Sales For iStock Leading Contributors Continue To Decline

Posted on 7/2/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Downloads for 430 of iStock’s leading contributors have continued their steady decline in the first half of 2015.  Getty had hoped that the launch of iStock subscriptions in April 2014 and the launch in September 2014 of a single price for images, regardless of the file size needed, would turn iStock’s fortunes around and bring customers back from its competitors. Neither strategy seems to have worked.

Since 2002 I have been tracking the number of downloads of 430 of iStock’s leading contributors. As of July 1, 2015 these contributors have had a combined minimum of 55,479,000 downloads since they started contributing to iStock. Based on the way iStock reports maximum possible downloads were of 58,416,000. I believe the work of these contributors represents about one-third of all the images downloaded from iStock since its founding. Consequently this relatively small number of contributors should give a good indication of what is happening at iStock overall.

  Minimum Maximum Average Six Month Year Year
  Total Career Total Career Downloads Minimum Minimum Average
  Downloads Downloads   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 3,872,000  
July 2013 51,949,000 54,252,000 53,100,500 1,977,000 3,735,000  
End 2013 53,248,000 55,579,000 54,413,500 1,299,000 3,276,000 2,803,500
July 2014 54,291,100 56,658,200 55,474,650 1,043,100 2,342,100  
End 2014 54,982,100 57,311,200 56,146,650 691,000 1,734,100 2,031,600
July 2015 55,479,000 58,416,000 56,947,500 504,900 1,187,900 1,472,850


The above figures do not include subscription downloads. Potentially, subscription revenue could be making up the difference, but contributors report that since the subscription offering was introduced they have seen a significant loss in Small and XSmall downloads for web use.

While some contributors report getting as many as 2.5 times the subscription downloads as they are receiving in “Credit Sales,” it is impossible to estimate how much revenue this represents since we have no idea of the average number of images actually downloaded via each subscription.

Nevertheless, royalties from subscription sales don’t seem to be making up for the loss of single image revenue. From the numbers above it is clear that regular downloads have dropped to about half of what they were a year ago.


Many of the iStock images are also mirrored on Thinkstock. In 2013 Getty mirrored about 6 million iStock images on Thinkstock in order to try to address competition and draw customers away from Shutterstock. Undoubtedly there are a greater number of iStock images on Thinkstock now. For a while Thinkstock sales appeared to grow (although there was no discernable impact on Shutterstock), but now, from the point of view of individual contributors, Thinkstock sales seem to be declining.

It seems likely that initially Thinkstock cannibalized some sale from and iStock. Now many of the customers that need subscriptions have simply returned to iStock.

Some of the images submitted to iStock are also “mirrored” and marketed on at higher prices. Contributors report that for the most part the Getty collection generates very few sales of their images.  Images must be accepted into iStock’s Signature Plus (S+) collection in order to be mirrored on Getty and contributors report that it has become increasing difficult to get images accepted into this collection.
A month ago it was announced that ALL iStock Exclusive Editorial images would move over to Getty. That worked for about a week, but then Getty took it down because they couldn’t get the display right. That project is currently on hold.

Lower Prices

In addition to fewer downloads, prices for single image use have been declining.

New Contributors

Getty has been doing a lot to expand the iStock collection and some of the newer contributors may be doing better on average than the group I am tracking. Nearly all the contributors I track began working with iStock before 2009.

However, the contributors who have been around for a while tend to have a search advantage. As more and more images are added to the collection it is difficult for any buyer to look at all the images offered from most searches. Thus, buyers often look for images that other customers have found useful. Rather than using the default “Best Match” search-return-order many customers organize their searches by “Most Popular,” or the images that have been most frequently downloaded by other customers. When they do this, the long time iStock contributors have a definite advantage in getting their images seen and used.

Despite this advantage, a few of the newer contributors may be giving old timers a lot of competition. A significant percentage of total downloads may belong to new contributors.

For more information about the current state of iStock check out the stories here and here.

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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