Monthly Archives: November 2014

Understanding the Changes at iStock

Since Beyond Here began in June 2014, many readers have become aware of the opportunity presented by selling their images through microstock sites. Several readers have turned intent into action. They have opened accounts and are building their portfolios.

Microstock Income

Many iStock contributors have seen a decline in income since September. I have seen a small overall increase.

I have been a contributor to microstock sites since 2008, and an exclusive contributor with iStock since 2010. iStock has made significant changes in September 2014. I covered those developments here:

We are now 2 months since those changes. This post covers my experience and expectations, and I hope it helps your in understanding the changes at iStock and how you can make the most of them.

The Changes – iStock made a series of changes in September 2014. The key ones are outlined below.

  1. Offering just one payment method – credits. Previously there were multiple ways to pay, now credits is the only way for customers to buy files on iStock. In addition, and this is the key point, there is now a strong pricing incentive for regular buyers to take up a subscription plan. I have seen this pricing strategy in other online photography businesses too. A good example is Adobe making it very cheap now to use Photoshop and Lightroom by paying a monthly fee rather than buying the product outright. The advantage for Adobe, is very steady and predictable cash flows, instead of large ‘lumpy’ one time sales of their products. In addition, monthly subscribers typically are very ‘sticky’ customers who don’t go elsewhere.
  2. Dividing the collection into 2 tiers. This has effectively simplified the collections and the pricing structures on iStock. This is not universal popular with contributors – but I view it as a step in the right direction by making it easier for image buyers to understand the different collections and price points.
  3. Implementing one price per file. This is the most controversial change. It effectively means a price decrease for buyers who typically bought the largest sized files, and a price increase for buyers who bought the smallest files.

The Impact for Contributors

I am an exclusive contributor at iStock. For exclusives, the total revenue for each month is made up from 4 sources – ‘normal’ istock sales, extended licence sales, subscription and partner program sales, and sales via the Getty Images.

Normal istock sales and extended licence sales are recorded and credited in real time. Subscription and partner program sales are reported once per month – typically near the beginning of the following month. Getty Images sales are reported once per month – typically near the end of the following month. So effectively, an exclusive contributor will need to wait until nearly the end of November to fully understand October sales.

What has my experience been? September was a fair month. Overall download numbers were good. There was not a noticeable shift between normal downloads and subscriptions. I was fortunate to have several extended licence sales and a strong month for Getty Images downloads.

In October I started to see the impact of the changes. My iStock normal downloads fell by 10% from September and my subscription sales increased by 110% (from a small base). The effect was a significant increase in total downloads, and a small increase in income. (Note, October Getty Images sales have not been reported yet. When these are credited to contributors a full month on month analysis will be possible).

While it is early days, my experience is that the iStock strategy is working. They appear to be focusing on the large volume buyer as outlined in my earlier post and generating increased volume of downloads at a lower average price per download.

Sub sales

The increase in sub sales is seeing reductions in average income per download. This is being offset by increases in download numbers.


The changes have several implications for contributors. The way I see it, to develop your own strategy you will need to consider these issues:

  1. Increase in subscription sales. iStock seem to be succeeding in attracting high volume buyers through the subscription plans. This will see a strong increase in subscription sales. These are currently reported once per month.
  2. Decline in normal downloads. For buyers of reasonable volume, the subscription plans are very attractive. This will see an increase in sub sales and a decrease in normal downloads. As normal downloads are reported in real time, contributors will see fewer downloads and revenue being added to their accounts on a daily basis.
  3. More variable income. iStock income used to be very steady week to week. Because of the shift to sub sales it is likely that contributors incomes will be higher in that week, and lower in other weeks. I’d like to think iStock is considering a way to report sub sales in real time, but that has not been the message from iStock so far. For now, contributors will need to plan for more variable weekly income.
  4. More challenge in meeting Redeemed Credit (RC) targets. A contributors royalty level currently depends on achieving RC targets. Sub sales do not attract RCs making the step up royalty levels harder. This adds weight to the argument that iStock are going to have to revise the RC system entirely in the next 12 months. iStock have deferred this decision for another year by maintaining current royalty levels for 2015. This is of great value to existing contributors, but not much help to new ones.
  5. It is going to be tougher to meet exclusivity requirements. To become an exclusive contributor currently requires you to meet a minimum number of ‘normal’ downloads. Once you become exclusive you receive higher royalties. Exclusivity is getting harder to achieve due to the shift to sub sales. My view is that iStock will have to change this criteria if they want to attract contributors to be exclusive.
  6. Income may decline in the short term. The shift to sub sales is negatively affecting many contributors income at the moment. This is because sub sales generate less income per sale than ‘normal’ iStock downloads. It will take time to attract more larger buyers, and for the volume increase to offset the reduction in earnings per download.

