iStock Single Image Download Decline Continues

Posted on 1/2/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

iStock single image downloads appear to have continued to decline in the last half of 2016. Unfortunately, five of the 430 contributors that we tracked in the past have now disappeared. In the last report these contributors represented 544,000 total career downloads. It is unclear whether they have withdrawn their collections, or repurposed them under another brand that I am no longer able to track.

The following chart provides a breakdown of Minimum Career Downloads for the above group since 2011. Also shown is the Maximum possible DLs in the half-year in question. (To understand how I arrive at these numbers see here.) The next column is the Average of the first two numbers and finally the total downloads for the 6-month period in question.

  Minimum Maximum Average 6 Month
  Total Career Total Career Downloads Minimum
  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
July 2013 51,949,000 54,252,000 53,100,500 1,977,000
End 2013 53,248,000 55,579,000 54,413,500 1,299,000
July 2014 54,291,100 56,658,200 55,474,650 1,043,100
End 2014 54,982,100 57,311,200 56,146,650 691,000
July 2015 55,479,000 58,416,000 56,947,500 496,900
End 2015 56,070,000 58,554,000 57,312,000 591,000
July 2016 56,465,000 58,967,000 57,716,000 395,000
End 2016 56,226,000 58,705,000 57,465,500 -239,000

In we add the 544,000 missing downloads to the negative 239,000 we get 305,000 downloads. This 305,000 would be comparable to the 395,000 above it if we had data from all 430 contributors as we did in all the other cases.

Subscription Growth Offsets Single Image Loses

While single image downloads seem to be declining contributor reports indicate that subscription downloads are increasing. In early 2015 iStock introduced subscriptions as a way to compete with Shutterstock. Subscription sales have been going up steadily since then. However, the company does not include subscription downloads in the career download number that they show on the photographer page. Thus, there is no way to determine total subscription download trends

A number of photogaphers have reported recently that they get 7 to 9 subscription downloads for every single image download. (Shutterstock gets about 12 subscription downloads per single image download.) These figures give us some idea of relative customer demand for images when the customer can acquire what they need via a subscription rather than purchasing each image separately. It is unclear how many of the images downloaded via a subscription actually get used in a project. It is assumed that when a customer pays for a single image they actually end up using that image in a project.

The average gross license fee of a non-exclusive Essentials image licensed via a subscription is about $1.50. The image creator gets between 15% and 20% of that. The average gross license free of a Signature image seems to be between $4.50 and $5.00. Creator royalties range from 25% to 40% of these figures.??Thus, it appears that at iStock it is necessary to license approximately 5.5 images at subscription prices to generate revenue equal to that earned from one image purchased using credits.

Images Added To Collection

The number of new images being added to the collection are an indication of contributor dissatisfaction with iStock is . In 2014 these 425 contributors added 424,079 images which represented an average growth of 23% to their collections compared to the collection size at the end of 2013. Two years later in 2016 they added on 308,932 images. This number represented about 12% average growth compared to their collection sizes at the end of 2015.

A few contributors added huge numbers of images during the year while the majority added very few images to their collections. The breakdown is very revealing.

  1 year 2 years 1 year
Images Added 2014 realtive 2016 relative 2016 relative
  to 2013 to 2014 to 2015
More than 1,000 64 99 62
Between 200 and 1,000 111 81 70
Between 100 and 200 33 20 29
Between 10 and 100 67 51 57
Less than 10 18 21 15
No images or Removed 132 153 192
  425 425 425

The 264 contributors who have submitted fewer than 100 images in the last year represent 62% of this group. Granted, these 425 contributors are only a small sampler of the over 100,000 iStock contributors. But with 56,226,000 total downloads, I believe they are among the most successful iStock contributors if not the most successful.

When I first started tracking these contributors back in 2011, they were the 425 leading iStock sellers according to iStockcharts. It is possible that others who started with iStock later now have over 43,000 single image downloads (the lowest contributors on my list) and should be included on a list of top sellers. If so, I think there are very few. Unfortunately, actual comparative numbers are no longer being published so there is no way of knowing.

Most of the people I’ve been tracking began contributing images to iStock before 2008. They were very successful in the early years and the images they produced generated huge numbers of downloads. They know what sells and they have continued to produce imagery that is in demand. Nevertheless, their sales have been declining significantly in recent years.

I believe the combined 56,336,000 career downloads of these contributors represents between 25% and 33% of all iStock downloads since the company was founded in 2000. Combined, a little less than 3 million of the images in the iStock collection belong to these contributors. This is certainly less than 10% of the collection although there is no information publically available as to the exact size of the collection.

Of the 30 top contributors who added a total for 486,546 images in the last two years, their combined possible downloads in 2015 and 2016 was 1,165,000 images. However, their minimum career downloads were 8,798,000. Thus, in the last two years their average downloads represented only about 13% of their career downloads. Even these best selling contributors were seeing declines.

Copyright © 2017 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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