22 Feb 2016 FOAP Review
FOAP was one of the first companies in the mobile stock photo space. The company has lofty ambitions, aspiring to sell more files than Shutterstock, but a significant fund raising from known investors is the only outward sign that there’s any traction at all from this first-mover, on either side of our two-sided market. The collection remains small and patchy, while there’s no evidence of sales in any meaningful volume.
The celebrity investors include social media icon, author and serial investor, Gary Vaynerchuck, as well as Delivery Hero’s founder & CEO, Niklas Östberg, who both contributed to the latest round of $3.5M in December 2014.
FOAP was founded in Sweden in 2011 by David Los (the current CEO) and Alexandra Byland. In May 2012 the platform launched in Sweden, and a couple of months later in the US and UK. Initially the mobile app was iOS only, but they added Android in 2013.
They’ve raised a lot of different funding rounds prior to their previous celebrity-laden “seed” round. The first investments were small $200K-$300K grants and angel investments –totalising $1.75M in their first two years–, then a sizable $1.5M in 2013 followed by the most recent $3.5M seed round at the end of 2014.
From Peer Reviewing to No-Review
In the early days they had an in-house review team, but decided that solution wasn’t scalable. In 2012, when they reached the 1M uploads milestone, they launched a peer-rating approval process. Contributors had to rate 5 other users’ images in order to have one of their own uploaded. With the same premise, a user’s image had to be rated by 5 other contributors, and was only approved if those ratings averaged 2,5 points or higher. On top of that, rating more images gave users greater exposure for their own portfolio. It was a tedious, time-consuming and ultimately inefficient system, where top-rated images had very poor commercial value.
In June 2015 they removed this system. Now all images submitted are immediately available for either the marketplace or missions, but the level of visibility/ranking in results is increased by completing different steps in the upload process: adding title, description, keywords, promising you have the required releases and verifying your identity via ID upload. There’s also still a community rating system that further increases exposure.
This new process, although much simpler for contributors, still doesn’t provide adequate curation nor filter for legal issues. In terms of image quality, Foap is very inconsistent.
|$10 with bulk discounts, but contributor royalty is fixed at $5
|None, just start submitting
|No, but the app requires metadata be entered before submission
|Yes, instantly and individually through the app
|David Los, Alexandra Byland
The Contributor Offer
FOAP royalties are a generous 50%. Their images are priced on a flat rate of $10 but there’s also bulk subscriptions at discounted per-image rates too, though discounts do not affect royalties.
They accept both mobile-shot and DSLR images, but uploading is via the app only, so DSLR files must be imported into a smartphone and submitted from there. Heavy ‘Instagram-like’ filters are not accepted, and many contributors take this to mean they want very raw-looking images.
Missions – like all mobile-based stock agencies, FOAP leverages the instant nature of the platform by offering “missions” (aka assignments, on-demand, challenges) where contributors can respond to calls from buyers to submit (or shoot & submit) images matching the buyer’s preferences.
The Buyer Offer
The company proudly claims to have not done any formal marketing, which may have something to do with their lack of traction.
FOAP is targeting big brands and advertising agencies as their key customers, with significant website real-estate dedicated to their enterprise service.
A feature they hope will help with this is their claim to have only “legally verified” photos, safe to license and use for commercial purposes. They verify contributor’s identity –via third-party service Jumio– requesting a copy of their photo ID. But supplying this information is optional for contributors, so non-verified images are still available for license. Releases are also not checked by the company. Instead they rely on the contributor to tick a box to say that they have appropriate releases, which is always exceptionally risky when working with the general public as your contributor base.
Missions are a key part of buyer marketing, but require an expensive monthly subscription to set up, effectively putting them out of reach for casual photo buyers.
CEO, David Los, has said that missions is the area where their sales are growing, and that they are continuously focused on providing suitable images in an accurate and prompt manner to boost business growth. Since the prize/compensation offered in missions is far higher than in the marketplace, FOAP’s community of users are actively submitting photos to each mission. It’s this community of active contributors that attracts buyers.
How is it Going?
The company is understandably tight-lipped about sales figures. They say that they have over 500,000 users, are adding around 130,000 photos to the marketplace every month and have over 20 staff. They say 70% of their business comes from the US, though also cite South America as a growth region.
One of their top contributors, Susanne Alfredsson, said she’s very pleased with sales, having sold images to brands like Panasonic Lumix and Mastercard. She praises the community features and the simplicity of the UI and has no concerns about the high-risk attitude towards legal verification nor the lack of a proper review system.
However, this is a common point in mobile-focussed & community-driven stock companies: the majority of their contributors are enthusiasts or beginners, entering the market with low to non-existent expectations of earnings, attracted more to the user interaction than the monetisation.
FOAP’s stated ambition is to sell more images per second than Shutterstock, which was recently more than 4 per second. This may not be the best metric for success given the mobile space is shaping up to be a much lower volume sector than subscription microstock, but regardless, from all external signs FOAP doesn’t appear to be on track to meet that goal for a very long time.
For experienced stock photographers, the inspiration, social connections and simplified workflow likely won’t make up for low sales. Until the poor search performance, inconsistent quality and legal issues are resolved, sales volumes from the marketplace are likely to remain low.
But if you’re just testing the waters with mobile or enjoy submitting images to the missions, you might have some fun with FOAP.
If you’re on FOAP and happy with your earnings, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.