I continue to be optimistic about the long term impact of the changes iStock have made. There is some “change pain” being experienced by contributors at present, and it will take time to adjust to fewer ‘normal’ downloads being reported per day. As for the future – I’d like to see iStock move to real time reporting of sub sales, changes to the RC system, and continued growth in total download numbers.

Thanks for reading ‘understanding the changes at iStock’. I hope this has been useful for you. If you are an iStock contributor, what has been your experience? or concerns?

Understanding Public Liability Insurance for Photographers

Most people have a good understanding of motor insurance. It is easy to understand that a car is essential in running a mobile business, and that you need to insure it. If you are involved in an accident, it can be repaired quickly and you can be back on the road promptly. Usually it will only cost you the amount of your excess. Understanding public liability insurance is not as intuitive. I have written this post to help you in understanding public liability insurance for photographers.

What is public liability insurance? Yes, it even sounds scary! But don’t worry, it is not as complex as it sounds. I got the following definition from an Australian government publication. Public liability insurance protects you and your business from the financial risks of being found liable to a third party for death or injury, loss or damage of property or economic loss resulting from your negligence.

Motor Insurance

Public liability insurance is not as intuitive as motor insurance.

When will a photographer need public liability insurance? If you are photographing a wedding and put your bag down, a guest could trip over it and sustain an injury. If you were found to be liable for this because of your negligence, your public liability insurance would protect you from the financial risk of having to cover the injured party’s costs.

You might conclude that this is not very likely to happen. Wedding photographers could have photographed hundreds of weddings over many years without an incident like this happening. While it is not very likely to occur, the potential financial cost of this is very significant – and that’s a good reason to have public liability insurance.

Where do I buy public liability insurance? You can buy public liability insurance from most major insurance companies or through an insurance broker. In many cases the functionality to buy the insurance is available online. I recently changed provider of my insurance, and bought a new policy online in about 10 minutes. Ironically, it took longer to cancel my previous insurance than it did to take out the new policy.

What will it cost? The public liability insurance I purchased cost me a few hundred dollars for 12 months cover. I consider this good value for the peace of mind it provides.

The cost of public liability insurance will vary by country and location. In addition these factors will effect the premium:

  • the turnover of the photography business – higher turnover businesses will have higher premiums
  • the number of employees – the more employees, the higher the premium
  • the type of photography work you are doing – for example, aerial photography will have higher premiums than wedding photography
  • the amount of cover you want – the broker I use had options for $5m, $10m and $20m cover. The more cover the higher the premium.

I hope this post has helped your understanding of public liability insurance for photographers. If you need expert advice, please talk to an insurance broker or representative of an insurance company. Thanks for reading ‘understanding public liability insurance for photographers’.

10 Things to Consider as You Start Your Photography Business

This weekend I swapped messages with 2 people who are about to start their photography businesses. They are both confident with camera and client skills, but starting a business is the great unknown. I started to make a list of business things to consider. In most cases, these things are not hard, they are just new. Keep in mind I’m not an adviser, a lawyer, or an accountant – I’m a photographer. I have done each of these things in setting up and running my own business. Here are 10 things to consider as you start your photography business.

My business

Setting up in business is an exciting time. Enjoy it!

