iStockphoto’s Opt in or Close Account Ultimatum

This is on iStock’s Artist’s Suply Agreement (ASA) questions and answers page.

Q. How do I say no to the new ASA?
A. Contact [email protected] to close your account.

On September 28 non-exclusive contributors of iStockphoto will either have to accept the new ASA or leave. When the new ASA takes effect non-exclusive files are no longer allowed to be exempt from the ‘partner program’. I’ve read many comments of what people are doing or intending to do. Some will continue as normal, some are deactivating their files or their best selling files, some will keep their files online but won’t be sending new files, some will continue to upload but only several months after they have sent their stuff to competing agencies, some have already closed their accounts. Below are comments from several microstockers in regards to iStock’s new ASA, some are direct quotes for this blog, but most of the comments are from the forum Microstock Group (msg) with the permission of those who made the comments. The name Microstocker has been used for those who wished to remain anonymous.

The Reaction

“I’ll continue to delete my photos. I’ve been removing five a day since the assault on royalties, and this just encourages me to keep going. iStock represents 15% or my modest stock income over the past year, and is down to 13% this month. I’ll miss it, but I’d miss my dignity and sense of worth more.”
Hank Shiffman: Port on Shutterstock

“As soon as Bruce sold to Getty, I knew that at some point down the road I would not fit into their grand scheme. I just don’t ever see istock going back to the way it was before. As is most things nowadays, once it flipped over into a huge amount of money type of business, the fat cats rolled in and someone like me is crap out of luck. For me, it has pretty much run its course. I will leave my images up until they no longer earn anything, then will take them down.”

“After giving it a lot of thought, I decided to stay with istock and I accepted the new agreement. I’m not thrilled about having my work in the Partner Program, since obviously ThinkStock is designed to compete with Shutterstock and having my work on ThinkStock could potentially cannibalize my Shutterstock earnings. But right now I also don’t see ThinkStock posing any serious threat to Shutterstock. They don’t have anything significant enough to lure SS subscribers over to their site.

If that ever changes, and if I see increasing ThinkStock sales and decreasing Shutterstock sales, I’d have to reconsider my stance on the Partner Program. But for now, I’m not worried about it. Shutterstock is my top earning agency by a lot, and I’ll be careful to monitor how my earnings there look by comparison to ThinkStock, but right now I’m not convinced that ThinkStock is equipped to become any noticeable threat to my Shutterstock earnings.”
Mike McDonald: Port on Shutterstock

“I already left beginning of the year when the lowered royalties kicked in. These new changes don’t make me feel like I have to reconsider that decision.”
dirkr: Port on Zoonar

“I’m not happy but I’m staying. Too much of my income comes from iStock to leave (as I’m sure they realize). I won’t lift a finger to help them, but I’m not going to hurt my income any further by pulling out.

The less money they make me, the easier they make it to leave them, but at the moment, they haven’t cut my income enough to make it easy to walk away.

I just hope that like a good movie plot, at some future time all the bad karma will come back to bite Getty on the arse. Life doesn’t always oblige that way, but one can only hope.”
Jo Ann Snover: Port on Shutterstock

“A year ago I stopped uploading new images there. Now I’ve picked the images I’ll keep on there and I put them into p+ (if they weren’t already) – a mix of decent sellers that didn’t get accepted or never really sold much at other sites and smaller images and old crappy ones. As the 28th approaches I’ll start removing the rest. I’ll be sorry to lose all the work that it took to get them up and the shrinking income I still get there, but I am sick of their heavy handed approach and greedy ways. I have no reason to believe that things will get any better there, so I am going to make this move. I wish everyone would do the same, as it would make Getty and the others take notice, but I can understand why people don’t.”
Pancaketom: Port on Dreamstime

“So probably many of us will stay on IS… That may be OK for now. But we have to make plan on long period and on personal level, some kind of process through time how to bring customers on agencies with better deal for us.”
Sbotas: Port on 123rf

“I’m leaving – the only decision I have left to make now is whether I close my account completely, or disable most of my portfolio. I may leave a couple of old images active to keep my account open, just in case iStock management changes for the better someday (dream on). I expect that if I stay things will keep getting worse – earnings will continue to decrease over time, and the terms of the ASA will become even more unreasonable. I’m jumping off the sinking ship now, and plan on working very hard to create my best new images for iStock’s competitors. I see it as sacrificing short term gain for long term stability, both for myself and for the industry as a whole. The alternative is to give in to hopelessness and let iStock kick me around to the bitter end. Call me deluded, but I’m casting my vote in favor of hope.”

“I’ve joined a bunch of smaller sites I wouldn’t have bothered with a year or two ago as part of a strategy to maximize my earnings on my existing portfolio.

It’s all well and good for us to plan ahead and do what we can to support the industry for the long term, but developments in the last year have me questioning whether there is a long term for microstock – at least from the contributor perspective.”
Lisafx: Port on Dreamstime

It’s Just Business

“I know you non-exclusives are pissed and you should be.

