Kelly Thompson, senior VP of iStockphoto, found a novel way to thank the company’s photographers. On Aug. 19, the day Louis Daguerre’s discovery was released to the world in 1839, iStock will introduce a new holiday: Punctum Day. The name is an homage to French philosopher Roland Barthes (pictured), who defined “punctum” as the profound reaction evoked by an excellent image.
The first Punctum Day will be commemorated by the launch of several “thank you” programs for iStock contributors. These will include eight contests with more than $40,000 in prizes. Plus, several other programs that offer substantial financial rewards for quality of work and exclusivity to iStock. And, on an undisclosed date within the next two months, exclusive contributors will be able to keep 100 percent of the revenues generated by their images.
Increasing contributor revenue
In an industry segment routinely criticized for low photographer commissions, a contributor appreciation program is likely to meet with skepticism. iStock pays contributors up to 50 percent on extended licenses, and its exclusive photographers earn 40 percent of image sales. However, its baseline 20 percent contributor cut is the lowest in the industry. Newer micro-payment sites have tried to woo contributors with commissions as high as 70 percent.
“The reason why everyone else is increasing their percentages is because they cannot even come close to iStock’s sales volume,” responds Thompson. “We often hear that our contributors do much better by becoming exclusive to us than through all others combined.”
Recent statistics put iStock’s registered customer base at over five times the size of its nearest competitor. Getty Images does not break out iStock’s revenue total in its earnings reports, but industry analysts say the figure is greater than $20 million per year.
Further, iStock promotes and rewards the higher-commissioned exclusivity. About 40 percent of its inventory is exclusive, and this number is likely to increase with new programs. First, iStock is allowing exclusive contributors an unlimited number of image uploads during August 18-19. Second, the exclusivity eligibility requirement is decreasing to 250 image downloads for contributors with a 50 percent acceptance rate.
Thompson highlights that the benefits of iStock exclusivity are not only financial. Exclusive contributors get additional perks, ranging from professionally printed business cards to assistance with pursuing inappropriate use of their images.
Awarding quality work
Exclusivity is also favored by the prize contests that open for iStock community vote on July 23. Awards for best image, vector, video and flash file of the year will go to exclusive contributors. Prizes will also be awarded for design of the year and Steel Cage Battle of the Year, a contest based on using images from the Web site. Community voting in these categories will conclude on Punctum Day with a short list of finalists. Later, winners will be chosen by a panel of special guest judges.
Separately, iStock’s team of 85 image inspectors will choose the recipients of two $5,000 awards: most improved contributor, who will receive a cash prize, and contributor most deserving of a new camera, who will win a Canon EOS 5D with lenses. The image of the year will also be used in a direct-mail customer promotion.
Moving on up
The recent launch of SnapVillage  got many microstock contributors excited about the possibility to move to the premium stock space, though Thompson notes it wasn’t an original idea.
“When Getty Images acquired us, the company immediately recognized that the quality of work of some of our photographers was every bit as good as Getty’s own,” he says. For several months, iStock’s diamond-level contributors — those with over 25,000 image sales — have had the opportunity to submit five images per month to Getty’s Photodisc.
According to Thompson, the program was an unprecedented success. As of September, it will be open to iStock contributors who have more than 10,000 downloads (gold level and above).
Another way in which contributor revenue will grow is a price increase. iStock is raising credit pricing by 10 cents to $1.30. It is also changing the pricing structure for vector and video files. The lowest pricing for video, which Thompson says has been growing rapidly, is going up to $10; the highest price range remains at $50. This is the second time iStock has raised prices since being acquired by Getty Images.
Punctum Day aside, iStockphoto continues to dominate the micro-payment space in much the same way its parent presides over the traditional market. As microstock enters a new age of maturity, iStock is recognizing and responding to the needs of photographers by offering new ways to increase their earnings.
[tags]iStockPhoto, Punctum Day, microstock [/tags]