1. How Your Business Will Operate? There are a variety of ways a business can operate (this varies depending on what country you are in). Will you operate as a sole trader? Will you establish a company? Here is Australia the simplest way to start operating is as a sole trader. This is how I first set up my business operations. As the business grew I changed to a company structure which is how I operate today. If you want expert advice, an accountant will be able to give you the pros and cons of different business structures.

2. Register Your Business. Once you have decided how your business will operate you need to register your business. Again, this process is different in different countries. Here in Australia you need to get an ABN number. This can be done online at If you want help an accountant will be able to assist in understanding and completing this process.

3. Insurance. Now that you are in business you will need to get appropriate insurance to protect your business in the event of something going wrong. Your photography equipment may have previously been covered under your contents policy. Now that you are using it for commercial purposes it is unlikely to be covered by your domestic policy. Insuring it under a commercial policy is the answer. And very importantly, you will need Public Liability Insurance. Here in Australia it is available for just a few hundred dollars per year from any of the major insurance companies or through an insurance broker.

4. Bank Account. You will need a separate bank account for your business. This keeps the businesses banking needs separate to your personal ones. Here in Australia it is very straightforward to set up a business bank account. I have mine with the same bank I do my personal banking with. They offer a fee-free business account which is nice.

5. Online Presence. Having an online presence is a key business tool. I see some beginners setting up pages on Facebook as their only online presence. This makes me cringe. You are going to need your own website if you want to control how your information is laid out and presented. Social media channels like Facebook and Google+ can be used to drive traffic to your website, but you will need a functioning website as your foundation.

6. Marketing Materials. I am avoiding going into the topic of generating clients here. Let’s just say that when you are starting out it is handy to have some simple marketing materials – like business cards, letterhead, envelopes, note paper etc. It adds to your credibility and can present you much more professionally than an enthusiast who just has a camera and a smile. Choose what you like and fits into your budget.

Take time to set you business up, so when you are with a client you can focus on great images

Take time to set your business up, so when you are with a client you can focus on great images

7. Contracts. Contracts are critical in photography business. They outline the agreement between you and your client. Make sure your contract covers what services will be provided, who owns copyright, and issues around model releases. I have never had a disagreement with a client about services or price, but its nice to know that if I did, I have a written contract to revert to. Some sample contracts are available online, but talking to a lawyer will give you peace of mind.

8. Invoicing System. Starting in business means you are planning to get paid for your work. To do this you need an invoicing system in place. That is a fancy way of saying, you need to know how you will get a bill to your client. Don’t be intimidated by this – when I started my system was to hand write all my invoices! I bought an invoice book at the local stationery store and literally hand wrote invoices to my clients. Low tech but effective.

9. Understand Expenses. When you set up in business, understanding the revenue side of your business is straightforward – it is the amount of money your clients are paying your business. Understanding expenses is slightly more complex, only because some of your personal expenses will be tax deductible expenses to your business. For example, if you are driving your personal vehicle to shoot weddings, the mileage you are doing in your vehicle can be claimed as a company expense. It is worthwhile talking to an accountant about business expenses.

10. Learn from those Who’ve Been There Before. There is now a good range of business photography books available with some outstanding advice. Three that I really like are:

Keep in mind that getting started in business is not complex and you shouldn’t feel over whelmed. I hope these ’10 things to consider as you start your photography business’ have been useful. Have you set up in business? What was the most challenging aspect? If you haven’t set up yet and would like some more help, please add a comment to this post.

Making the Dream Real

Several readers of Beyond Here have opened stock photography accounts in the last 3 months. Most do so with a sense of hope and trepidation. While it is exciting to see your portfolio growing, it is normal that downloads are slow to begin. Inevitably new contributors get to a point where they say – is this really worth it? Will this effort pay off? And ultimately, am I any good at this? If you are thinking those questions – this post is for you. Don’t give up, read on for 6 tips for making the dream real.

You Can

Success in stock photography is open to everyone. Expect a slow start and keep building that portfolio.

Firstly, as a new stock contributor, what should you expect?

