01 Mar 2016 Photocase Review
It could be said that Photocase was authentic before authentic became cool.
They’re a stock photo agency which doesn’t accept stocky images. They’ve always been different, and very different.
Their images are absolutely authentic, but also much more artistic than “commercial” in the style sense, and often lead towards quirky.
They have their contributor base who loves this style, and they have their buyer base who values it – and can’t get it anywhere else.
Photocase is a niche agency, with no aspirations to cater to the masses. After 15 years in business they’re still small, but growing, and working on growing more, but not at the cost of their very specific aesthetic.
A Little History
Photocase is based in Berlin, where it was founded in 2001 by Kai Schneider and Frank Erler.
The business started as an image exchange and community platform for designers. They later pivoted into stock photography, but maintained some of their community features. If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the same story as every stock photo agency that started in the early 2000’s.
In the years since, they’ve achieved respectable success in Germany, although their international presence is less prominent. The site was initially only in German, and was only translated into English a few years ago.
They have some mainstream print publications and other big clients on their customer list, but their buyer base is mostly small and medium sized businesses.
Different From the Start
They launched centred around more artistic, candid, non-stocky content, which was a rarity 15 years ago. As if that wasn’t different enough, they also prioritised quality over quantity, having a tight edit process and intentionally avoiding a massive library. These are still fundamentals of their business today.
Some of the features retained from their start as a community and social platform include assigning contributors points: for every image approved online, for every download, for every euro earned –prices and royalties were originally based in this currency, but it’s now based on actual money–, and for their activity in the community. These points place contributors in a 5-level ranking, where higher levels earn higher royalty rates.
They give all their contributors free credits with every upload –this used to be a key point to their image exchange model– so they can download images for free. Free credit downloads don’t pay anything to contributors, but they do earn points as regular downloads.
Given their focus on quality and their particular style, they never wanted large volume submissions. And they certainly don’t want people dumping their entire stock portfolios –more so when in the early years most of those portfolios were super stocky. For this reason they initially didn’t have FTP.
In 2013 they introduced a multiple-upload tool, but they restrict uploads to 10 images a day for new users, and up to 100 a day for contributors with more than 10 images online. And later on they added upload via Dropbox. They still expressly discourage dumping entire portfolios or submitting large volume of files.
Their interface supports 4 languages, and they have an automatic keyword translation tool to convert them from one language to the others.
Another interesting point is that they share buyer details with contributors when a buyer downloads their images. They provide a username when the buyer is a member of the site, and a name for a person or company in the case of an on-demand purchase.
Not Quite the Industry Standard
Photocase sells Standard and Extended RF licenses for commercial use. But a distinctive point here is their Standard license requires copyright attribution. Use without attribution is sold as an Extended license. This is a key component of their growth strategy – generating lots of brand recognition via a flood of attributions.
As mentioned, they have do a super tight edit, rejecting around 90% of all submissions. Rejections are mostly for style and content value than for technical reasons. They provide submission guidelines that are also non-standard for microstock –for example, they don’t want heavily retouched images, extensive series nor images with text. Together with the limited market for the style, the limited quantity of willing photographers to produce it keeps the collection small relative to the giants in the stock photo industry.
The prices are based in image size, and can be paid in cash without registration –what they call Instant Buy–, credit packs and monthly subscriptions. In cash, images are $10 for small size, $15 for standard and $20 for large. The Extended Licenses for omitting attribution and unlimited print run rights are $50 each, and they also have product resale rights for $200. Customers REALLY have to want a Photocase image to buy it at these prices.
Their credit packs go from 6 credits for $16 up to 1000 for $1350. Subscriptions grant a number of credits per day: $180 a month for 9 daily credits, and $310 gives you 20 credits a day. Prices per image in credits are 3, 6 and 10 according to size.
Contributor royalties are between 40% and 60% depending on rank level.
They have an affiliate program and API.
Photocase is very successful at being different and remaining true to their niche – an increasingly rare quality these days.
For prospective contributing photographers, they represent either a primary distributor for photographers that love quirky, or an alternative distributor for photographers who have the occasional shot or shoot that doesn’t fit inside the narrow parameters of what big microstock agencies like. The high prices and generous royalty rates help, but the high rejection rates hinder. But for a few specific photographers, it’s the perfect platform.
They are definitely not interested in the average microstocker, and many have found it a frustrating experience attempting to get in.
Loyalty to their niche comes at the cost of growth. While there’s obviously scope for reaching new photo buyers who would appreciate their style, the limited resources gained from their tiny niche –kept even smaller by high prices– make it difficult to reach them. Affiliate programs, API partnerships and business development all require investment that Photocase clearly can’t generate, or doesn’t want to allocate.
And as the rest of stock moves away from stocky towards authentic and artistic imagery, Photocase may find their differentiation harder to sell.
All in all, they’re a very unique stock photo agency. A cool and genuine business, perfect for photographers who love quirkiness. And with 15 years in business and true to their niche, they’re nothing if not dependable.