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iStock by Getty Images
Genre Microstock photography
Founded May 2000 (2000-05)
Founder Bruce Livingstone
Headquarters Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Key people
Bruce Livingstone (founder)
Parent Getty Images

iStock is an online, royalty free, international microstock photography provider operating with the micropayment business model. iStock offers millions of photos, illustrations, clip art, videos and audio tracks. Images cost between 1 and 150 credits, depending on size and image collection (with credits ranging from $0.95 to $1.50 USD [1] each). Talented artists, designers and photographers worldwide contribute their work to iStock collections. The global community of over 140,000 artists create and submit nearly half a million new photos, illustrations, videos and audio files, each month.


The company was founded by Bruce Livingstone in May, 2000. Originally iStockphoto was a free stock imagery website. Over the course of time, it transitioned into its current micropayment model. The website was originally supported by CEO Livingstone's web development firm, Evolvs Media, but began charging money in 2001. iStockphoto has been profitable since then.[2]

On February 9, 2006 iStockphoto was acquired by Getty Images for $50 million USD. Livingstone promised that the site would continue "functioning independently with the benefits of Getty Images, yet, very importantly for them and us, autonomy. They will nurture and encourage our pioneering spirit so that our entrepreneurial culture will continue to thrive." [3]

On September 18, 2006 iStockphoto displayed the first results of the Getty Images ownership.[4] A new keywording taxonomy called a “Controlled vocabulary” was borrowed from Getty Images and implemented on iStockphoto to control and manage keywords and searches, and to provide multilingual searching abilities. The system allows a contributor to keyword in any language, and because the controlled vocabulary is pre-translated, an image is searchable in any of the supported languages. Support for several languages was also added and the website can now be viewed in English, French, Spanish, and German. Keyword searches can be performed in British English or American English, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Greek and even in Japanese and Cyrillic characters. Furthermore, the system provides word-sense disambiguation for terms with multiple meanings. For instance, when searching for "ball" on the site, it requests clarification: Ball (Sports Equipment), Sphere (Three-dimensional Shape) or Evening Ball (Celebration Event).

As of March 31, 2007, iStockpro closed. iStockpro was a more expensive version of iStockphoto that was never as popular as iStockphoto, and became redundant after the acquisition by Getty Images.

The company accepts business in the following currencies: US dollar, Canadian dollar, Australian dollar, Euro, Yen, Chinese RMB and British pound.

On April 1, 2008 Getty Images disclosed, as part of its agreement to be sold to a private equity firm, that iStockphoto's revenue in 2007 was $71.9 million USD of which $20.9 million (29%) was paid to contributors.[5][citation needed]


Contributing photographers apply (via a short quiz regarding policies, requirements, basic photographic knowledge, and legal issues) before they are eligible to upload their images. The applicant's sample images are screened for quality and suitability before being approved. Photographers must be over 18 years of age to join (or have a parental consent form).

Once approved, photographers can begin uploading their work through the website. They supply keywords, categorize the images, and submit them to the "inspection queue", where each image is examined to ensure that it meets the standards of quality, usefulness and copyright and trademark laws.

iStockphoto also sells vector graphics made in programs like Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand; Macromedia Flash elements and raster illustrations created in 3d graphics programs or bitmap editors like Adobe Photoshop.

Contributors receive a commission of between 15% and 40% of each sale, depending on whether or not they are "exclusive", and on their current "canister level." New canisters are awarded for various milestones such as 250 sales, 2,500 sales, 10,000 sales, 25,000 sales, and 200,000 sales. Only five photographers have passed the 200,000 point, while 209 members have passed the 25,000 level as of 2008-03-13 and received the coveted "diamond canister. Canister values will reset at the beginning of each year in 2012."

Contributing photographers who reach a minimum of 250 sales (and have a submission acceptance rate of at least 50%) are offered the option of becoming exclusive to the company. If they do so, a bonus is added to their commission and they must not sell royalty-free stock images anywhere else. Rights managed sales are allowed off site even under the exclusivity contract.

In an address to its community entitled “2008: A Year in Review and a Look Ahead″,[6] iStockphoto's CEO laid out price increases for 2009 while also mentioning that the company was paying out ‘almost’ $1.1 million per week in royalty payments to contributors.

In September 2010, iStock announced plans to change its royalty structure.

Purchasing and use

Each approved image is added to the searchable online database, where it can be found by purchasers. Depending on the original size of an image, it can be bought in XSmall, Small, Medium, Large, XLarge, XXLarge, and XXXLarge sizes. These cost 1, 3, 6, 12, 18, 22 or 28 credits. Vector and Flash files also cost 1 to 25 credits, based on complexity. iStockphoto offers discounts for buyers who purchase in bulk; bulk purchase gives up to 20% bonus credits.

