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Digital photography startup Snapwire might just be making stock photos sexy again — or at least, not as stock-y.
Snapwire opened to the public in March with big promises for both photographers and brands. For the former, it promises the ability to set your own price on your photos. For the latter, it promises stock photos that, well, don’t look quite so stock photo-ish.
Snapwire founder and CEO Chad Newell said in an interview that in the social media world, our minds are trained to shun what stock photo suppliers refer to as “business porn” — the stiff, posed photos that often adorn stock photo galleries.
“Our visual cortexes are being trained to want to see authenticity because that’s what we share with each other, and that maps to creative demand,” he said. Keeping that in mind, Newell quietly launched Snapwire as a platform for photographers to connect with buyers in March, vetting photographers’ work before allowing them to sell to buyers on the Snapwire network.
“Shortly after launch [as well as in private beta] it was fundamentally critical to ensure that the quality of photographers … was high enough to serve our buyers,” he said.
About three months after the company’s formal launch in March and about 25,000 uploaded images later, it has secured a $1.4 million seed round, and founder and CEO Chad Newell is ready to lower the barrier to entry for novice photographers.
The buyer-photographer relationship on the platform, available both on iOS and for desktop browsers, mirrors mini-task sites like TaskRabbit. Users who sign up can either designate themselves a buyer or a photographer, and the marketplace uses different levels and community-driven rewards to weed out and promote photographers. For instance, an entry-level user can be promoted to a “Shooter” if their photo is recognized through a “nomination” from other members of the Snapwire community.
Previously, only Snapwire-approved photographers could formally enter the marketplace with their photos, but with its latest update, Snapwire will now allow users that have yet to see their portfolios approved sell their photos from the get-go.
“While we still review photographers’ uploaded photos, we now make it more engaging for them to have success in our product,” Newell said.
Further, for buyers on a tighter deadline or who have more generic requests, Snapwire also features “Challenges” that ask photographer users to submit photos to collections such as famous landmarks. While entry-level users were only allowed to enter select Challenges previously, with Snapwire’s latest update all users are now able to enter all active challenges.
All photos uploaded to Snapwire remain copyrighted to photographers. However, they also have the onus of identifying any recognizable people or establishments in their photos upon upload and of certifying that the photo is indeed theirs.
Like many mini-task sites, Snapwire also takes a cut of the photographer’s pay. There’s a 30% transaction fee that goes to Snapwire in every buyer’s payout.
On the buyer side, users can create unique requests with specific instructions on the kinds of photos they’re looking for along with how much they’re willing to pay for the photo. Buyers can also follow photographers and invite specific ones to contribute photos to a request, and nominate their favorite submissions to a specific request.
This streamlined process of connecting photographers and buyers came from the mind of an entrepreneur who has been iterating on the stock photo business for over 15 years. Indeed, this Santa Barbara-based company is hardly Newell’s first.
The stock photography veteran started in the industry as a researcher at stock photo library named ImageBank that was later acquired by GettyImages. He also did a 13-year stint as founder and CEO of Media Bakery, another established stock multimedia company boasting millions of rights to royalty-free photos and videos.
With the emergence of ever-more accessible digital photography tools, Newell watched the tectonic plates in the photography industry. He remembers the first time he downloaded Instagram and realized that there was a well of untapped commercial potential in amateur photography.
“It dawned on me that there was this enormous … pool of talented photographers who had no idea that the assets that they were producing had commercial value,” he said. “That’s really where Snapwire got started.”
Newell has also used his tie with Media Bakery to lure reps of Verizon and Denny’s to peruse the site for possible photos.
Despite his close ties on the buyer side of the photography exchange, Newell says Snapwire was built with the photographer in mind.
“Snapwire is beyond a photo-sharing site … we want Snapwire to be the first and foremost foundation for any photographer who wants to sell their beautiful work,” he said.
This business-minded approach to stock photography isn’t brand new. Competitors include Eyeem Photo and Stocksy, a stock photo startup that specializes in curating high-end stock content from a select group of pre-approved photographers; Foap, a similar stock photo market place that allows users to crowd-source a benchmark rating before the photos are put on the market for buyers at a set price of 10 dollars a piece (half of which goes to the photographer); photo crowd-sourcing sites like Scoopshoot; more traditional stock photo companies like iStockPhoto also crowd the field.
By opening up its marketplace to a larger pool of photographers compared to its closest competitors, Snapwire hopes to better differentiate itself.
“[Now,] anybody in the world can participate on Snapwire’s company-run Challenges which are all mapped to commercial demand for certain types of photos,” Newell said.