Shafted by latest iStock changes? What Now?

The latest round of changes at iStock represent a loss for most contributors there. Both for Exclusive and Non-Exclusive contributors.

The new royalty figures for next year show a clear bias in favour of those contributors who are making the most money for iStock, with cuts for people with smaller or non-exclusive portfolios.

These changes will not harm iStock’s business much, if at all, mainly because the producers who are generating and selling in large volume (the ‘Yuri’-like levels) will sit quite comfortably in the top royalty brackets, but for the rest of us who have small portfolios, especially in niche topics it is most likely to mean quite a significant reduction in earnings.

My own portfolio/earnings

I have a very small portfolio of images at iStock, only 52 photos, but it does earn a little which adds up over time. I stopped uploading there almost 18 months ago because the time taken to upload to iStock is just far too much, the process is overly complicated, and the standard vocabularly is far too limited for a lot of niche subjects. The lack of an FTP upload was the final straw for me as even with DeepMeta it’s still a long and painful process.

There are a lot of people who were introduced to the concept of microstock photography by iStock, partly because of their large marketing budget and the efforts they’ve made over the last few years to recruit more and more image-creators. Clearly this is no longer the main focus, and instead they seem to be focussing on their top contributors whilst letting everybody else stand out in the cold and wait for their 15%.

I will NOT be removing my portfolio, and neither should you. You’ve already spent at least 437 seconds (yes 7 minutes) per image JUST on the submission phase. And research done through the picNiche survey suggests 30+ minutes per image of processing after the initial shoot, so don’t waste your effort, just be happy to still benefit in future from that ‘cash in the attic’ with no further effort.

I’ve always maintained that exclusivity with any one agency is a very bad way to run your stock photo business, and I’ve heard 3 of the biggest microstock contributors say this exact same thing. Just like when I’m out shopping, I price-check and shop around to be sure I’m getting the best deal, and when I setup a website or new piece of software, I check out hosts and clients to be sure I’m not getting beaten with a shitty-stick.

So How to Make Up for Lost Earnings?

You have two main choices here now. Either increase your image-throughput and start cranking out new images like the microstock pros, make the best and most saleable images you possibly can and try to get yourself up those brackets. If you choose this route, then you must do your research about what you should be selling. Many of you already know you can do this on the picNiche stock photo ideas analysis-engine. Aim for subjects scoring above 50 and below 200 or so for a good balance between buyer-numbers and total competition. You should then check out those searches on iStock and make images better than the ones already available.

The other option is of course, to upload elsewhere and earn by having your images for sale at multiple outlets. If you are non-exclusive at iStock but do not yet upload elsewhere, then you lose nothing by submitting to other sites and really really should do this.

If you are currently exclusive you’ll need to figure out how many sites you need to submit to, and how long it will take over what you are currently doing for the number of images you submit per month. Using the chart created by Yuri’s guys it’s easy to see that all the main agencies have a faster submission than iStock. If the time taken to upload each image to an additional agency costs you less than (what you lose with the latest changes) * (number of images per month), then you almost certainly want to drop that exclusive flag. If not, then you’re going to want to take the hit and just keep on as you are with iStock. If you’re on the cusp, then you may want to take a look at your workflow:

How to make it faster to submit

I’ve had about 15 iStock contributors tell me they don’t keyword in-the-metadata of their images. First things first, keywording as you upload is idiotic. I don’t want to offend too much, but if you do this when submitting to multiple sites, you are a moron. get yourself Lightroom or one of the many free catalog applications and keyword your images corrrectly whilst they are on your system. You will save weeks of time in the long-run.

Get an FTP upload client. I’ve been using FlashFXP for years and it rocks for me, though there are a million of them out there, setup each sites FTP details (or use the picNiche dropbox) and upload all your files quickly. If you’re uploading through a web-form or flash-uploader then you’re uploading an extra 20%+ overhead on the fielsizes and spending about 200% more time than you need to.

My picNiche Microstock Contributor toolbar for firefox (now upto ~2500 users) makes it quite a lot quicker to submit to Fotolia, Shutterstock and Dreamstime already. You need to enable the workflow settings in the options, for it to check the fields you set for you automatically and cuts the figures stated on Yuri’s chart approximately in half for those 3 agencies.

