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As the first and largest revenue-generating microstock agency, iStockphoto is the market leader in almost every metric you can measure. But for contributors, it’s usually a love or hate relationship, with little middle ground. Let’s take a closer look and see why some people happily throw themselves into the cult of iStockers, and others completely write off the biggest agency in the microstock business.

iStockphoto Background

iStock logo

iStockphoto are widely credited with starting the microstock industry. They were the first microstock agency to launch with a head start of around three years. The website started off providing free photos of the founder, Bruce Livingstone, before he started accepting photos from other contributors and charging a small download fee to cover hosting costs.

The website has an intense community, dominated by the industry’s largest base of exclusive contributors. The site is structured to nurture this community and it works. Their user forums are the most active of all microstock agencies, and their user-to-user communication facilities are by far the most advanced. See the website feature listings below for more details.

Bruce sold the company to stock photography industry giant Getty Images for US$50million on February 10th, 2006.

iStockphoto Details

Web Address
Google Pagerank 8
Google Backlinks 3,940
Alexa Rank 289
Image Stats 1,745,061
Minimum Image Size 1600 x 1200 (approximately 2MP)
Vectors Yes
Footage Yes
Licenses Royalty Free and Extended Licenses: Reproduction limits; Multi seat; Items for resale; Electronic items for resale.
Compensation 20% (up to 40% for exclusive photographers)
Pricing From $1.20 for Xtra small
Payment Methods PayPal, MoneyBookers, Payoneer, Check
Payout Threshold $100
Referral Program $10 one-time payment for referred buyers only
Application Process Submit three example images for review
Exclusivity additional 5-20% depending on your total sales
Upload Methods HTML Form, iPhoto plugin, Aperture plugin, Image Manager application (Mac & PC)
IPTC Data Yes
Delete images? Yes, immediately and individually
Currencies US Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Euro, Pounds Sterling, Australian Dollar, Japanese Yen, Chinese RMB
Languages Dutch, English, French, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese (and Brazilian Portuguese), Russian, Spanish
Headquarters Alberta, Canada

