iStockphoto’s Photos+

Posted on 7/26/2011 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

After lowering royalty rates for non-exclusive contributors in January, iStockphoto introduced a new strategy in early May that made it possible for non-exclusive contributors to offer a portion of their images at higher prices. Non-exclusive contributors are now allowed to nominate up to 15% of their total portfolios for inclusion in the Photos+ brand.

These photos will be priced at the same level of those of Exclusive contributor which is 2, 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 credits depending on the file size requested. These prices compare with 1,3, 7, 10, 15, 20 and 25 credits that are charged for most images belonging to non-exclusive contributors. Customers pay between $0.95 and $1.62 per credit depending on the size of the credit package they purchase.

In theory the price increases should make it possible for non-exclusive photographers to earn significantly more money. When Fotolia first offered premium collections a few years ago a 50% price increase resulted in almost a 50% increase in sales. That is definitely not happening with Photos+. The reason may be that there were already more than enough good images at a variety of microstock price points to satisfy customer needs. More images are not needed.

We’ve talked to a number of photographers about their initial experiences with Photos+. A few have seen some growth in revenue since the beginning of the year, but in general most are seeing an overall decline in revenue, and certainly a decline compared to what they were earning in 2010. There are several possible reasons for this trend.

1 – In January the royalty rates of non-exclusive photographers were reduced -- in some cases by as much at 25%. That is certainly one reason for the revenue decline photographers are experiencing. According to COO Kelly Livingston this royalty reduction was necessary in order for the company to remain profitable.

2 - Most photographers are seeing fewer downloads. This results in an overall decline in revenue for photographers, despite the fact that they earn more when their images are licensed for higher prices.

– The higher prices for the Photos+ images may be driving customers to use images that are still priced at the basic non-exclusive level. Most photographers believe that while the new prices are a significant percentage increase over the basic price for most non-exclusive images, the price is still low enough that it should not be a major cause of fewer sales.

4 – There are those who point out that iStock has been tweaking its “Best Match” search return order. It tends to push the even higher priced Exclusive+, Vetta and The Agency Collection images toward the top of the search-return-order. Even so, using the same logic the Photos+ images should be given favorable positions ahead of the vast majority of non-exclusive images. Thus, it would seem that the Photos+ images might already be closer to the top than they were before. However, changes in the Best Match algorithm have still not resulted in increased sales. iStock says it is still tweaking the “Best Match” algorithm in an effort to improve sales for Photos+ photographers.

5 – Some photographers point out that in past years sales have tended to decline during the summer months. This might explain recent declines except for the fact that many of these same photographers report that their number of images licensed and royalties received have been steadily increasing at Shutterstock and Dreamstime; and to some extent at Fotolia and 123RF. If there is a “summer doldrums” effect it only seems to happen at iStockphoto; nowhere else.

6 – It seems clear that there has been a general decline in sales at iStockphoto. More and more customers seem to be going to Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, 123RF and others to get the images they need. Alexa and Google analytics support these trends. This is probably due the price increases for the premium brands that were instituted in 2010 before Photos+ was being offered.

The number of units licensed by iStock has been declining since the introduction of higher priced brands. The company licensed rights to about 17.55 million images in 2007 and it is believed close to 25 million in 2008. However, since then there has been a steady decline because of the economy and increasing competition. In the last 12 months price increases seem to be driving customers to other sites. Based on iStock’s sales through July it is expected that the number of units licensed in 2011 will be in the range of 19 to 20 million.

Of course due to price increases revenue for 2011 will be about 5 times what it was in 2007. As long as revenue continues to rise iStock can be expected to continue to raise prices and make images available at a greater variety of price points.

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:  


  • Pete Saloutos Posted Jul 26, 2011
    I've changed 15 % of my images to the higher paying bracket and it' working. Up 50% in one week. My suggestion for any non exclusive Istock photographer is do it!
    Thanks Jim for suggesting this!
    pete saloutos

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Jul 26, 2011
    As I read these cheap image stories, I always come back to the idea that this Microstock & RF race seems to be a race to the bottom!

    No thanks for me.... I'll stay with RM.

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