Bruce Livingstone, the man to whom we can attribute our modern concept of microstock photography, has been trying for a year to reinvent his own wheel.
Ten years ago, Livingstone founded iStockphoto, one of the first online mass photo sites, specializing in selling photographers’ images in large quantities (and at low prices) and encouraging artists to publish more photos, linking pay rates to upload numbers. . He sold the company to Getty Images for $50 million in 2006.
Where Livingstone – along with a core group of the iStockphoto leadership team – went from there, can provide an interesting perspective on the seemingly crowded online photography industry. It also highlights the value of recognizing and stubbornly sticking to a good idea, once you recognize it.
After the sale to Getty, Livingstone worked at the company for a few years. But after he left, Livingstone and Brianna Wettlaufer, who had been vice president of development at iStockphoto (and whom Livingstone would later marry; the two are pictured above right) decided in 2012 to return to the game. Yes, they would build another stock photography site.
It might seem like a risky move, given that the industry, still only in its teens, is pretty crowded. Competitors, in addition to Getty and iStock, include Fotolia, Veer, Fotostock and Shutterstock, a newcomer that went public in 2012, along with many others.
Still, Livingstone, 43, and Wettlaufer, 32, dived. The company, based on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is called Stocksy United, and it’s partly an attempt by the entrepreneurial pair to correct some of the conventions that have evolved at iStockphoto (now called iStock), and other stock photography sites, in terms of paid photographers who contribute images. Not only are micro-stock-photography sites notorious for not paying photographers much in general, but in 2011 Getty changed the way iStock calculated royalty rates for its contributors. It’s just one of many moves over the years that have angered photographers, including allowing Google to license images from hundreds of photographers’ images to use and ostensibly reuse them, at large scale, via Google Drive.
Stocksy doesn’t want to make such moves. It bills itself as an artist-owned digital licensing cooperative, and its business model is based on charging customers flat rates for its royalty-free photos — on average $50 for a reasonably high-resolution image. The photographer behind this image gets half that price – far more than the dollars (or cents) other sites pay.
“We wanted to create something that gives back to artists after what happened with iStockphoto,” said Wettlaufer, the company’s CEO since Tuesday. “I think the thing we are most proud of is that we give a 50-50 payout in terms of royalties. We want to make as many sustainable careers as possible.”
A Berlin photographer named Michael Jay blogged about his success on Stocksy last month (amid a gushing cute ode to the site), noting that while he’s only published 3% of his total work on Stocksy, “on average they pay more than double what I make with the rest of my images.”
He also hopes to fix something aesthetically glaring: the fact that stock photography looks like “stock photography,” and that phrase has become synonymous with dry, staged images of young professionals in collared shirts. incredibly cheerful. The banner at the top of a not-quite-white law firm website. The smiling couple in insurance advertising.
Visit Stocksy’s site, and you’ll find images that seem to my amateur eye to more accurately reflect the real diversity of nature and humans. In the “Lifestyle” section, you will see people with tattoos and scarves; a pair of teenagers ready for the music festival, with hair like Lorde and a dreamcatcher necklace. There are same-sex couples, people of all ages, and very few collared shirts.
Over the past year, Stocksy has grown to employ eight people and its co-op is made up of more than 600 photographers. The company is looking to hire several positions over the next year and hopes to expand its pool of photographers to over 1,000 by early 2015.
When forming the company a year ago, Livingstone told CNET the startup would not seek venture capital or seek acquisition by any of its rivals in a stock photography industry. increasingly crowded line.
“It’s crazy to start a business with the big boys out there, but I think now is the time to start a soulful business like this,” Livingstone said.
Internally, the company continues to evolve. Last month, Livingstone announced he was stepping down as CEO of Stocksy to become chairman of the company’s board. Wettlaufer assumes the role of CEO, and the company appoints Richard Brown, an experienced IT team leader and veteran of iStock, as chief technology officer.
With Wettlaufer, an enthusiastic and optimistic leader, at the helm of Stocksy, the company will have internal adjustments to make. Wettlaufer acquired most of her management skills over the past decade within this narrow industry where she is now trying to forge a new strategy. But Wettlaufer says early in her career she received advice that stuck with her and helped her realize that not every day is sunny when you’re the boss.
“A leadership coach I worked with once told me that you have to be able to take people to hell one day and heaven the next,” she says. “They might not like you that day, but when you get up and grow, they’ll like you for pushing them.”