iStock Small Monthly Subscriptions; Higher Royalties

Posted on 11/4/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In an effort to compete with AdobeStock, at the end of August iStock began to test an offering of Small Monthly Subscriptions with 10 and 25 download limits. The rates for 10 downloads are $40 for Essential (non-exclusive) images and $99 for the images contributors have supplied exclusively to iStock.

The rates for 25 downloads are $65 and $149 respectively. Thus, if all the downloads are used the cost per image for 10 images would be $6.50 and for 25 images $5.96. This compares with AdobeStock’s $2.99 per image. There is no indication that unused images in a given month will be rolled over to the next month as is the case with AdobeStock.

iStock has reported that the initial market test is increasing new customer conversion and the amount customers are spending. Consequently, this product will now be part of iStock’s permanent offer. It is important to recognize that this offering may result in a decline in credit sales as customers switch from using credits to purchase images to Small Monthly Subscriptions. Contributors may receive less revenue in overall royalties for the use of their images.

New Royalty Schedule

To offset this potential loss in contributor royalties, iStock has announced a new royalty schedule for images licensed through these Small Monthly Subscriptions.

The new per-download rates for the 10 and 25 download per month subscriptions are:

  • Non-Exclusive downloads from $0.28 to $1.00
  • Exclusive Essentials downloads from $0.34 to $1.25
  • Exclusive Signature downloads from $0.75 to $2.50
  • Exclusive Signature+ downloads from $2.50 to $3.00
These downloads have thus far been generating royalties based on the contributor’s existing subscription royalty schedule. However, iStock intends to retroactively apply the new rates, for any image downloaded through the new products since they launched (August 25, 2015). These royalties will be applied to each contributor’s account by the end of November.

Given the limitations of iStock's current system, royalties for small subscriptions will show up in the contributor’s account in 2 separate areas via two different reports: The existing subscription rate that is already reported in the contributor’s stats area PLUS an admin adjustment (reported in the contributor’s CSV) equal to the difference between that rate and the new rates. The admin adjustment will be reported around the same time as the contributor's current royalties, but provided as a cumulative amount. Longer term, iStock is working on developing an integrated solution to break out these downloads with more transparency. The rate schedule will be updated in the next couple of weeks to reflect the amounts set out above for subscriptions with 25 or fewer downloads per month.

Over the last two years iStock has undergone a number of significant changes from launching subscriptions, to radically simplifying its credit offering, along with the various improvements to the site experience. In 2015 they have seen seen benefits of these changes through new customer growth and more customers downloading more content.

Shutterstock has yet to introduce a similar subscription offering. It seems likely that Shutterstock is concerned that too many of their customers would convert to the lower priced subscription and drive revenue down.

The big question is how many subscription customers use less than 10 or 25 images a month. Shutterstock certainly has that data and could accurately estimate exactly how much revenue they would be likely to lose by introducing such a plan.

Neither iStock nor Shutterstock can compete with AdobeStock when it comes to images used for planning purposes. Many subscription customers download a significant number of images that are used in the planning and design process, but never actually appear in a finished, delivered work. No one knows how many. Adobe’s system allows the customer to use these “planning images” at no cost. iStock and Shutterstock charge for, and pay royalties for, such uses.

Copyright © 2015 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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