A picture may be worth a thousand words, but at iStockphoto.com, it's also worth between one and forty dollars. iStockphoto, a provider of royalty free stock photography, pioneered a micropayment model to bring affordable stock photographs to the masses and shook up the stock photo industry in the process. Now, following its acquisition by Getty Images earlier this year, iStockphoto is leveraging its parent company's expertise to add video clips and broaden the site's international appeal.
iStockphoto boasts that it was the first company to put the amateur photographer and customer in direct contact with stock photography. Photographers upload images to the site for free. Customers pay from $1 to $40 for an image, depending on its size, and the photographer is paid a commission instantly each time a customer downloads a photo. iStockphoto's royalty model means buyers can use photos multiple times and for multiple purposes.
The company, based in Calgary, Alberta, now hosts over one million images, contributed by 22,000 photographers around the world. Images are downloaded from www.iStockphoto.com at a rate of nearly one every three seconds. The iStockphoto member community is a loyal group, enhancing the site with user-generated content like image commentary and photography tips.
iStockphoto's success caught the attention of Getty Images, a market leader in traditional stock photography, and in February 2006, Getty purchased iStockphoto for $50 million. While some were concerned that iStockphoto would lose its democratic approach after the acquisition, Kelly Thompson, iStockphoto's VP of marketing, sees its affiliation with Getty as a substantial benefit to iStockphoto's members that will actually allow it to enhance its services. "Getty Images is the most experienced company in the stock industry, and their institutional knowledge just seeps out," he says.
According to Thompson, iStockphoto had been toying with the idea of adding video clips for customer download for some time, based on increasing customer demand for high quality video at an affordable price. "Before we launched, we were monitoring the availability of high-definition video cameras at a price that an amateur photographer could afford." He credits Getty with encouraging them to make the leap sooner rather later, and in July, iStockphoto began soliciting video clip submissions from its member base. The video collection launched in September, with prices starting at $5 for a 30 second clip.
Also in September, iStockphoto released a site upgrade that leverages Getty's indexing terminology to enhance usability for iStockphoto's international members, who comprise 40% of its user base. "Getty has taken ten years to perfect their controlled vocabulary, the tree structure that encompasses every possible keyword to describe an image. They have the ability to auto translate those terms into twelve languages besides English," Thompson says.
Now that same controlled vocabulary and auto-translation capability will be used on the iStockphoto site. Previously, photographers could only add the keyword terms describing their photos in English, which put non-English speaking photographers at a disadvantage. With the September release, photographers can also add keywords in any of twelve other languages, and global customers can search in those languages as well.
Additionally, the entire site is now translated into local languages for the French, German, and Spanish markets. In a new twist on user-generated content, Thompson says iStockphoto members from those countries participated in localizing the interface.
With the addition of video clips and localized search and user interfaces, iStockphoto continues to provide a new lens through which to see the stock photography industry.