iStockphoto: Please Switch from Photographer Exclusive to Image Exclusive

Posted on 1/5/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

If iStock is really interested in improving the quality of its collection and bringing the work of the best and most experienced photographers into its top end collections it needs to drop the requirement that exclusive photographers not have images that are licensed as RF with any other agency.  All the company really needs is that the specific images they represent, and any similars, not be in any other collection. They don’t need to define “exclusive” this tightly.  It is interesting that even Getty Images only requires “image exclusive”, but iStock want to have more control over the lives of its photographers.

The requirement that photographers can not have RF images anywhere else makes it impossible for most photographers who have participated in the traditional RF market to reap any of the benefits that iStock photographers receive from being able to license their images at higher price points. This not only discourages many experienced photographers from getting into microstock, but also makes it impossible for many of iStock’s existing contributors to move up from being non-exclusive photographers to exclusive.

The company is not only holding many of its existing contributors back from maximizing their potential, but it is discouraging them from continuing to supply new images to iStock, particularly when we also factor in the lowered royalty rate for non-exclusives.

Another interesting things about this strategy is that iStock is giving many of its images away for much less than customers would be willing to pay if the images were available in one of iStock’s higher priced brands. Thus iStock is committed to losing money in order to hold onto this principle.  

If a photographer has images with one or more traditional RF distributors then he or she must remove all of them from those collections before being allowed to participate in one of  iStock’s exclusive collections. Often, for contract reasons with the other distributor that is difficult to do. If the photographer happens to be lucky enough to only have images with one of the brands owned by Getty Images then he or she is allowed to become an iStock exclusive photographer.

Photographers who pull images from a distributor have chosen to give up a revenue stream and bet that they will more than make up the lost revenue by being exclusive with iStock. That’s a very risky bet. All the more so because there is no guarantee that iStock will even accept any of the images for marketing that are removed from the other agency.

If, iStock were willing to review all the images being represented by the other agency and guarantee the photographer, in advance of withdrawing them that iStock would include them in its collection as soon as they were made available, then it might make some sense to pull images from an existing site. However, as far as we can tell iStock is not willing to review images in this manner.

Another ridiculous rule is that photographers cannot place rejected images with any other royalty-fee distributor. iStock has a reputation for very tight editing, particularly with those photographers who are represented non-exclusively and who don’t have a track record of many downloads. That’s fine, but when a whole take is rejected the contributor ought to have the right to submit those images somewhere else. Everyone engaged in the microstock business knows that many of the image rejected by iStock sell very well through other distributors and if iStock has nothing similar in its collection the photographer ought to have the right to try to earn some revenue from those images.

The position iStock seems to have taken in holding to the Photographer Exclusive rather than Image Exclusive model is that the only photographers who can possibly produce good microstock images must have started in the RF business after 2005. One of the big complaints that traditional RF have had with microstock is that the price were too low. Now iStock had launched a strategy that has the potential to raise microstock prices significantly for images marketed through certain brands. They are basically telling the experienced photographers, “Sorry, you can’t play.”

Copyright © 2011 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:  


  • Jonathan Ross Posted Jan 5, 2011
    Hi Jim,

    Great post, I agree with you on this topic. It just doesn't make much sense and I think it would help the company in the long run to change their exclusive agreement.

    Jonathan Ross

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Jan 5, 2011
    I also agree with you totally on this Jim! Golly, that scares me because we often disagree!!! ====

  • Jon Feingersh Posted Jan 6, 2011
    Virtually everyone I know has seen substantial declines in their Getty revenue over the past year. The drop in recent months is astounding. Photographers who depend on stock for their primary income cannot possibly accept Getty demand for photographer exclusivity.

  • John Lund Posted Jan 7, 2011
    I think you are exactly right Jim, with image exclusivity, rather than photographer exclusivity, they could truly get a jump on the best images from all of the best photographers...and leave the dregs to the rest...much smarter IMHO!

    John Lund 1/7/2011

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff