Sunday, January 17, 2010

Experiment 13: Shutterstock versus Istock

Shutterstock and Istock are often listed by microstock photographers in their top selling agencies. Both marketplaces differ in their history, the way they distribute and sell their products and in their interaction with photographers. After a brief history of both companies, I will take a closer look in this post at my earnings since 2007 and will draw some conclusions.

  • A bit of history
Istock was founded by Bruce Livingstone in 2000 adopting a credit based based model to distribute royalty-free pictures. It was acquired in 2006 by Getty Images and branched the same year into the new market of video footage. Vetta, a premium collection, open to exclusive photographers only, was launched in 2009 and the same year, Istockaudio opened, allowing contributors to sell basic sounds and more complex music compositions. Istock have now a more diverse product offering than Shutterstock, with illustrations, flash animations, logos in addition to photo and videos.

Shutterstock was founded back in 2003 by Jon Oringer and contrary to Istock, adopted a subscription based model. In 2008, a new on-demand subscription plan was unveiled and Shutterstock started to distribute footage ahead of  Istockphoto. In 2009, they acquired Bigstockphoto, a credit based microstock agency.

  • How did Istock and Shutterstock compare for me ?

Comparative graphs for the 2007-2009 period show that Shutterstock earnings did reach a plateau very fast compared to Istock where earnings are increasing with the portfolio size. For the first time since 2007, IS performed better than SS for few months of 2009, showing more potential than Shutterstock for the foreseeable future.
Shutterstock pays $0.33 per subscription download but with enhanced and on-demand sales, the average RPD increased to 0.51, well under the 1.55 of Istock. However, due to a high volume sale, total earnings at Shutterstock are few dollars above Istock at the end of the year. However, this comparison is not fair because due to a tedious submission system and upload limits, my portfolio at Istock is 2.7 times smaller than the one at Shutterstock.

Sales pattern differs quite a lot between the two agencies: Shutterstock has a tendency to favors new images (even if it is less obvious than few years ago). At Istockphoto at the other hand, only a small fraction of my portfolio is selling and few pictures are generating the bulk of my earnings: the top five best selling images (just over 1% of my portfolio) are responsible of almost 60% of my earnings! Unfortunately, these five pictures can be negatively affected by a change in best match and earnings can drop dramatically. Overall, I consider that my earnings (assuming regular uploads) are more stable at Shutterstock than at Istockphoto even if Shutterstock does not show much progression.

  • Conclusion
On the light of these observations, my plan is to increase my Istock porfolio to have more best sellers and be less affected to changes in best match. At the same time, I will continue uploading pictures to Shutterstock despite a flat earning curve. I do expect to have a better upcoming year at Istock than at Shutterstock even if I will benefit this month from an increase of commission from $0.33 to $0.36 for subscription downloads.
It will interesting to see in 2010 if Shutterstock will follow Istock on royalty-free audio and how exactly they will manage Bigstockphoto acquisition.


So far this year my SS earnings are showing  a nice progression while Istock is downhill since the beginning of year: in May 2010, I registered a 60% decrease in earnings compared to May 2009, which was my best month ever.
In the meantime, my RPD at Shutterstock increased to an average of $0.55 for the first six months of 2010.
Needless to say, I expect a significant  difference between Shutterstock and Istock by the  end of the year.
Getty owned Istock just annonced that they will decrease commission for  their non exclusive contributors  from 20 to 15%, arguing that their business model is not sustainable! I decided therefore to stop uploading pictures to Istock and will decide later on if I start pulling  out pictures from my portfolio.
If you are a buyer and  looking for royalty-free pictures please  have a look at Shutterstock which treat their contributors more fairly.


Luis said...

Great blog post..! I guess your reports are quiet similar to everyone right?.. IS is more consistent..! In my case it ain't happening the same, maybe that's my style of photos! I am wanting for a return of IS, but don't know if it will happen..!

thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!

daniellla said...

Interesting post! I like the way you compare it :-)

Eduardo Fuentes said...

Great post... im exclusive with IS and always wanted to know how things are on the outside.

Lately, how has the difference has been between those two?

MicrostockExp said...

@Eduardo Things are not as I was expected in this post: Shutterstock is doing much better this year than Istock....

Eduardo Fuentes said...

Really, how big of a difference, whopping, big, regular, scarse? he he... whats your Is username?

MicrostockExp said...

2 to 3 times better for SS but portfolio is also 3 times bigger at SS. I expect SS to be even better though due to the recent cut in commission at IS.....

microstock said...

I did my research to my related images, look identical or same, to shutterstock and istock. Period of 1.5 years. From Shutterstock identical photos, income due to the large number of sales (and without EL, but + single) is about 3 times higher.
In IS this imades is photo+, my credit is 16%