07 Sep 2015 Interview with New Shutterstock Curator Robyn Lange

Robyn Lange has joined Shutterstock‘s team this July as their new curator. She has a diverse background in different areas of the photography industry, including working for big media publishers during her 11 years as a freelance photo editor and producer.

Robyn kindly agreed to this interview, where we discuss her new role and her goals, as well as her perspective on Shutterstock and the microstock industry as an insider in the publishing world.

What does your role entail?

The role of curator is to discover and share the best assets from our vast collection in an effort to educate and inspire our clients and contributors. Also, I work with our in-house teams to create marketing and branding products and lend my expertise for any new endeavours.

In which team do you work?

I am under the marketing umbrella, but I work across the marketing, product/tech, and content teams.

To whom do you report?

The design director ensures that I have all of the tools necessary to grow my career at Shutterstock and is the person I often turn to with questions and ideas.

Do you work with the review team?

I haven’t had a project with them yet, but I’m often asked by various teams to lend my expertise.

Do you promote and demote images in search results, or do any work that impacts search result order?

No, we have a team that is dedicated to search success.  To us, search success is reducing the time it takes to get from search to download.  The best image is the one that gets chosen by the customer and because we sell more images than anyone, we have a tremendous amount of data driving those search results.

I am hoping that through the collections that I curate our clients will be inspired to choose images that they hadn’t considered or discovered.  We have a feature on the results page that displays the most popular images for any given search, but given the volume it’s a remote possibility that I will be able to influence those results.

Do you work on Offset as well as Shutterstock?

At the moment I only work with Shutterstock, but Offset is a continuing inspiration and they have an amazing curation team led by Keren Sachs.

Are you involved in contributor recruitment?

I am not, but it’s something that would be of interest to me in the future. My previous work experience introduced me to a diverse and talented pool of photographers and it would be a pleasure to work directly with photographers again.

As a freelancer for 11 years, do you think you’ll have challenges adapting to the corporate life (not counting the amazing offices, massages and all the other perks)?

The love that I had for being a freelancer really revolved around flexibility and creativity, and Shutterstock offers me all of that as well as an environment where new ideas are encouraged and brought to fruition. I have an ownership of my position here that I never found in freelance and I find that very satisfying. Also within the tech industry, the thinking seems to be more forward-focused and modern and that suits me very well.

How much time do you spend talking to buyers and how much to contributors?

We are talking to buyers and contributors nearly every day researching their needs, seeking their opinions.  My first few weeks have been spent on other projects, and I look forward to spending more time every week speaking to both buyers and contributors.  

What do you bring to Shutterstock that you think they have been lacking?  Why did they hire you above other candidates?

I have a diverse background with experience in every corner of the photography industry and that gives me a unique perspective as a curator. I can easily relate to both clients and contributors and understand how best to meet their needs.  

Given your background in working for big magazines, where do you see the opportunities for Shutterstock in that particular market?  Is Shutterstock already at capacity there or is there still opportunity?  

There is always opportunity for growth. Many publications are moving towards a wider digital platform and are incorporating more advertorial into their pages. The expansion into digital rarely comes with increased hiring so photo editors and designers are having to do more with less. With over 60 million assets Shutterstock definitely has the content to help with these tighter shipping schedules, and as curator I can ease the burden of the art and photo departments by showcasing assets that are both beautiful and relevant. And remember that Shutterstock is building its editorial business which opens up a completely new opportunity to serve media companies.

What do you feel is the ratio of RM + traditional RF vs microstock purchases at those big magazine publishers?

I honestly don’t know the stats.  I know that every magazine is different.

What are common aspects about photographer portfolios you like?

I like to see a strong personal vision and a uniformity across all of their work. The work doesn’t have to be of the same genre (fashion, still life, landscape etc) but it should all feel interrelated.

Do you think microstock contributors need to be more artistic, given the well accepted fact that artistic images have smaller markets and shorter shelf lives than more classic, plain images? Or do you think that’s inaccurate?

Visual trends are always changing and evolving and the most successful contributors will be the ones that can interpret these trends through their own personal vision. A contributor should maintain their voice and style above all else and create work that speaks to that, but they also need to understand the needs of the market and react accordingly.

Are there noticeable differences in the images that Shutterstock uses for promotion on landing pages, newsletters, trend reports, etc, and the images that sell best on Shutterstock?

The content that I curate is really meant to be aspirational and inspirational. Not all projects lend themselves to sweeping imagery, sometimes a buyer really just needs something simple. My goal for the future, however, is that even those simple images reflect a certain level of authenticity and beauty.

Can you identify a few Shutterstock accounts that you find most inspiring?

The illustrator jumpingsack’s portfolio has the feel of a cool punk zine, and the South African photographer Johan Swanepoel has really dynamic images of wildlife.

Lee: Thanks Robyn for the insightful and useful answers! All the best with your new position.

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