Files can be downloaded immediately, and used in almost anything. The basic license agreement prohibits only a few uses, such as web templates, print on demand, adult materials, etc. Any print runs over 500,000 must pay additional royalties. Extended licenses are available for purchase to cover certain needs not met by the basic license agreement.[7]

The Steel Cage

In 2005 iStockPhoto re-launched an old site feature, the Steel Cage.[8] The Steel Cage is essentially an organized game of Photoshop tennis, in which contestants battle against their opponents in a 5-round game. The players trade a Photoshop Document, containing an artful, weird, or crazy photo collage, back and forth, each time preserving at least one element and changing the rest to their heart's content. The battles are scored by judges appointed within iStockPhoto, and download credits are awarded in values of up to 50 credits.


File:Roommate poster.jpg
This background of a movie poster for the 2011 film The Roommate was provided by iStockphoto. The image is that of the Christy Administration building at Southwestern College. The college believes this image was used without their permission.


Since iStockphoto's launch in 2000, purchase prices have slowly increased, from initially bartered (based on accumulated contributions),[9] to $.25 and then $.50,[10] and more recently tiered at $1, $2 and $3,[11] to a higher-cost tiered pricing of $1, $3, $5 and $10 or more for extra-high resolution,[12] to today's current pricing scheme where images cost between 1 and 250 credits, and credits sell for $9 each or from $8 to $5.81 each in bundles of 3 to 3000.[13] Best rates for photos, vectors and illustrations are available through monthly or annual subscriptions. All subscriptions feature generous monthly download limits.

Ownership of material

The 2011 film The Roommate obtained photos from iStockPhoto for its promotional material. One of the photos used as its backdrop was the Christy Administration Building from Southwestern College in Winfield, Kansas. The college administration voiced concern that permission to use the photograph of the building was not properly obtained and is investigating the legality of its use.[14] As of February 8, 2011, no lawsuits have been filed but discussions continue to take place.[15]


On July 31, 2006 iStockphoto announced the development of a new branch, iStockvideo, which will sell stock video clips in a variety of formats from web-size, through NTSC and PAL up to HDV and HD sizes. The collection is slated to open on September 5, 2006, and clips (between 5 and 30 seconds) will range in cost from $5 USD to $50 USD, based on resolution. iStockvideo was launched on schedule and as of February 9, 2010 the video collection contains over 250,000 videos.[16]

This new branch of iStockphoto competes with motion stock collections already available from companies such as Getty Images, Artbeats, and Veer.

iStocalypse event

The iStockalypse was founded in 2005, as an official multi-day iStock photography event. Several times a year, contributing artists and photographers from the international iStock community gather together to collaborate, share knowledge and exchange tricks of the stock photography trade. iStock sets the stage for participants to launch into highly art-directed photo-shoots — carefully planning and selecting locations, local models, wardrobe, hair and makeup professionals, props, professional equipment and providing mentorship. Under savvy expert guidance, beginners and seasoned pros get to share what they know and create brilliant images with old and new friends.[17]

Since the first event in Las Vegas, iStock has visited Seattle, Boston, Ljubljana, Prague, Austin, Barcelona, Marseilles, Buenos Aires, Malta, Berlin, Calgary, Istanbul, Cannes, Tokyo, London, Milan, Singapore, Sao Paulo, Los Angeles and Paris. In March 2015 the event[18] was organized in Dubai to get authentic, local shots of the city and its people.


  1. Buy Pay-as-you-go Credit Packages – Company pricing page
  2. Kim Peterson, "Microstock photography represents a new business model", Seattle Times, May 28, 2007
  3. "iStockphoto Joins Getty Images". Marketwire. Retrieved 18 April 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. – Language features announcement
  5. "iStock contributors make $21 million in 2007". iStockphoto Forums. 2008-04-01. Retrieved 2008-04-01.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 2008: A Year in Review and a Look Ahead – Executive Forum Post
  7. Extended License Options
  8. – The Steel Cage
  10. February 7, 2003
  11. May 10, 2005
  12. February 3, 2006
  13. [1]
  14. Twitchell, Allen (December 3, 2010). "Image of SC building on movie poster". The Winfield Daily Courier. Retrieved January 17, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Twitchell, Allen (February 8, 2011). "Movie poster image remains a concern for SC administration". The Winfield Daily Courier. Retrieved February 10, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links