13 Oct 2015 Snapwire Review

Snapwire is well known in the mobile stock industry as Instagram-like agency that offers an on-demand service and a stock marketplace.

This company is the brainchild of traditional stock veteran Chad Newell, and was inspired by Instagram’s massive expansion.

Snapwire’s mobile app+website platform has a community-style interface and features, such as peer rating and a contributor level structure. They were very selective at first, with a restrictive contributor selection process, but after a while they relaxed the standards and opened doors to beginners/amateurs.


Snapwire’s HQ is in Santa Barbara, California, where the company was co-founded by CEO Newell and Sky Gilbar in 2012. Newell’s experience in the industry comes from the traditional market: He was founder and CEO of Media Bakery, which he left in 2013.

Newell saw the commercial value in Instagram images as soon as the popular photo-sharing platform came to life. Back then, however, he felt that the typical image quality and resolution of mobile photos were unsuitable for stock, so he put his ideas on hold. With the release of the iPhone 5 and its hi-res photos in 2012, he decided that the time had come to launch a mobile stock business.

After a year in private beta testing, the platform had a public launch in March 2014. Three months later, it secured $1.4M in seed funding from several investors.

Despite being directly inspired by Instagram, Snapwire is not exclusively for mobile shots. Their strong focus is on the content of the images, not on the equipment they were shot with. What they look for is a more authentic, intimate, modern style, as far as possible from the typical ‘stocky’ look.

A year and a half after the official launch, Newell is now exploring funding opportunities within the new regulations for IPO.


Snapwire’s marketing emphasizes the quality of their content. They have a contributor selection process, similar to a portfolio review, and a gamified level structure that unlocks special features, benefits, and exposure as contributors climb in the ranks. They also have some social community features, allowing users to like or ‘nominate’ (favorite or shortlist) images and follow specific photographers.

On-demand service is the company’s primary focus, but they also have a marketplace for handpicked images. Photos that were purchased on demand, selected by staff, or nominated by other contributors or buyers are included in the premium stock catalog.

At first, the contributor selection process and level ranks were restrictive. It could take some time for new photographers to get in, and new contributors couldn’t participate in anything other than on-demand requests before making their first sales. Not long after the official launch, these restrictions were loosened. The review process still exists but is less strict, and the initial ‘Explorer’ rank allows contributors to participate in agency-launched challenges as well as buyer requests (although they have a low submission limit), giving them more opportunities to gain levels.

At launch, Snapwire’s only revenue streams were the on-demand service and the marketplace, but among the changes they introduced, they now allow contributors at or above the second rank (‘Shooter’) to publish their own portfolios with images for sale.

To help the business grow, Newell leveraged his relations with big buyers from Media Bakery and elsewhere in the traditional stock industry to entice them to try Snapwire’s services.

Being so heavily influenced by Instagram and aiming to monetize the talent and the style seen on that social network, Snapwire also brought trending, popular Instagramers onboard as brand ambassadors. Scott Borrero (292K followers), Jefte Sanchez (76K) and Andrew Griswold (68.4K) are some of the names they recruited. These ambassadors launched their own agency-backed photo challenges for contributors and promoted the perks of the platform among other Instagram users and mobile shooters.


The platform allows buyers to place custom-deadline briefs for specific content and contributors to submit images for them, shooting on spec or sourcing existing photos. Buyers then shortlist the submissions they find suitable and pick the ones they want to license.

The contributor selection process is similar to a portfolio review. They ask for photographers to submit 4 images as responses to existing requests, after which staff review the photos for quality. When an image is accepted, it’s considered submitted for that particular request. It’s noteworthy that they offer feedback on rejections and encourage users to improve and resubmit. They also offer Challenges: content requests launched by the agency, rewarding winners with money and/or exposure.

When one of a contributor’s images is shortlisted by a buyer or nominated by other users or staff, they are promoted to the next level. Higher levels are earned by gaining points from peer ratings, agency ratings, shortlists, and sales. Each level offers greater benefits, such as access to a commission work service or being featured on the website.

Only premium, hand-picked images may be included in the stock marketplace, on ‘Select’ or ‘Premium’ categories. User ‘like’ and ‘favorite’ action and buyer shortlisting are ways to get noted by staff and have images selected for the stock collection. The site discloses which images have had sales.

Pricing is based on size and category. Select images are between $5 and $75; Premium go from $10 to $100, and Master level contributors’ photos are from $100 to $500. Subscription plan has 3 tiers, at $99, $199 and $499 a month.

Contributors get 70% royalties from on-demand sales, and 50% from selling on marketplace and portfolio. Subscription sales work on a fixed rate of 5% from monthly price for the lower tiers, and of 2% for the highest.

Uploading can be done via either mobile or desktop, and content may be mobile or DSLR shots, but no heavy, Instagram-like filters are accepted. All photos must include keywords, but only images on the marketplace are searchable with those keywords.

Are They Worth Your While?

To date, Snapwire claims to have over 150,000 users in 200 countries, although they do not disclose how many of those users are buyers and how many are contributors. If they’re like everyone else in the mobile space, with a majority of contributors, you could find yourself in a market full of competitors with very few buyers.

However, they have some positive points. They’ve got some great images on their site that are easy to find, and the content in general is mostly far from ‘stocky’. They disclose which images have sold, a source of encouragement for contributors that lets them see what content is selling.

All in all, they’re one of the best known players in mobile stock, and they appear to have more direction and traction than most of their competitors.

If you’re interested in selling mobile—or artsy, non-stocky—stock, this is a company worth checking out.

Update Oct 14, 2015: Corrected – Chad Newell was an employee of ImageBank, not a co-founder; and Snapwire contributors cannot set their own prices. 

  • Arletta Cwalina
    Posted at 18:41h, 13 October Reply

    “well known in the mobile stock industry as Instagram-like agency that offers 70% royalties and allows contributors to set their own prices.”

    Are you sure that photographers can set up their own pricing? Where is that option?
    And they offer 70 or 50% actually…

    – they don’t read IPTC data so you must do all the work handly word by word (upload is not fast, wasting time on typing),
    – watermark is very poor, almost not existing (serious minus for professional sellers),
    – premium photos automatically change to exclusive photos which forces photographer to delete it from any other place …

  • Anthony Dezenzio
    Posted at 20:45h, 13 October Reply

    I’ve been with them for about a year and have made two sales. They set the prices, not the contributor. Uploading is time consuming.

  • Alison Obrien
    Posted at 18:59h, 21 October Reply

    I’ve been using Snapwire for a few months now and had good success. I’ve ended up selling a few photos to some bigger people like huffington post in their challenges! It’s really pretty easy to go out and shoot most of the requests and provides good exposure.

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 21:53h, 21 October Reply

      For context Alison Obrien is “Social/Marketing Intern at Snapwire”.

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