Are you a photographer that is looking to make some extra money? Do you want your work to be featured on posters, in advertisements or magazines? Do you want your best photos to be ‘in the picture’? Or are you a looking for affordable high-quality images to use on your website, flyers etc.? iStockphoto (iStock) is the place to go!

What is iStock?

iStock is one of the world’s leading online platforms for stock photography. They provide millions of customers with carefully selected, exclusive high-quality images for affordable tariffs. iStock was founded in 2000 and created the crowdsourced stock sector. Meanwhile it has become ‘the’ source of user-generated photos, illustrations and videos. They offer the contributors (artists, photographers, ect.) a platform to earn money with their passion, by assisting them by licensing their content to businesses and individuals. In return, these contributors receive commissions.

How and why does it work?

In order to become a contributor and upload images, photographers have to answer several questions regarding photographic knowledge, legal issues, policies etc. Before approval, the images are carefully screened for quality. Uploading images is completely cost free, therefore the platform charges a percentage of sales. The commissions that the contributors receive, range from 15% to 50% and depend on factors such as quality, quantity and exclusivity.

If you are a consumer, looking for images to use for publication, you can search the extensive and ever-increasing database full of images. The content is split into signature- and essential images. The signature content is less expensive than the essential content, which is of higher quality. There are 2 different ways to acquire content. The first one is to buy credits and spend these on purchases. By buying multiple images/credits at the same time, the costs decrease. The second way is to subscribe to an image subscription. This allows the subscriber to use 10-750 images each month, depending on the subscription. Credits are the best choice when a one-time purchase is conducted and when the future needs are hard to forecast. When consumers need images on a regular base, the subscription is more beneficial.

The iStock platform outsources the task of high quality stock photography to a large group of photographers, but why? These contributors are the experts on photography and are generally able to provide high quality content. Without the contributors, it would be very costly to provide unique images for the wishes of consumers. The quality, the range of content and especially the amount of content is drastically increased by outsourcing the task of photography to the crowd.

But why would these contributors publish their content on the platform? As mentioned, they receive a minor financial compensation for every sale of their content. However, it takes a lot of time, a high amount- and constant input of high-quality photos and a little bit of luck in order for these commissions to add up. Or are the intrinsic motivators, in the form of glory and love more important? Contributors can showcase their work to a large audience, which could positively influence his/her status. Other contributors might upload content, just because of their love for photography. Their work might inspire others and they might be inspired by other content.


iStock has a high-quality control, both contributors and contributions are evaluated in terms of quality and suitability. There provide guidelines and give penalties in case of plagiarism. The contributors are both extrinsically- and intrinsically motivated. Consumers of the content can purchase content in several ways, depending on what is most suitable for their situation.

Nevertheless, there are some points that need careful consideration. The platform thrives on the two-sided network effect, which implies that more contributors result in more consumers and vice versa. Therefore, it is very important that the platform is attractive for both user sides of the platform. Without one or another, the platform will lose popularity. Additionally, the fact that consumers can make eternal and unlimited use of the content, without any hard control of the contributors, might scare off contributors. Although the high number of available images might be attractive to consumers, it might also scare of possible contributors, as they feel their content will not stand out and be lost in the amount of content. Lastly, iStock does not provide exclusive content, which implies two issues. iStock can license purchased content to other customers as well, which could decrease the attractiveness of the content. Contributors can upload their work on other stock platforms as well, therefore making it easy to switch and decreasing the exclusivity of the platform for consumers. When contributors offer content exclusively for iStock, the commission is increased.


To conclude, the business model of iStock has proven to be effective. Moving forward, there are several points of attention that they can address to further improve the attractiveness of the platform for both contributors and consumers. Suggestions for improvement could be:

  • The implementation of contests, in which consumers can indicate their image wishes and provide price money. This would make it able for consumers to shop ‘on-demand’ and find content that better fits their needs.
  • Providing contributors with intangible rewards such as badges, to stimulate intrinsic motivation.
  • Creating a community in which contributors can discuss the art of photography with each other, and consumers can indicate what their needs are, so that contributors are able to learn from each other and align their content creation with what is in demand.


What suggestions do you have? Do you feel that the provided suggestions improve the platform & business model?



Piper, A. (2016). Here’s How You Can Make Extra Cash from Those Photos on Your Hard DriveThe Penny Hoarder. Retrieved 11 March 2018, from

Stock photos, royalty-free images & video clips. (2018). Retrieved 11 March 2018, from

Tsekouras, D. (2018). Customer Centric Digital Commerce Session 3. Presentation, Rotterdam School of Management.

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