28 Aug 2015 BlackStockImages – Specializing in People of Color
Among the constant flurry of new stock agencies, one has recently launched (in beta) with something interesting: a super-narrow specialty, accepting only images of black people.
The Market for Black Imagery
As a designer, Wiggins was unhappy with the stock imagery he found featuring black people. He found the available photos overly stereotypical and not authentic. BlackStock is his initiative to correct that, creating a collection of images that better represents real black people with more authenticity.
Sticking to such a narrow specialty is quite risky, given the reduced market opportunity, but Wiggins believes it will work.
Some quick searches on Shutterstock for “african american, candid” and “african american, authentic” both prove Wiggins’s point with a lot of staged, stereotypical imagery, but also turn up a lot of more authentic images. This latter fact will make it very difficult for Wiggins to compete with top market agencies if buyers can already find the authentic content they want.
And that’s if authentic is even what buyers really want. Shutterstock says that they sell more stocky imagery than authentic imagery, so while these days authenticity is what everyone says they want, it might not be the best restriction to place on a new agency collection.
How Specialization Works
When a company targets a niche market, there’s always temptation to reduce specialization and add variety. BlackStock is about black people and culture but already includes non-people images of food, objects, and locations.
Blend Images is a similar case. They started out specializing in multi-cultural imagery, but while they’re still very strong on that theme, they ended up including everyone and everything. Our friend Jonathan Ross started Spaces Images specializing in images of “places where people live, work and play,” but now also includes photos of people.
There have been other specialized projects to better represent groups of people who are or were stereotyped in stock imagery. The Drug Policy Alliance’s authentic stock photos and footage of people consuming marijuana is one such initiative, but it’s driven by a nonprofit organization and remains free and for editorial purposes only.
While initially conceived as a free service, BlackStock is now a paid marketplace, although they still have 3 packs of 8 photos each available for free. They offer 65% royalties for contributors.
One thing to note is they operate more as an intermediary platform than as an agency: instead of the company acting as a sub-licensing agent, their image licensing terms engage author and buyer directly. This is the same model used by multi-media stock site, Envato.
But they’re struggling with content. With only 428 images in their collection, they are a very long way from competing with the authentic, and very high quality, images of black people available at big microstock agencies.
They have a nice brand and web site (despite the green), designed entirely by Wiggins, and the platform is certainly getting some good press, including a promotional article back in May, an interview with Kenneth about the project last month, and a more recent coverage post.
Ambitious or Naive?
BlackStock’s business is based on two presumptions:
- That there is a lack of authentic black images in the market, and
- That there’s enough demand to support an agency specializing in only that
In their 2015 People Trends report, Shutterstock placed ethnic lifestyle themes at the top of the list, and African American images are the second fastest growing search trends, increasing by 24% over the previous year, proving strong demand. And thanks to the report, there’s now also more Shutterstock contributors aware of that demand.
While it’s difficult for anyone outside one of the big agencies to know the exact size of the market for black imagery, it’s very easy to see there’s already a lot of great images in the market.
With no outside funding and no real innovation, it’s going to be an extremely difficult road for Wiggins to make BlackStock a success.