Why iStock Must Change Exclusivity Criteria

I have been a contributor to iStockphoto since 2008 and have written extensively about stock photography for Beyond Here. One significant point of difference which iStockphoto has compared to other microstock sites is the volume of exclusive content. That is – images which are available only from iStockphoto. They have achieved this by providing incentives for contributors to be exclusive such as higher royalty rates. Much has changed in microstock, but one thing that hasn’t is the criteria for becoming an exclusive contributor. Read on to see why iStock must change exclusivity criteria.

What are the criteria for becoming exclusive on iStock? Ever since I have been an iStock contributor, the criteria for becoming exclusive are to have 250 downloads and an image acceptance rate of greater than 50%. Once that has been achieved a contributor can choose to become exclusive or continue to remain as an independent contributor.

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iStock’s point of difference is it’s volume of unique content

Why choose exclusivity? Exclusivity brings several benefits to contributors. The keys ones for me are the higher royalties paid on exclusive files, better placement for exclusive files in the best match algorithm, and a faster inspection queue. The key benefit for iStockphoto is that it can promote material that is only available from iStockphoto. These files are not available on any other stock site.

What’s changed? I have written extensively about the changes at iStockphoto in recent years. (Please see the ‘stock photography’ category on the side of this blog to check out those posts). The major change is that iStock has moved away from it’s credit based download system to a subscription system. This on its own is not a problem. It rewards high volume buyers and locks them in (to some degree) by having a subscription where they can buy a certain number of files per month. The problem comes in that iStock only count credit downloads towards the total of 250 required to be exclusive.


New iStock contributors are likely to see small royalty payments under the subscription program

What does this mean for contributors trying to become exclusive? Currently, only 20% of my monthly downloads are credit downloads. The remaining 80% is made up of downloads from the subscription program, the partner program (where files are sold through partner sites), and the Getty Images site. So, for contributors working towards being exclusive, only a small percentage of their actual downloads count towards the qualifying total. That means it will take much longer to meet the qualifying criteria.

So what? This has 2 significant implications. First, many contributors who have the ability to contribute high quality content are being discouraged and choosing to submit their images to other sites. At the same time, their content on iStockphoto will be selling under the subscription program for which new contributors are currently only receiving $0.28 per download. This is a disincentive to put all their eggs in the iStockphoto basket in the future. And secondly, one of iStockphoto’s main points of differentiation is the millions of files only available there. The more contributors who are independent, and uploading their files elsewhere, then the smaller percentage of the iStock database is unique.

To maintain a unique selling point through exclusive content is why iStock must change exclusivity criteria.

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