Cool Features

  • Photographer Ranking – iStockphoto have a ‘Canister’ ranking system based on the total number of sales. Each photographer has an icon for their canister level displayed on their profile page.
    Bronze 500 iStockphoto Bronze Canister
    Silver 2,500 iStockphoto Silver Canister
    Gold 10,000 iStockphoto Gold Canister
    Diamond 25,000 iStockphoto Diamond Canister
    Black Diamond 200,000 iStockphoto Black Diamond Canister
  • Creative Networks – This is a buddy system that allows you to link to other members. Your creative network of linked members is displayed on your profile page.
  • Sitemail – This allows you to contact other members directly without everybody exposing their email addresses. The system is well developed and functional.
  • Disambiguation – One of the most controversial features of any microstock website. Disambiguation, as the name implies, removes the ambiguity around keywords.
  • Keyword Wiki – Allows members to suggest additions and removals of keywords of other contributors’ images. This keeps everyone honest and allows the community to maintain the integrity of the keywording system.
  • Free Images – iStockphoto provides a Free Image of the Week. You’re also able to download the previous two free images.
  • Most Popular Files – iStockphoto have put a lot of effort into their most popular files page. It provides a list of the top selling photos and highest rated photos for the last week, last month and the last three months. They even take it further with a zeitgeist showing the top 5 gaining files, top 5 declining files, photographers on the rise, and photographers with the highest average downloads per file.
  • Lightboxes – Like most microstock websites, iStockphoto has a lightbox facility. Lightboxes containing images from more than one photographer can be made public and shared. The lightbox page shows the most popular lightboxes across the website.
  • Dollar Bin – Images that don’t meet the technical requirements of the inspectors are sometimes offered to be put in the Dollar Bin. Here, they’re available for… you guessed it, a dollar.
  • Statistics and Graphs – This is another area where iStockphoto excels. The stats tab of your own profile page shows you your earnings and downloads for the current month, and separately for the current calendar year, in a nice simple graph. You can scroll back and forth between the months and years within these graphs.iStockphoto stats graph for May 2007
  • Personal Blogs – Each iStockphoto member can write their own blog right there in their public profile.
  • Interviews – As part of your public profile you can answer a standard set of interview questions designed to provide the public with a light-hearted idea of who you are and what you do.
  • Avatars – In addition to uploading a picture to your public profile, iStockphoto allows you to create a small icon 25 by 25 pixels. This avatar appears beside your username in many parts of the website. It’s part of the personalization that contributes to the community aspect of the site.
  • Exclusivity Estimator – If you’re considering going exclusive you can use the Exclusivity Estimator to gauge how much additional income you’re likely to make, based on your choice of expected growth rate. It’s a nice tool, especially when you see your future revenue figures going so high on the graph.
  • Peer Reviews & Ratings – Each photo on iStockphoto can be rated and reviewed. Both are public and reviews indicate which member wrote them. Ratings are from 1 to 5.
  • Merchandise – iStockphoto is one of the few microstock agencies which sell branded merchandise. Their selection includes hats, t-shirts, bags and mouse-mats, all bearing the iStockphoto logo.
  • Screensavers – Yes, iStockphoto have screensavers. They connect to their website and display either the photos from the recent Free Image of the Week, or the results of their Steel Cage battles.
  • Statistics Widgets – Apple Dashboard and Konfabulator/Yahoo widgets are available to display your statistics and content updates from the website. There’s even a Windows version though it’s becoming quite outdated (v0.7).
  • Software Plugins – These little tools make life a lot easier if you use iPhoto or Aperture to manage your images. They make it possible to upload your images directly from the application, saving quite a few steps of the process, especially if you’re completing your IPTC data.
  • LightShows – This little software gem enables you to automatically browse through the images in a Lightbox and even control the speed. It’s not going to impact your sales, but it sure makes life easier for people who view a lot of lightboxes.
  • ColorSchemes – Don’t like the standard blue color of the website? Go to your control panel and change it to one of the other six colors.
    iStockphoto's colour scheme selections
  • Metric & Imperial Measurements – Whether you’re in the modern world of metric measurements or still in the imperial ages, iStockphoto can accommodate you.
  • Sell Prints – buyers can buy prints of your images in addition to licenses (downloads). Contributors can opt-in to selling prints on a per-image or portfolio-wide basis.
  • Steel Cage Battles – Designers keen on creating visually appealing images by combining other images can enter the iStockphoto Steel Cage to battle it out with other designers for glory and an extra profile icon. These battles make for some exceptionally interesting creations.

Performance – How well does iStockphoto Sell?

iStockphoto is by far the best performing website for me in terms of revenue. Most microstock contributors that report them to be in their top four and many report them to be in their top two.

While their inspectors are tough, the have a good buying market and sales are high. Their commissions are low compared to all of their competitors, but thanks to relatively higher prices and great sales volume they usually produce more revenue.

See how iStockphoto performs for me per image and by earnings.

The Verdict

Their website is well organized and extremely functional. However, for contributors the iStockphoto uploading system requires more effort than any other:

  • The controlled vocabulary requires that each keyword be manually disambiguated
  • Each image must be assigned at least one category
  • Model releases must be uploaded individually with each submitted photo showing a person, and where more than one person is visible all model releases must be stitched together in a single JPEG file.

The application DeepMeta allows iStockphoto contributors to manage a local database of their files and provides some great automation features to make the process easier and more efficient. Regardless of how you contribute to iStockphoto – exclusively or non-exclusively – DeepMeta will save you a lot of time. And it’s free!

Despite the higher level of effort required in submitting, iStockphoto are definitely worth the effort. They’re likely to be in your top two earnings generating microstock websites if you choose to contribute to many. They are relatively tough in reviewing, and getting past the approval process can require some persistence.

Register with iStockphoto here and see how well they sell for me in my latest earnings report.

Posted May 28th, 2007 by


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