18 Feb 2016 Freepik – A Top Performing Free Image Site Now Open to Contributors
Since its launch in 2010, Freepik has grown into a very successful free image site with an Alexa rank in the top 600. The business has evolved over that time, but is about to present it’s biggest change by opening up to contributors.
This model is an interesting play that represents a new opportunity in the industry, if they can clean up their trust issues.
The Evolution of Freemium
Starting life in 2010 as a free image database, indexing graphic resources offered for free on the web. In 2013 they started producing their own content and introduced a twist to the free image model: they offer all images in their platform for free commercial use, but with attribution, up-selling a Premium subscription to their own content that allows use without attribution.
Although they no longer index images from other websites, the ones collected so far are still available on their site. The monthly and annual subscription offer is for the Freepik Selection –the images designed specifically for them by a network of freelance designers. This content is wholly-owned and exclusive to the company.
Opening to Contributors
The expansion to include contributor content was started in July 2015. They recently started marketing this opportunity to contributors.
While they started focusing in graphic designs and illustrations, they now include stock photos too. Contributor images are offered in the same way that the rest of the collection is offered: for free with attribution, or without it under the paid plans.
Given the nature of their model, instead of percentage rates, they pay contributors a $5 royalty for every 1000 downloads in their portfolio. The royalty calculation and payout are monthly, and all downloads –free or under subscription– add to contributors’ earnings.
Who’s Behind It
Freepik is based in Málaga, Spain. Co-founders are brothers Alejandro and Pablo Blanes –graphic designer and photographer, respectively– and Joaquin Cuenca, founder of Google-acquired startup Panoramio. The Blanes brothers also own FlatIcon, launched in 2013 –using the same business model as Freepik, but specialising in icons.
Pablo Blanes is also the founder of microstock agency Photaki. This company started in 2001 as an initiative by a group of Spaniard photographers –like Blanes– who put together a collection of regionally specialised content. Through the years the business expanded until in 2009 it took the form of a microstock agency, rebranded as Photaki, and launched to the international market. Pablo says Photaki has been a great source of learning and experience for him, giving him first-hand insight on the way both sides of the market behave and evolve.
Pablo says the idea for Freepik came to him after acknowledging how many successful graphic designers had gained momentum by offering some of their work for free. Freepik and FlatIcon are concepts thought to better serve image buyers and creators seizing revenue opportunities that established models –like microstock– fail to explore.
An Innovative and Successful Model
Freepik’s platform is very successful and popular. According to the founders the company broke even after one year operating, and their active business development and staff count shows they’re doing well.
Their freelance designer base has grown to over 100 members. They’ve been collaborating with a local design school, providing in-company training for students with professional experience in design, and offering a potential position in the company for the best performers. The course is self-funded, as the designs created by the trainees were owned by Freepik, and those which met their quality standards were added to the Freepik Selection. They say they’re very selective with their designers. For one intake, only 1 designer out of 150 applicants did well enough to score a job in the company.
Pablo says they’ve generated a total of 700 million downloads to date. This is part of their pitch to contributors, which includes a glowing recommendation from microstock celebrity Kirsty Pargeter as one of the first contributors. She is featured on the company’s blog, praising the freemium model and disclosing encouraging earnings figures.
Despite the track record of millions of downloads and the support of a well-known microstock illustrator, Freepik’s new business model is having a tough time achieving acceptance in an industry fraught with downward price pressure and increasing competition from free sources. But it’s not just the business model that worries contributors.
More than one microstocker has found copies of their content –that they never offered for free– on Freepik. The company says that they take fast action every time a copyright issue is identified, removing the content and apologising to the contributor. They say most issues come from content that was indexed from the web in the early days of the company. As a vertical search engine, they indexed content from Google, and they say they relied on Google to only index legal content. While this would have made things much simpler back then in early startup mode, it was a shortcut they’re paying for now.
And there’s been at least a few cases of plagiarised assets within the Freepik Selection too. This is the content produced by the company’s in-house but offsite designers. Pablo says the confirmed infringements can be counted on one hand, and that they’ve taken care of each case. In the end, fraudulent submissions hurt the company’s reputation in addition to hurting the earnings of the original designer who created them.
Unfortunately it doesn’t end there. The Photaki agency had some technical issues that locked contributors out of their own accounts, and changed the contributor name on their profile. Some have reported being unable to withdraw their earnings or close their accounts, which Blanes refutes.
Innovation Trumps All
While it’s clear they have some work to do improving their communication, transparency and legal processes, Blanes and the Freepik team are making a committed effort to evolve their already-successful business into something new – something that nobody else is doing.
And while the industry isn’t a fan of free files, there’s an inevitability about things heading that direction as supply hits previously unfathomable quantities and entrepreneurs seek to find more new ways to sell, or give, media to a wider variety of the population.
As Freepik is already a successful and profitable business, they don’t ‘need’ contributors now. But as they’ve proven with Kirsty, it can be lucrative for the right contributor and the right images. So while it may take some time, Freepik is in a strong position to make this business model innovation successful.
If you’re interested in signing up, you can do so here.