iStock Downloads Down Significantly In 2014

Posted on 1/5/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Getty’s simplification and dramatic lowering of iStock prices in September in an effort to better complete with Shutterstock doesn’t seem to be working. The number of images downloaded in the last half of 2014 for 430 of iStock’s top producers was down about 34% compared to the first half of 2014.

It is important to note that total career downloads since 2002 for these 430 contributors has been between 54,982,100 and 57,311,200. This represents about one-third of all images downloaded from iStock since its founding. Consequently this relatively small number of contributors should give a good indication of what is happening at iStock overall.

While downloads for this group in the past three years have been down in the second half of the year compared to the first half, the drop this year seems more significant. See chart below.

  Minimum Maximum Average Six Month Year Year
  Total Career Total Career Downloads Minimum Minimum Average
  Downloads Downloads   Downloads Downloads Downloads
End 2011 46,100,000          
July 2012 48,214,000     2,114,000    
End 2012 49,972,000 52,217,000 50,744,500 1,758,000 3,872,000  
July 2013 51,949,000 54,252,000 53,100,500 1,977,000 3,735,000  
End 2013 53,248,000 55,579,000 54,413,500 1,299,000 3,276,000 2,803,500
July 2014 54,291,100 56,658,200 55,474,650 1,043,100 2,342,100  
End 2014 54,982,100 57,311,200 56,146,650 691,000 1,734,100 2,031,600

For more information about how I arrived at these numbers see this link.

The average number of downloads in 2014 for this group is on 3.6% of their total historical downloads. There may be some other explanations for the decline.

Are Subscription Downloads Counted?

There seems to be a possibility that subscription downloads are not counted. I get my information on the total number of images downloaded from the contributors profile page. See example. In theory, every time there is a paid download of an image it is added to the count here. That’s the way it has been for years. Since the breakdown of this number is also attached to each individual image in a photographer’s portfolio the photographer instantly determine which of his/her images are best sellers.

Some photographers have indicated that subscription downloads don’t seem to be added to their total number of downloads. This would seem unusual, but it is certainly possible. At Shutterstock all subscription, as well as single image, downloads are counted. To the best of my knowledge the same is true of all other microstock sites that have a subscription offering.

For several years Getty has been trying to find away to keep their customers from fleeing to Shutterstock and other microstock brands, but with little evidence of success. In April 2014, after years of only offering single image pricing, iStock introduced a subscription option.

In a September PR release iStock said that, “subscriptions now represent a meaningful percentage of total iStock sales and materially increased spend-per-customer.” They also indicated that three-quarters of subscription sales were generated by Signature images. The images of about three-quarters of the contributors I track are in the Signature collection. The subscription plan that makes Signature images available to customers costs $3999 per year or $499 per month.

If subscription downloads are not tracked that could explain a lot about why total downloads are so low.

Images From The Getty Images Collection

In the last year or so Getty has been moving a lot of images from the Getty Images royalty free collection to iStock. In many cases these images are promoted ahead of the images in the default search-return-order. Thus, it is possible that a significant number of the sales being made are of images belonging to contributors from Getty Images, not iStock. These would not show up in my numbers because I am not tracking any of the Getty Images contributors. Thus I may be missing a significant percentage of sales.

Rather than using the default “Best Match” search-return-order many customers organize their searches by “Most Popular.” When they do that the long time iStock contributors have a definite advantage in getting their images seen and used.

New Contributors May Be Selling Better

Nearly all the contributors I track began working with iStock before 2009. As a result they have built up large image collections in proportion to their numbers. Combined this group has 2,255,531 images in the iStock collection or about 10% of its total. Many of these people continue to produce large numbers of new images annually.

Nevertheless, a few of the newer contributors may be giving these old timers a lot of competition. A significant percentage of total downloads may belong to them.

Copyright © 2015 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Stan Rohrer Posted Jan 5, 2015
    I paid 2 credits for you to tell me mostly why your numbers could be wrong. I agree they very well could be wrong for those reasons. I'd hoped you researched the concerning numbers so we have a better confidence in your premise of 34% decline.

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