iStockphoto Kicks Out Leading Contributors

Posted on 2/11/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Sean Locke is one of the 5 top iStockphoto contributors with over 12,000 images in his collection and close to a million downloads of his images since he started working with iStock in August 2004. Rob Sylvan is author of “Taking Stock,” was on iStock staff for many years and has helped thousands of photographers build and improve their microstock businesses. Sylvan has been an iStock contributor since August 2002. He only has 196 photos in the iStock collection, but has had over 37,000 downloads.

Both men were given notice as of February 8th that their contracts will be terminated in 30 days. No clear explanation for the terminations has been provided.

While outspoken, Locke has always been a very active promoter of microstock photography and quick to help and advise other microstock shooters. Until, a couple years ago he was generally very supportive of iStock policies. However, since the company instituted the “redeemend credits” payout system in early 2011, and other changes that have not seemed to benefit either contributors or iStockphoto, he has become more outspoken. iStockphoto sales have been declining in general. Locke’s downloaded in the last three years went from about 140,000 in 2010 to about 120,000 in 2011 and down to between 60,000 and 70,000 in 2012.

When it was discovered a couple of months ago that Getty had licensed a large number of images to Google for unlimited use by Google Drive customers Locke was a leader in helping contributors understand what happened.

In addition Getty seems to believe that Locke was leading a movement of iStock contributor to deactivate a number of their images on February 2nd as a protest of Getty’s deal with Google. In fact he had nothing to do with that movement and never encouraged anyone to participate in it.

It also appears that Getty believes that both Locke and Sylvan are involved in, or somehow exploring the formation of, a new microstock agency called Stocksy. Very little is known of this agency. The founder of Stocksy is Bruce Livingston, the founder of iStockphoto. Livingston sold out to Getty Images in early 2006 for $50 million.

Those who visit the Stocksy site are told, “Stocksy pays the highest royalty in the industry as well as dividends and patronage performance returns to artists, 50% on regular sales and 100% of extended licenses. By design, Stocksy pays out all profits to artists. In addition to paying dividend and patronage fees to artists on a yearly basis, each member of the co-op owns real equity in the company.”

Those interested in learning more are asked to supply their email address and told they will be contacted. It is unclear who will participate as founding photographers, whether every contributor will be an owner, or only a select few of the most productive; how many images the site is likely to have at launch; when it might launch; what usage fees might be or how they will market and find customers.

Why Did Getty Do This?

It is very hard to see any business logic behind Getty’s banning of Sean Locke. His 2012 sales alone probably generated 3 to 4 times as much revenue for Getty Image as they received from all the licensing of images in the Google Drive deal.

Some contributors believe Getty is trying to get rid of exclusive contributors in an effort to reduce the higher royalties they currently pay them. But the amount of revenue each exclusive sale brings in is often 3 to 6 times the revenue from a non-exclusive sale. Thus, the net revenue for Getty – even paying a lower royalty percentage – would be less than Getty could get from licensing one of their higher priced exclusive images.

It also seems likely that many iStock exclusive contributors that have been quietly watching the goings on in the last few months will now either pull their images entirely, or, at the very least, go non-exclusive and start uploading their work on other sites. Contributors have already been losing a lot of sales compared to last year.

One forum comment went like this, “What they seem to forget is the close relationship between contributors and buyers - sometimes they are one and the same person. They cannot carry on treating their customers with this much contempt and not expect there to be repercussions. Although I no longer purchase images directly, in my day job as Studio Manager/Art Director I am reponsible for sourcing quality imagery and suppliers, those suggestions will no longer include iStock.”

Getty may hope that their action will cause other contributors to become more compliant and to toe-the-party-line for fear of losing their source of income. When it comes to those that are exclusive that seems unlikely because they have other options that up to now they haven’t explored. The non-exclusive contributors have already spread their risks. As iStock sales decline as a portion of their income it becomes less and less important to try to keep the company happy.

For more on what happened check out Sean Locke’s blog.

Copyright © 2013 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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