iStockphoto Changes Download Information Display Policy

Posted on 6/9/2009 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

As of June 4, iStockphoto has modified how it displays the number of downloads for each file and contributors. Rather than exact numbers, downloads are now reported as approximations, such as >20, >300, >1,000 or >10,000.

Since its founding, iStock has made such information publicly available to site visitors. This has not only helped customers know how frequently a particular photo had been used, it has also worked as a motivator to contributors who liked to compare their results with others and compete with their peers. Such competition was often a big motivation for beginners.

Some feel that the surprise change in how download numbers are displayed may have been an effort to discourage copycats; however, when you search by downloads, the images re still ordered based on actual numbers. Thus, this does not seem to be much of a deterrent.

Could it be that Selling Stock’s June 2 analysis of iStock’s numbers for the past quarter hit a little too close to home for the people in Calgary and precipitated this move? The may fear that its June and July figures will show a plateau—or worse yet, a downturn—in the number of units licensed.

From a business point of view, such a move is not surprising, but contributors should be careful to consider all of its implications. It is a typical big-business strategy to trumpet your numbers when business is steadily improving month to month, and iStock has been great at doing that. However, when things start to turn around, the best thing to do is to hide your numbers and put out a lot of press releases telling everyone how great you are. Incidentally, this is pretty much the strategy Getty Images used when things were going well.

To be fair, iStock—with the undesired help of iStockcharts—has made a lot more information available about their business than the other major microstock sites, including Dreamstime, Fotolia and Shutterstock. Maybe it is reasonable for iStock to move more toward hide mode. It will be interesting to see whether Dreamstime and Fotolia will also cloak exact download numbers.

Copyright © 2009 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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