images for school flyers and such, I have used iStock in the past for images but now I will not be able too. You say it’s new and improved, but it is not. You have raised the prices on the casual buyer and you have even taken away the cash option. Please reconsider your course of action!


Taking my business elsewhere. The new pricing does not work for my one person design studio (mostly web). I have spent a fair amount on your photos since 2003 but I can find other options with a little bit of searching. bye bye


I’m with everyone else. Very disappointed in the pricing changes. I will definitely be taking my business elsewhere as soon as my credits are used up is this does not change. Small photos have always worked for my purposes and cannot justify this price increase. Sad because I have always loved Istock before this.

… and many more.


They’ve also taken to Twitter to look for new options.


So, if you’re a small buyer and you complain, you’ll be offered the subscription plan, which will be much more than you need, at a much higher price than you need, or a large credit package to bring the price down to something that sounds reasonable, but requires a big cash outlay and a long term reliance on one distributor.

Instead, try one of the options above, which offer simple cash pricing.  Not credits that can revalued or repriced at any time.  What you see is what you get.  The user interfaces are easy to work with, and the price is right there on the page.

There are other alternatives that I like on my stock photography page.  Don’t forget that sometimes, you can go right to the artist for direct licensing, like at my Photoshelter portfolio.  We can even offer specials, like this coupon code for 20% any licensing, good until 9/26: LEFTBEHIND .  Just enter that at checkout.

I hope this helps those of you that are seeking new options.

4 thoughts on iStock Leaves Small Buyers Behind

  1. Sean, I found your post after randomly checking out istock’s hilarious Twitter feed, but I’m very disappointed because you always leave us out! 😀

    Just like GL and Pond5, we also try to give back to the community as much as possible, and our pricing is pretty consistent as well. We might be a small business, but I’m proud to say that we don’t rip people off.

    Anyway, I hope everyone will find an alternative they like. Cheers!

    • Thanks for the input, Peter. I know SF is kind of “under the radar” at this point, and people would like to see business pick up.

  2. I joined iStock at the end of 2003, and have spent something north of $3300 since then. I’m by way of being a one-man art department at work, and I purchase my own equipment, software and, yes, stock images.

    The original pricing scheme was almost too good to be true (and certainly a rotten deal for the contributors), and while I regretted the price increases over the years, I did not regard them as unjust. This latest round, however, puts them out of reach. I looked the other day at an image I might have paid six or seven dollars for five years ago: it’s $33 now.

    Fortunately, I accumulated a fairly large catalogue while iStock’s product was affordable. The subscription model remains within reach (250 images in 30 days–within a subset of the collection–for $199), but if you read the fine print of the license terms, you are expected to download only such images as you will use in projects during the subscription term (to “avoid hoarding,” as I was told). They actually called me up last summer to point this out to me. I reassured them that every single photo and illustration was going into my opus “iStock Contact Sheets, 2014.”

    I appreciate learning about the affordable alternatives.

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