It also tracks your earnings, has an associate keywording tool, and FTP upload dropbox for Fotolia, Shutterstock, Bigstock, Dreamstime, and 123RF. It has a simple events calendar for shot-planning and tracks lots of microstock community blogs and other sites and tools. Many people reading this will be familiar with these tools already. If you’re just now making the move into uploading to multiple agencies, you really must use the picNiche toolbar.

Where to submit your portfolio?

First off, join Shutterstock: there is minimal cross-over between iStock and Shutterstock because of the way the subscription model works the majority of their buyers will have accounts only with SS for most of their image license purchases, a sale at Shutterstock is almost certainly not the loss of a sale at iStock or any other agency site.

Second up, join Fotolia and/or Dreamstime. I favour Dreamstime slightly as they earn about twice as much for me than Fotolia, their support is better and their community is a bit more open, especially for newcomers to their site. They are direct competitors with each-other though Fotolia sells a lot better for traditional stock material, whereas I’ve had better performance on Dreamstime with my more ‘experimental’ and modern work. If you have to choose just one, choose the one which will sell better for your portfolio.

If that’s not enough, then the rest of these have some excellent benefits to anyone with a portfolio to sell.
123 Royalty Free have a very quick submission process and sell moderately well. Bigstock used to have a slow submission process, but it did get a bit better in their last round of changes.
Bigstock seem to sell very well for traditional shots, and are owned by Shutterstock so I expect them to be getting SS’ non-subscription sales in future.
Cutcaster lets you set your own prices, and have an easy upload system. Although CC is not one of the major-players, it’s an easy place to get some extra higher-value sales coming in from.

Good luck

Whether you decide to move on with how you sell your images, or decide to take the hit and stick with iStock, good luck! 🙂

I’m happy to help where I can, if you need any advice or tips I’ve not covered above, or you really want to get your workflow rocking to make that extra money either drop a message on the picNiche boards over at Microstock Group or just plain email-me your questions and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction.

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  1. Posted September 9, 2010 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Hi Bob, how are you?.. What do you think exclusives will do if this new IS royalty changes continues.. ?? Joining all other agencies?? It is just crazy what IS is doing.. There isn’t a contributor happy I guess 😛

    • bobbigmac
      Posted September 9, 2010 at 12:59 am | Permalink

      I’m sure the biggest sellers at iStock will still be pretty happy, clearly iStock are trying to please their top contribs and no longer trying to maintain a huge base of contributors. It’s a good move for their business model, and a lot of photographers and illustrators moving out to the other agencies will help the market overrall, though it will certainly mean tougher competition for those of us who have previously submitted mainly to the non-iStock agencies.

  2. Danicek
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 5:58 am | Permalink

    You are wrong with the statement that the top tier is not hurt by this change. I would say that significant portion of diamond and even black diamond contributors reacted and all with *no exception* stated that it is impossible for them to keep their current %. It is possible that Yuri is.

    The only people saying that they can keep their current % are those with lower levels – I saw only couple silver ones to say they can keep up.

    • bobbigmac
      Posted September 9, 2010 at 6:12 am | Permalink

      That very top tier is the one I’m referring too 🙂 There are only a handful of people producing enough to hit that top bracket, and I think they’ll do well on the new system. Everyone else will clearly suffer.

  3. Posted September 17, 2010 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I’ll stay just so see how those changes will affect my sales at IS and then I’ll decide.

  4. Tony
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the great info. I’m a vector contributor for iStock and they are really sticking it to us. With the new deal we won’t even be getting as much per credit as photographers. The community seems frustrated and angry for the most part and we’re not getting much in the way of answers. I am kicking myself now for going exclusive with this company. Seems I put all my eggs in one basket and now the bottom is falling out. I’m looking into dropping my exclusive status and listing my 525 illustrations with other agencies but I’m dreading the amount of time that it will take!!

  5. vikky
    Posted January 21, 2013 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    This is an awesome info. No mention of Corbis Images, any idea how they are as compared to other?

    • bobbigmac
      Posted January 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

      Corbis (as an agency) are more directly related to anyone leaving Getty, rather than iStock. My experience in the traditional market is limited-at-best, so the best I can say is that Veer (Corbis’ microstock-tier offering) is ok, very easy to submit to but not a great RPI for me. Might be better for you, I think it depends on the type of images you shoot and whether it’s the kinds of topics they sell well (mine aren’t).

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