Other Microstock Distributors Pick Up Sales as iStock Prices Rise

Posted on 6/2/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

For more than a year iStockphoto has been raising the prices of many of the most in-demand images on its site by raising the prices of credit packages, increasing the number of credits required to purchase certain file sizes and most of all introducing new higher priced brands. The two highest priced brands are Vetta and The Agency Collection, commonly referred to as TAC.

There are also strong indications that iStock has been losing sales overall, but is still growing revenue due to the average higher prices for the lesser number of images they license.

A non-exclusive photographer who has a lot of good recreation photos on both iStock and Shutterstock recently observed that his images on Shutterstock have been outselling those on iStock 3 to 1. Until earlier this year iStock was outselling Shutterstock 3 to 1. Other photographers confirm this trend.

(This shift cannot be attributed to new uploads on Shutterstock. Because Shutterstock is a subscription service images often sell in high volumes in the early months but sales taper off more quickly than is the case with iStock. However, this photographer has not added any significant number of new images to either his iStock or Shutterstock collections since late last year. In both cases the collections are relatively stable.)

The iStock photographers that benefit from this trend are those with images in the higher priced collections. They represent a relatively small percentage of iStock’s total contributors. To participate in the higher priced collections the images must be exclusive with iStock. In addition, a photographer must have at least 250 downloads from the iStock collection before being allowed to be exclusive. iStock says it has about 100,000 contributors to its collection, but only about 5% have chosen to be exclusive. The other 95% suffer not only from a decline in images licensed, but from a lowered royalty share since the beginning of 2011.

On top of this iStock seems to have been pushing the exclusive images (which generate more revenue for them) higher in the search return order. This makes the exclusive photographers happy and encourages more to go exclusive, but increases the problems for the non-exclusive photographers.

It should also be noted that many of iStock’s customers are also non-exclusive contributors. They are unhappy with the lowering of non-exclusive royalty rates early in 2011. In rebellion many have turned to using other microstock sources for the images they need. Given that their sales per-image-in-the-collection are likely to continue to decline and their gross monthly revenue has dropped for the first time since they began contributing to microstock, they are not likely to return to being enthusiastic supporters of iStock in the future.

The Agency Collection

Meanwhile, traditional stock shooters are beginning to expend much more of their time shooting for the higher priced collections.

Many of the photographers with Blend Images are putting a significant portion of their new production into TAC rather than into traditional RF or RM.

One of the more interesting groups to add images to TAC is Cathy Yeulet’s StockBrokerXtra collection. Cathy, and her partner Mark Butler, developed a very successful RF collection called Banana Stock some years ago. They sold it to Jupiterimages in 2005. In March 2008 after their non-compete was finished they launched MonkeyBusinessImages and began producing microstock. This company has a collection of 3435 images on iStock and has licensed more than 300,000 uses to those images on iStock alone. Many of the same images are on a host of other microstock sites as well. According to iStockcharts only 14 other individuals or companies have licensed more images through iStock than MonkeyBusinessImages. Recently they launched a new brand called StockBrokerXtra that will place images into iStock’s TAC collection. In addition to images they produce themselves, they will be accepting images from a few other photographers for inclusion in this new collection.

From what we are hearing the average return-per-image-licensed for images in the TAC are now approaching the averages photographers are receiving for the images they have in Rights Mananged collections. Of course, they are also making a lot more sales through the TAC than they make the images that are being licensed as RM.

Many of the photographers who still insist on licensing their images as RM do so because they don’t want to see their images licensed for low prices. The irony is that many RM and traditional RF images are being licensed through various types of bulk sale agreements for much lower prices than the lowest price charged to use a TAC image.

Indications are that many of the other most experienced stock photographers will now be looking for ways to get their images into iStock’s TAC collection.

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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Robert Henson Posted Jun 3, 2011
    Jim, while we have seen an increase in our photographers' submissions to TAC, the majority of what Blend Images publishes is still RM and RF non-exclusive for syndication throughout our channel.

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