Michael Jay Fotograf Berlin

Selling photos across agencies

iStock’s new subscription program is… different.

After iStock had announced the introduction of their own new subscription offer exactly a month ago, it was introduced last night. It is… different.

We already knew, the offer would come in two tiers – one only covering the Main collection, including all the non-exclusive images and some exclusive content that got moved down. As far as I know, there will be more exclusive content moved to the Main collection, or in the new subscription terms “iStock Essentials”.

New iStock subscription offers

New iStock subscription offers

How does it compare to the Shutterstock offer?

The “iStock Essentials” subscription mainly covers the non-exclusive content – images which often can be found across many competing agencies, including the subscription leader Shutterstock. The main differences are:

  • iStock allows for 250 downloads a month – Shutterstock offers 25 images per day which adds up to 750 images if you would use them every day. But you could download all your images at once on iStock.
  • The subscription price (for me showing in Euros) is lower at iStock: €169 for a single month compared to €199 at Shutterstock. The annual subscription even is more than 20% lower: €1599 compared to €2049. The annual subscription allows for 750 downloads per month, matching Shutterstock’s offer.
  • The choice of content however is much bigger at Shutterstock: They claim to have over 35 million images in their portfolio at the moment. While iStock did not publish official numbers for quite some time, some analysis I have done indicates there are about 17 million images in total of which 40% are exclusive. I conclude that the “iStock Essentials” subscription allows a choice among about 11-13 million images, only a third of Shutterstock’s content.

In effect, the customer is getting less choice and potentially less images but also a slightly lower price. And we all know that subscription customers tend not to fully use up their allotments anyways, so the number of downloads might not be a big factor.

Now the second offer, including most of the exclusive content (with the exception of Vetta images), comes at quite a high price: €419 for a single month is more than double the Shutterstock price and 150% more expensive than the standard subscription. This sounds like a steep surcharge for the exclusive content – understandable from the cost side as the royalties paid for Signature and Signature+ images are much higher. But the difference indicates that Getty expects those clients to download significant amounts of higher priced images. And the problem is the same: A lot of the “exclusive” content just does not look better or offer more to the customer, it is just randomly priced higher because the contributor does not offer it somewhere else.

What’s the side for contributors?

iStock also launched two new Advanced Search options allowing the customer to limit their search to the “iStock Essentials” and “iStock Signature” offers. The Price Range filter could have done the same but the new terms are more likely to be understood by customers having bought one of the subscriptions. Apparently the search option is not persistent, so I have to click it for each search.

An additional option allows to filter out the "Essentials" and "Signature" content

An additional option allows to filter out the “Essentials” and “Signature” content

While this is not user friendly, I guess any other solution would have caused another outrage from the exclusive contributor base.

No one is able to predict how many clients will choose the Signature subscription but my guess is: Very few. My take on subscription clients is that they are rather on the cheap side. I can’t say how clients will react to the two-tier offer nor to the different prices. However, I have my doubts that many will go for the higher-priced subscription. I don’t expect many exclusive images to get subscription downloads in the near future. Probably that’s what most exclusives would hope for.

I can’t say how it feels to a former IT guy to hear that iStock is not capable to report downloads and royalties in real time but take weeks and weeks after the end of a month to pay out the money they owe. It’s just amazing that iStock is not only incapable of getting their site to work more stable and reliable but actually is making it worse.

The overall assessment

The implementation is – as we are used to from iStock – quite bad for both, customers and contributors:

On the customer side, the search experience seems not transparent. If I’d buy a subscription at a fixed price, I’d expect to only get to see content that I can actually download. Maybe this is hidden somewhere and we need to wait for an actual subscription buyer to confirm. Also, the two-tier approach and the exclusion of Vetta content – while understandable – is totally confusing. It just does not match the idea of an “simple, easy to use” product.

On the contributor side, it’s just ridiculous that downloads will not shown and calculated in real time. This is really the worst technical solution I can imagine. It’s likely due to the – despite promises made four years ago with the big “F5” relaunch – terrible coding of the site. My assumption is that they have actually used code from the Thinkstock site to quickly implement the new feature. And that just writes data to a different database as it has done in the past for the partner program. I just have to say: You guys are really, really ridiculous when it comes to technology.

Oh, and a side note: The new subscription terms start with a sentence “AS IDENTIFIED IN SECTION 13.9 BELOW (“ISTOCK”)”. Well, good luck searching for that, there is no section 13.9 in the terms, they end with 10.10 – so not even their legal team is able to do their job right.

Sorry, guys, if you are involved in anything of this. But don’t feel too bad. It’s just a job and you do it for the money and not because you love it. We all can see that.

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