You are getting F-ed again. How many ways does IS need to tell you  to piss off? Their business model does not include you.”

Read Also  How Shutterstock, iStock and Getty compare on Google Trends

And he may be right. Or iStock may have determined that enough contributors will continue, no matter how many times they are hit or how much their revenue drops. As of January this year iStock reduced commissions for non-exclusive contributors to as low as 15%. The reason given was that their business model was “unsustainable” despite being one of the world’s most successful microstock agencies.

“When you start pushing commissions down to 15% that’s when people really start uprising. I have about 300 direct/regular buyers and they all say the same when we have talks and they get to know that the commissions are that low: “wow, I did not know that, I will stop buying from them”. When all platforms are offering the same images (more or less) fairness matters.”
Yuri Arcurs: Port on Shutterstock

Fairness should matter to both buyers and contributors. Many buyers are not aware of just how low commissions have become and for sure there will be buyers that will search for images elsewhere, if they know. If you bought something for your business from a business which has evidently questionable morals/tactics, this in turn could affect how your own business is seen. For contributors, most just see the dollars they receive and try not to think too much about what an agency has earned from their work, but a growing number of them, unable to stomach this fact any longer are dumping agencies like iStock, despite short term financial loss to their microstock income and some of them have quite large microstock incomes too.

An ‘unsustainable business model’, was the reason given for having to cut commissions, a far cry from what they were saying in April 2008:

“That our revenue and payouts have eclipsed those of many traditional stock photography companies confirms that microstock is a viable and profitable business model for contributors and clients. We wanted to share the sheer scale of how viable and profitable we’ve all become together. The supercharged growth we had in 2007 was orchestrated by an astounding management team that helped make iStockphoto the envy of the industry.”

iStock’s next step may well be to disallow exclusives from opting out of the partner program. Why not? If it’s now all about the bottom line, there are still many more possibilities I can think of. 15% commission isn’t 5% so there is still room for further adjustments. Shutterstock in comparison, keeps on doing what it’s always done, without changing anything and without upsetting the blood flow, and they seemingly go from strength to strength. Although, one noticeable thing is, although they haven’t decreased what they pay they’re not giving pay rises either, as they frequently did in the past. I guess when everyone around them are cutting contributor commissions, all they have to do is stand still and be seen as a knight in shining armour.


One person says in the quotes above, “I’m jumping off the sinking ship now..” There seems to be a lot of contributors who believe that iStock is sinking, these opinions may be because the percentage of contributors who are sinking is increasing (particularly non-exclusives), but iStock itself isn’t sinking. However, if current decision making is based on short term gain, this may not play well for long term prospects, which ultimately could be more of a worry for iStock exclusives. For now though, reports on decreasing revenues for non-exclusive contributors appear to be on the rise, and I’m not talking about those with small ports who can double their portfolio size in a short time. I’m talking about those that make a living, or at least a large part of their income coming from microstock. Only this week the world’s most successful microstock photographer started a thread on msg, stating that his sales were dropping and particularly for iStock.

Is ThinkStock A Threat?

For non-exclusive contributors who are used to travelling on several ships and are uploading as normal, and allowing their images to go in the partner program, in this particular case having one foot on one ship whilst at the same time having another foot on another, could potentially have negative consequences. Shutterstock has been virtually unrivalled in the subscription market ever since its inception, but with ThinkStock desiring to chip away at Shutterstock’s customer base and prospective customers, supporting another subscription model with the same files may well end up diminishing your revenue at Shutterstock, who never seem to take any severe measures in order to sustain a so called uhum, ‘unsustainable’ business for example. With credit package purchases, it’s easy to jump around from agency to agency and many buyers do. But for those who primarily buy large subscription packages, I’d imagine they would choose one or the other and one of the major factors in making this decision is the amount of choice available. Right now ThinkStock isn’t a threat to Shutterstock, but it could be easier for it to become a threat when all those who are sticking with iStock are no longer allowed to opt out of the partner program, and it could become more of a threat to Shutterstock, if one day iStock exclusives are told to either accept a new ASA or ‘contact [email protected] to close your account’.

iStock may once have been the envy of the microstock industry, but all of them look at Shutterstock’s model and think, if only we thought of that first. Their leading position in the subs market though is of course not infallible.


iStock (or rather their owners) are continually trying to squeeze more and more out of the files they hold, in every conceivable way and seemingly focusing on short term gain, I’m not convinced that their decision making in the last few years will ultimately benefit them in the long term. Whatever the future holds for iStockphoto though, the glory days for so many of their contributors have long gone. And from looking at iStock’s traffic, it seems that many of their buyers have gone too. This still doesn’t mean that the company is making a loss, at the moment far from it, but the ever shortening tail made up buyers which was once very long could pose risks in long term prospects, especially if those falling off the tail are helping to make iStock’s competitors stronger.

Whatever you decide to do, to keep your head above water in the microstock industry is of course up to you, but with options continually diminishing and commissions diminishing too, there may be nothing you can do.

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