26 Aug 2013 Canva

Today is the launch of Canva, the business I’ve been working with for the past year. Canva is a design startup that has a LOT to do with stock photography.

I took a position with them to manage their stock library and related parts of the business.  I believe Canva will be huge for our industry.

My involvement

While on one of my regular visits to Australia I received an inquiry from Melanie Perkins, the CEO of a school yearbook company, Fusion Books in Sydney.

Thinking they wanted to add a stock library to their yearbook design interface, we started talking about partnerships with stock agencies.

It quickly became clear that the conversation wasn’t about yearbooks at all, but something much bigger. That was confirmed when Melanie said she was flying down to Melbourne to talk.

I met Melanie and our conversation confirmed that the aspirations she and her Fusion Books co-founder, Cliff Obrecht, had were much larger than the yearbook market. Huge, in fact.  She described the vision for Canva and we discussed the options for getting a stock image library connected.  Canva was being founded in Sydney and I lived in Buenos Aires, so we agreed that I would consult remotely which I did for the following eight months.

Then in March this year I was back in Melbourne for my brother’s wedding.  Melanie and Cliff invited me up to Sydney to consult from their office.  That was when it all changed.

Canva founders

Canva founders (left to right) Cameron Adams, Cliff Obrecht and Melanie Perkins

I met the team including the technical co-founder, Cameron Adams.  I also saw the vision they had for the company, and witnessed how they all worked together. The startup scene is very different to everything I’ve experienced in my career, and I was amazed by the team and what they were able to produce. Everyone seemed to be gurus of their particular skill.

So after much campaigning, negotiating and wining & dining, I convinced them to let me join the team.  My family and I packed up and moved to Sydney.

What is Canva?

Canva design editor

Canva is design online. It’s simple, extremely capable, and completely free to use.

It has a stock image library built right in. The only time customers pay is if they include a stock image in their design.

The stock image library is crowdsourced directly, like a microstock agency.  It was clear a direct and clear relationship with photographers and illustrators was crucial to the Canva philosophy, so crowdsourcing was an obvious decision.

A few things change when designing goes online.  Pixel-manipulation, for one, gets in the way of keeping design simple. (Canva does not do pixel-manipulation)  Expensive and difficult-to-learn vector editing tools also impede design simplicity.

So at Canva we’re taking care of things like that by cutting out the pure-white backgrounds of isolated images, and making vectors recolorable right in the browser.

We’re also introducing a variation on the Royalty Free license type with a One Time Use license that allows customers to use an image only once, something that Canva can enforce as the usage is done on the Canva platform.

The Opportunity for Stock Photographers & Illustrators

Canva is an opportunity for photographers and illustrators to get their images in front of more image buyers. However, unlike typical microstock agencies, it appeals to both professional designers seeking easier ways to collaborate with their clients, and all those who aren’t professional designers but need to design things from time to time.

There’s also a few particularly exciting parts about Canva for contributors.

One is image control. Because design is online at Cavna, the customer never needs to download the raw image. Images stay watermarked until the customer publishes their finished design.

Another cool benefit is seeing your images in use. Soon after launch Canva will be able to show contributors a list of all the public designs that use a particular image.

We also have some very cool submission tools in the works, like automating release matching and a submission interface that’s twice as simple as anything in the microstock market.

At launch we’re running exclusively with our One Time Use license, and it’s a flat $1 license fee for a single use. With the 35% royalty rate, that means a single use on Canva nets you more than most microstock agencies do for unlimited use (not to be confused with unlimited print runs).  After launch we’ll be adding standard Royalty Free and Extended licenses that let customers license images for a higher price and be able to use them in multiple designs.

Implications of the Canva Business Model

I expect (and hope) that Canva represents the first serious step in a trend where image licensing is done at the application, and not just as a stand-alone store. We already see some limited examples of this with API connections at established microstock agencies but as the Canva model proves, there’s scope for so much more.

One of the things the contributors I recruited to Canva were most excited about was the greater control of images afforded by the business model of online design. We’re excited about it too.

Contrasting that is a concern that, as with the introduction of the microstock business model, Canva will put stock images in the hands of people with less understanding about image copyright and licensing than those who currently use them. This is not an invalid concern, but it’s offset by the additional control that Canva has over image use and greater ability to enforce license compliance. That’s not to say that customers cannot breach the Canva license terms, but there’s a lot more control than when the customer downloads the original image.

Another important implication is that by enabling recoloring and other editing of vectors, Canva makes illustrations available to a much greater audience. The complexity and cost of vector editing tools is eliminated by keeping the editing in the browser.

How to Contribute

Canva launches today with our first 1 million images, contributed by some of the biggest names in microstock.

We have a lot of original ideas to make submitting less painful and we’e working hard to bring them online as quickly as possible.

While our full ingestion system is being built, tested and deployed, we’re welcoming more contributors.  You can request an FTP account via the contribute page, or send in a hard drive using the details on that same page.

  • Cory Thoman
    Posted at 12:01h, 26 August Reply

    Congrats! I’ll have to check it out.

  • Jesussanz
    Posted at 12:25h, 05 September Reply

    Congratulations Lee,
    looks like a very interesting this new project. I was expecting with gain a new entries in your blog and has warranted the worth the wait. I am a graphic designer and also a vectors illustrator for microstock. So Canva looks interests me for two reasons. I have registered yet. I look forward to see how your project develops.

  • Sean Locke
    Posted at 05:54h, 25 September Reply

    “At launch we’re running exclusively with our One Time Use license, and it’s a flat $1 license fee for a single use. With the 35% royalty rate, that means a single use on Canva nets you more than most microstock agencies do for unlimited use”

    35 cents for a (single) design a buyer can use anywhere? That sounds awful. From the write-up, it isn’t clear what “one time use” actually means, so forgive me if I interpreted it wrong.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 07:21h, 25 September Reply

      At Thinkstock, Shutterstock and every microstock agency with a subscription, it’s 35 cents – usually less – for an unlimited quantity of designs that can be used anywhere. Not just one design. Nobody is saying this is premium stock, but it’s far from awful.

      You didn’t misinterpret it, but if you click through the links in the article you can read the license itself.

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