Growth in iStock Subscription Sales

I have been generating income through stock photography for over 7 years, and have written a number of posts for Beyond Here about stock photography. I continue to see stock photography as a great way for a photographer to enter the business of photography, and for established photographers to generate a steady year round cash flow to supplement their client work. (If you are new to stock photography please see this post Starting in Stock Photography)

The world of stock photography has changed significantly from when I started, and now consists of several very large image libraries with millions of images each. I choose to be an exclusive contributor with iStock (reasons are outlined in this post – Why Be Exclusive on iStock).


Stock photography sites give you access to buyers around the world. What’s your next move?

During September 2014 iStock made several alterations to their operating model. At the time there was an outcry from contributors and purchasers of small sized images. I wrote several posts which covered the changes (My Take on this Weeks iStock Announcements, Moving iStock Forward, and Understanding the Changes at iStock). iStock seemed to be focusing on the large volume image buyer – like ad agencies, publishing houses, and media companies – through its subscription sales model. So, what has happened to the growth in iStock subscription sales? Has there been an increase? And what are the implications for contributors?

Firstly, has there been growth in iStock subscription sales?

My personal experience has been that the subscription program does seem to be delivering. I have seen month on month growth in subscription sales with the exception of the seasonal downturn in January. (Keep in mind I am just one of thousands of contributors on iStock).

Note – in the graph I include both subscription and partner program (PP) downloads. I have very few images in the partner program and the number of downloads from PP is minimal. So, the growth you see is driven by growth in iStock subscription sales.

Subscription downloads

Subscription downloads from my iStock portfolio continue to grow

What has happened to ‘normal’ iStock downloads over the same period? My normal iStock downloads initially declined in the period for September to December 2014. Since then my ‘normal’ downloads have stabilized with very little variation on a month to month basis.

What are the implications for iStock contributors? I see 5 implications from the growth in iStock subscription sales.

1. Continued growth in iStock subscriptions sales. The trend is up, and I expect we will see continued growth. For contributors that will likely mean a continued increase in overall download numbers, at a lower average price per download.

2. Steady or slightly declining ‘normal’ downloads. My experience to date has been steady month on month ‘normal’ downloads despite an increase in portfolio size. I also expect this trend to continue. On a positive note, I am encouraged that we don’t seem to be seeing a wholesale switch from ‘normal’ to subscription sales. All going well, that means the iStock customer numbers will be growing overall.


Stock photography needs patience. Keep building your portfolio. The downloads will come.

3. Steady monthly income, variable weekly income. As normal iStock downloads (which are reported as they happen) make up a smaller percentage of my total downloads, my weekly income is now quite variable. However, the growth in the subscription sales (reported once a month) is seeing my monthly income be more consistent than it was before the change. Now that iStock makes payment to contributors automatically once per month, the week to week variations really don’t matter. The lesson here – ignore the week to week variations, and only assess your performance at the end of each month.

4. Difficulty in achieving redeemed credit targets. Redeemed credits currently don’t apply to subscription sales. That makes achieving the targets and increasing your royalty rate very difficult. I can’t see that the redeemed credit idea can survive in its current format. I suggest not getting too focused on redeemed credits. Trust that the powers-that-be at iStock will introduce a revision or a new system for determining royalty rates.

5. It’s tough to become exclusive. Many Beyond Here readers have opened iStock accounts in the last year (hooray!) But achieving the requirements to become exclusive is really tough now (driven by the growth in sub sales which don’t count currently toward the exclusivity criteria). I expect that the redeemed credits issue is going to be a higher priority – but the criteria for becoming an exclusive contributor will need to change if iStock want contributors to only submit their images to iStock. In the meantime, continue to build your portfolio and enjoy the growth in subscription sales.

Thanks for reading ‘Growth in iStock Subscription Sales’. Please leave a comment with your experience or your questions. Happy shooting.

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