Stock and Awe

July 4, 2011 - By

I haven’t always loved the process of buying artwork from stock sites, but I’ve always had a deep respect for the value of good imagery. Using a stock image or illustration can add to the feel of a site, and can be the difference between staying on budget or not. Stock-art is a necessary tool in any production medium.

The way these sites work is pretty much the same: you pay money, and you get some images. Sometimes they add a  extra step: you pay money, you get credits, then you spend credits to get images. Why credits and not dollars you ask? Who knows, why does Super Mario Bros give you 300 time-units (not to be confused with seconds) to beat a level? Sometimes humans invent new confusing standard units of measure for no reason. But I digress.

Prominent stock site iStock has slightly tweaked this tried and tested ‘pay and get‘ model with their own: you pay money, and if you spend all your credits in the allotted time you get some images. For some reason iStock ‘credits’ expire after a year. I have a theory for this. In North America all paper and coin money gets its value from reserve gold. This is called ‘the gold standard’. My theory is that iStock uses a different item of value (which expires) to back the credit; like the Salad Dressing standard or Anne Geddes Annual Calendar standard.

I learned this last week in a shocking email from them letting me know that if I didn’t act soon my paltry 6 remaining credits would be gone (thus making the model the less favourable ‘You pay money. You get no pictures.’)

I did what any distressed citizen would do: I whined about it on Twitter. To their ‘credit’ iStock replied that if I contacted them they’d extend my credits for another year. Sadly, “contacting large organizations” is third on my list of ‘Annoying things about the Internet‘; right after Pop-ups and credits expiring. I decided not to go through the hoops of asking iStock to provide me with what should be the default nature of monetary transactions in the twenty-first century.

I was left with no other alternative: I had to go spend my hard earned credits. With no projects on the horizon needing images I did the only sensible thing. I downloaded this image:

This is apparently the most downloaded picture on their site. It cost me 5 credits for this size. I plan to either use it for nothing, or work it into every single project I ever work on for the rest of my career (funny enough if you Google iStock_000002193842XSmall.jpg or iStock_000002193842* you’ll find lots of examples of people using this image without renaming it)

That left me with 1 measly credit, which is the equivalent of pocket-link anywhere else in society. It wasn’t even enough scratch to buy the coveted One Credit Flower Silhouette (not making this up).


This irksome practice makes no sense to me. This company already has my money, and is offering a commodity that costs them next to nothing to deliver to me. They’ll never have to restock this image, do inventory, or worry about recalls. They could just be content to count their money credits, but instead they hope I’ll go through a pattern of buying credits, and letting them expire. That’s not going to happen. These are images, not the impossible-to-consume 10lb bag of potatoes I keep buying.

Is this iStocks fault? Nope. It’s their site, they make the rules. For all I know, every stock site does this, and hides it somewhere in the lengthy terms of service agreement that no reasonable person has ever read.

Let’s be honest, it’s our fault as consumers for letting this happen.

So my final credit will be expiring in a couple weeks, and my account will likely die with it.

That is, unless iStock buys more of my Patience Tokens.

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This post was written by ArleyM