13 Jul 2015 Stocksy United
Stocksy United burst onto the stock photography scene a couple of years ago with a new business model, a new aesthetic, a superstar team, and a who’s-who list of contributors.
It is a photographer-owned co-op with a profit distribution system, has higher-than-microstock pricing, boasts 50% royalties (75% on extended licenses), requires image (shoot) exclusivity, and only accepts 500 new contributors a year.
The premise of all this is sustainability. Stocksy wants to support career stock photographers and do so while breaking the ‘stocky stock’ stereotype. Those are some bold ambitions!
Stocksy United Photography was founded in Victoria, Canada, in 2013 by iStock founder Bruce Livingstone, former iStockphoto VP of Development Brianna Wettlaufer, and a small team of ex-iStock staffers.
The team were frustrated by photographers’ complaints about the reality of the microstock industry. Mainly, the overwhelming competition within agencies with a huge universe of contributors, and the royalty rates they felt were insulting.
It was these concerns and the team’s disappointment with what iStock had become that lead to the birth of Stocksy. “The time is right for a soulful company like this to be created”, they said at launch.
Details for Contributors
Royalties are 50% on regular licenses, and 75% on extended licenses. At launch it was 100% on extended licenses.
Prices are $10 – $100 depending on size. Extended licenses are $500.
Stocksy is tightly edited, meaning they don’t take a lot of similars. They require exclusivity from the shoot that you submit, but there’s no restrictions on submitting separate shoots to other agencies.
The style that Stocksy requires is very authentic. They don’t accept stocky stock, and have a very specific look that they discuss on their private forum.
Applications open only once a year (open now, at the time of writing) and they only accept 500 contributors each time. Applicants need to demonstrate that they can produce images in the style that Stocksy requires, and obviously at a high level of quality. Initially you needed an invite from an existing member, but it’s now open to everyone via the Stocksy website.
For now Stocksy only works with photos. At Microstock Expo 2013 they were encouraging of anyone who would like to apply the Stocksy business model to video or vectors.
The co-op model assures profits are retained by the contributors who earn ownership based on the success of the images they contribute. At the end of the year, roughly 90% of the total profits are distributed among the contributors. Profit information is tightly guarded by contributors who are bound by NDAs, so it’s not publicly known how worthwhile this has been so far. However, again at Microstock Expo, they announced that Stocksy was already operationally profitable.
This model helps the company re-invest both in the company and in the contributing photographers. It also helps make it easier to maintain high royalty rates.
The concentration on a non-stocky style with high prices has helped form the Stocksy brand in the eyes of buyers. Even the logo includes the word “sustainable”, appealing to buyers’ desire to be seen buying from the cool kids. Many buyers I’ve spoken with say they buy from Stocksy, but when pushed, admit they also have a Shutterstock subscription. Positioning themselves this way is hugely important to the Stocksy strategy.
Getting press at top publications was easy for Stocksy with their story: the founders of iStock and innovators of the microstock business model, who disrupted the entire industry then sold the company to the behemoth of the market, start a new agency with high prices, high royalties and which will be owned by the contributors, all with the intention, again, of correcting injustices in the market. And it worked – Stocksy got amazing press.
Many notable photographers abandoned their exclusivity agreements with iStock to participate in Stocksy, many of whom are still expressing their satisfaction with their Stocksy earnings. Other well-known photographers who weren’t active in stock also got involved, most notably Trey Ratcliffe and Thomas Hawk.
Two Years of Progress
When the company launch, they made it very clear they were not chasing after the same objectives as the big agencies in the stock industry. Stocksy was not to be a titanic company with millions of contributors and images, nor to be sold to one of them. And was definitely not interested in striving for 70% profit margins.
While celebrating their first year of operating in 2014, Brianna took over as CEO and continues running the company. At that time they had already passed $200,000 in monthly royalty payments, and had around 600 contributors.
Get on Board, if You Can
If earnings reports – which are not common given Stocksy’s confidentiality requirements – are to be believed, it’s a very lucrative agency.
But the Stocksy style will be the wall for most microstockers. We’ve been trained by years of top-seller lists to shoot and retouch in a very stocky style. The authenticity that Stocksy is seeking does not come naturally to those of us who cut our teeth in microstock.
If you’re one of the few who can do it, I recommend you do your best to get on board.