Well the holiday season certainly does compress time doesn't it!

Sadly it I fear that my planned in depth review of the microstockexpo has been a casualty, although a draft post is well under way, I don't think it's going to see the light of day in a reasonably timely manner. To encapsulate it in a nutshell - it was an excellent event, you can watch the videos on the website, and like any conference most of what I learned (and most of the value) was from conversations outside of the organized sessions. Again, thanks to all those who I met who shared their insights with me.


The (New) Istockphoto Referral Program

last month istock announced some changes to their referral program, some rather inconvenient ones. After several weeks of chewing over this I still can't work out what on earth they are thinking...

First point to make clear is that the new program is much better than the old one, (I feel the old one was little more than lip service so that's little consolation)

istockphoto referral program

The new referral scheme offers users a choice of 20 credits, a flat referral fee of $20 or a 20% cut of the first sale of referred buyers with 30 day cookie length. This replaces the previous offer of a flat $10 for referred buyers.

Inconveniently after accepting the new referral program the old referral links no longer operate. I can't see a good reason why the old links could not remain in operation (with the old $10 referral if that's easier).

To confuse the situation istock are also offering an affiliate program via link connector (which I joined earlier in the year) this offers a similar 20% rate for new buyers and also 10% for existing buyers.

I then received a message from istock:

"The Affiliate acknowledges and agrees that, with respect to the promoting of iStockphoto's Services and/or iStockphoto's Site through LinkConnector, the Affiliate may not also:  i) be a member of any referral program operated independently by iStockphoto, ii) promote iStockphoto through any affiliate marketing network other than LinkConnector, or iii) be part of or a member of any other organization or entity that agrees to pay, give, distribute, reward or otherwise provide any kind of benefit, in any manner whatsoever, for promoting iStockphoto's Services and/or iStockphoto's Site."

I asked istock why this was:

"Both the affiliate and referral programs are available to any partner wishing to promote iStockphoto.  However, we've made a business decision to not pay the same partner more than once for a single sale.  We needed to update our terms and conditions both on the affiliate and referral programs to reflect this policy and then leave the choice up to you. Since you are currently enrolled in both programs, you will have 30 days to choose which program to continue promoting iStockphoto by updating your links to those available for that program."

I thought this reply was more of a brush off than an answer. "we've made a business decision". It would be easy to believe that it might be because there is a risk of a double payout. But unless I'm mistaken, if two different sites send a buyer to istock using referral or affiliate links, only one gets paid (usually the most recent to send overwrites the cookie).

The whole thing makes me think of the response I wrote to someones comment about istock earlier in the month: "partially paralyzed by what seems like an internal morass of 'big business'".

To sum up the new programs:

Referral Program (on istockphoto)
New Customer = $20, 20 credits or 20% of the sale

Affiliate Program (link connector)
New Customer = 20% of the sale
Existing Customer = 10% of the sale.

Almost everyone I have met feels that the old istock program was the worst in the industry, most refusing to ever use the links due to the conversion rate.

Over the past couple of years there has been much debate about exactly how much (if any) istock is loosing ground to it's competitors (the results of any one individual always being conveniently obfuscated by differences in exclusives and non-exclusive earnings). Implementing a new  referral program to try and match the competition (one that people might actually want to use) is one of the clearest signs of seen so far confirming this. I'm certainly not convinced that buyers will be persuaded, if istock is loosing buyers (perhaps deservedly so) more advertising will bring them back but is not guaranteed to make them stay. Their own sponsored own surveys have shown that most of their customers buy from multiple agencies and have little loyalty.


News from other Agencies

123rf announced they are accepting footage submissions. According to a press release they have approximately 30,000 videos their database and are planning to launch the collection to buyers in January 2012.

Stockfresh published some leaderboards of contributors http://stockfresh.com/artists

Panthermedia announced a relaunch offering 13 million images, 40,000 contributors.

Deposit photos reached 5 million images, adding 1 million in the last three months. Their press release went on to tell us that Yuri has uploaded is latest collection of 17,000 premium microstock images to their site. By virtue of upload so may images Yuri holds the honor of adding the 5 millionth image. Impressive stuff for a agency launched in 2009.

Deposit photos also launched a tax centre to match most of the other major agencies and also announced it was accepting editorial images.

Photodune increased commissions for non-exclusive artists, increasing from 25% up to 33%.


Blog Highlights

Power of the crowd on microstockposts

2011 review infographic from picniche

My Experience creating an industry conference from microstockdiaries

Licensing images in today's market on the microstockgroup blog

Monthly marketplace sales record from envato


2011 Wrap Up

Two things stand out in microstock for me over the past year:

First, the continued homogenisation on the industry. (shutterstock on demand v. veer subscription, and almost everyone offering video, editorial etc). It seems this will move ever further with sites like envato/photodune offering a single place to download a wide range of creative related digital products. The playing field among the big 3/4 microstock agencies seems more level than it ever was.

Second was the contrast in the ways that agencies are managing their 'crowds' of contributors and communicating with them. The larger agencies feel ever more distant. This might be because of an influx of 'new' agencies (deposit photos and others) who, perhaps by virtue of being smaller at present feel 'friendly'. This was for me highlighted in the various pieces of 'bad news' announced over the past 18 months, istock and their commission structure contrasted with veer and their introduction of subscriptions. Both handled in different ways. It might be a little unfair of me to compare the two; one was hard-face profiteering, the other was just plain stupidity(?) and that might account for the differences in response.

It's a little like communist dictators facing civil unrest, either send in the troops and stamp it out callously; or risk showing some weakness and back down to maintain order; essentially the agencies are stuck between a rock and a hard place, and once the crowd gets militant there is little anyone can do to stop it.

If an agency is at the edge of a cliff, then taking a step too far means there is no easy way to take step back... 

Wishing you all a creative and fruitful 2012 - Steve.

Lee Torrens's picture

Nice wrap-up

Lee Torrens (not verified) on Sat, 2011-12-31 19:58
Hey Steve, great wrap-up! I didn't know that iStock have an issue with people using both programs simultaneously. I don't see how so much technology can't figure out how to pay only one affiliate for each referred customer. And I agree with your views - their previous program was a joke for being so stingy, and their new program is a joke for being so difficult to use. The difference in response to contributor outcry is clearly derived from the difference in selling power. Veer are still very much catching up, while iStock has enough sales to do whatever they want to contributors with very little in the way of short term financial ramifications. Love your 'civil unrest' analogy, Steve. Bold and fitting! Looking forward to a fun 2012. -Lee
Steve Gibson's picture

Selling power - yes very true

Steve Gibson on Sun, 2012-01-01 00:30

Selling power - yes very true point, and remembring now your post/comments 'becasue they can'


So it was 4-5 months in the planning(?), the first time purchase needs to be a reasonable size one. Presumably most new buyers buy the minimum credit pack to test the water not 26 credits - so the payout is nothing at all for a lot of new customers (nothing firm there - that's all very arguable)

I like the comment on page 7 of that istock thread - regrading not tracking referrals:

"The cynic in me wants to suggest that the referral programme is working exactly as it was redesigned to."


Did anyone change links to their light boxes following that forum post? How much credibility is left now that links are changing again?

Ashley Beolens's picture

Didn't realise

Ashley Beolens (not verified) on Tue, 2012-01-17 04:01
Glad I read this post as was about to sign up through link connector (not that I like their system) but will think twice now.

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