(1) Downloads take time. This is a reality so don’t be surprised if you go for several months with few downloads. It happens for a range of reasons, but the main one is that of the thousands of buyers out there – it is highly unlikely that they will see your file on the day it is uploaded and download it immediately. More likely is that when they find your file, they are researching a range of different images for their project. They will think about it for a while, and only then, go ahead with the purchase. Consider also that your file is one of tens of millions of pictures in the stock library. It is unlikely that you’ll make a significant income with only a few hundred images. This process takes time, and a portfolio needs to be built.

(2) Stock is not a get rich quick scheme. Tied directly to the fact that downloads take time is that stock will not make you a fortune immediately. It has made many people fortunes, but it takes time, practice, and dedication. It is very likely that in your first few months, your income will be negligible or small. If that’s the case – don’t worry, it’s normal.

(3) There is competition. A little searching on stock libraries makes this clear. There is competition in stock which means poor quality images will not sell. Buyers have lots of alternatives among well lit, interesting images. This is what will drive improvement in a beginners photography skills – you need to produce good quality, well lit images to succeed in the long term.

Ok, enough of the reality check. So, what about tips for making the dream real? Here are 6 tips for getting past the new contributor doubts.

Tip 1 – Build That Portfolio. The quicker you can build a portfolio, the quicker success will come. If you have uploaded several hundred images with little success – this is the time to push on, not to give up. When I first started contributing to iStock in 2008 there were weekly upload limits of 15 images. Yes, I was only allowed to upload 15 images per week. It took ages to build a portfolio back then. Today, on iStock, that limit is 999. Effectively that means there is no upload limit – you can build your portfolio very quickly compared to what was possible in 2008. Make the most of it – build that portfolio.

Tip 2 – Diversify. A broadly diversified portfolio has more opportunity of success than a very narrow one. Shoot a range of different material. Don’t rely solely on what you have shot in the past. Step out of your comfort zone and shoot something new. If you love landscape photography, try some portrait and macro work too.

Tip 3 – Learn What Sells. Yes, this means studying what types of images are successful as stock. Look at the major stock libraries and search for topics you are interested in. Look at the portfolios of successful contributors. See what makes their work stand out and be successful. Beginners in stock photography often think they can just upload images that have been sitting on their hard drive for years and instantly generate a significant income. I have never seen that happen. The most common path to success is to learn what sells, and then set about building a portfolio with that in mind. Think of it as first understanding stock photography, and then shooting for that market.

Tip 4 – Make Key-wording a Strength. Key-wording refers to adding words to your file. These are important because this is how a buyer finds your files. You need to make sure that your key words are relevant and accurate. To do this, study successful files. Look at how they have been key-worded. It is worth being good at key-wording. It is no good having great files which buyers can’t find.


Finding a niche will accelerate your stock photo results

Tip 5 – Find A Niche. You can find success in stock without having a niche – but it is much easier if you do. This might be an area where you have access to a type of image that others don’t, or you have an intimate understanding of a topic which helps you shoot unique images. Finding a niche is not that hard. I live in Melbourne, Australia where there is a large colony of flying foxes. I found a niche with images of bats – which sell very well around Halloween. Where is your niche? If you are a member of a motor bike club – photograph bikes and bikers. If you’re a plumber, how about plumbing or trades person themes? If you are a mum, how about baby or kids themes? If you catch the ferry across Sydney harbor every day, how about a daily image of the opera house and harbor bridge? Finding a niche is not hard, and will help your stock photography results.

Tip 6 – Keep Going. Nothing in stock photography is more important than persistence. Don’t give up. Keep growing your portfolio, diversifying, and building your knowledge of the stock photography market. Success is open to everyone – you can do it too.

Thanks for taking the time to read ‘making the dream real’. The first 12 months as a stock photographer are the most challenging. If you can make it through that with a steadily growing portfolio, your chances of long term success are very good. Got more questions? Please add a comment to this post. I’ll do my best to answer your question. Good luck in making the dream real!!