Getty Launches iStock Subscriptions To Compete With Shutterstock

Posted on 4/10/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Getty Images has launched its iStock subscription offering in an attempt to compete with Shutterstock. There are two levels of iStock subscriptions – iStock Essentials and iStock Signature.

With iStock’s offering customers can download 250 images a month with the monthly plan or 750 images a month with the annual plan. With Shutterstock there is a daily limit of 25 images a day (750 a month) regardless of which plan you purchase.

With Getty’s Thinkstock there is a $299 monthly plan that allows 25 downloads a day. Customers can drop the plan at any time. Thinkstock also has a yearly plan for $1,668 ($139 a month) that allows 50 downloads a month and a plan for $2,496 ($208 per month) that allows 25 downloads a day.

  Month Year People Images
iStock Essentials $199 $1,999 1,421,985
      Downloads 250 per month 750 per month  
iStock Signature $499 $3,999 2,507,327
      Downloads 250 per month 750 per month  

The Signature collection has 1,085,342 images keyworded “people” from photographers with exclusive contracts and 1,421,985 non-exclusive images for a total of 2,507,327 people images. Since the 2,507,327 is less than the 2,625,671 people images if you search iStock for “people,” obviously some users have been allowed to opt out. The Essentials collection includes images from non-exclusive contributors and a few from the “Main” collection. The Main collection includes some exclusive contributor images that have been downgraded in price.  

Getty makes a big deal about the exclusive images that are available to customers who purchase the Signature subscription and points out that it, “includes all iStock Essentials plus over 5 million handpicked photos and illustrations you can’t get from the other guys.” Here’s a comparison of the “people” images available in four different collections along with the monthly and annual subscription prices. The iStock prices allow 250 downloads per month and the others allow 750 downloads per month.

  People Images Monthly Subscription Annual Subscription
  Available   750 images per month
iStock Essentials 1,421,985 $199 $1,999
iStock Signature 2,507,327 $499 $3,999
Thinkstock 4,324,302 $229 $2,496
Shutterstock 5,992,205 $249 $2,559

It is hard to imagine that the slightly lower price for iStock Essentials will have any effect on Shutterstock. If the customer wants iStock non-exclusive images, over 6 million of them are also available on Thinkstock. But, on Thinkstock, for a slightly higher price, customers not only get a lot more choice, but included in that choice are images from Image Source, Digital Vision, Moodboard, Blend and Monkeybusiness to name only a few of the high quality traditional RF brands represented there.

When we compare the iStock Signature collection with Shutterstock’s we find that Signature is 150% more costly on a monthly basis and 56% more costly on an annual basis for access to probably less than half as many images. Granted, the images from iStock’s exclusive photographers are only available on iStock, but subscription customers are interested in volume at a lower price, not images that may not have used as widely as similar images that can be found elsewhere.

It seems unlikely that any satisfied Shutterstock customer will switch to iStock as a result of this offer.

Will It Grow Or Reduce Revenue?

This move seems more likely to result in a further decline in iStock revenue rather than an increase. The key is that “All image sizes are included” in the subscriptions. Up to now virtually all iStock licenses were based on the file size needed. The larger the file size the more the customer is required to pay.

Now, existing iStock customers who need large file sizes for a significant number of their uses will find that subscriptions will be a more cost effective way to acquire the images they need than through single image purchases.

Suppose a customer usually needs a large non-exclusive file that costs $6.40. If the customer uses just 32 images a month it is cheaper to get them through a subscription than by paying for them individually. The more he uses the cheaper each image becomes. And, of course, with a subscription he can download many images that he will only use for planning and rough layout purposes because there is no additional cost.

If the customer uses as few as 8 large size Signature+ images a month it will be cheaper to get them through a subscription - even at the $499 price - than to pay for them individually. If he buys only 6 of the XXLarge file size images a month a subscription would be cheaper.

It is also interesting to consider that for each Signature+ image downloaded the exclusive photographer will receive $2.50. That’s $20 in royalty for 8 images or 4% of the subscription revenue collected. On the other hand maybe subscription customers will download a lot of Signature+ images they never use and photographers will get $2.50 for each of those as well.

From the photographer’s perspective instead of getting a 25% to 40% royalty of a $64 sale for the download of a large Signature+ image he will get $2.50. He has to hope that a lot of customers download images of his that they never intend to use. Look for more exclusive photographers to switch to non-exclusive and start putting their images on other sites.

Photographer Payment

Most other microstock and subscription sites report downloads and the amount owed the photographer instantaneously, as soon as the image is downloaded. In fact, iStock does that with individual licenses. But when it comes to subscription sales (which should be easier) Getty’s coders don’t seem to be able to figure out how to do it. Downloads will not be reported until the month after the sale is made. Even then, there is no guarantee Getty will get it right. Last fall Getty overpaid over 9,000 iStock contributors whose images are also being licensed through Thinkstock subscriptions. Now Getty is in the process of reclaiming all that money through deductions from photographer’s future sales.

Most of the images that were on have been consolidated into Thinkstock and has been re-launched as a site aimed exclusively at selling fine art prints.

Legal Bungle


The only problem is that there is no section 13.9 in the terms. The last term is 10.10! Anyone, who signs up for a subscription in the near future may want to keep a copy of the terms they agreed to just in case Getty ever comes after them for unauthorized use and they need to produce a copy of their agreement. Eventually, Getty’s lawyers, or their technology developers, will probably find section 13.9 and all the other missing sections in between.

Copyright © 2014 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:  


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