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Update 2009-12-30: Zymmetrical has now closed for business.

Zymmetrical LogoI’ve always been a fan of Paul Melcher’s blog. He draws on his vast industry experience and knowledge to create the insights and opinions he provides via his blog, and he doesn’t hold back. Those posts that aren’t over my head usually leave me laughing or shaking my head in disbelief, but I always learn something and get a fresh perspective. After confessing this to Paul he shared that he has experienced the occasional head shaking after reading some of my blog posts too.

Paul’s strong opinions shine through in Zymmetrical, the agency he has created with business partner Keith Tuomi. Zymmetrical sets itself apart from other agencies in many ways, each designed to position the agency for the future of the market as it evolves “into what we expect today in modern society; unionized, equal-opportunity workplaces” says Keith.

“The real winner in the business will be the one that can balance the need for the content creators to earn a living, and the clients to get good value”, which Keith asserts Zymmetrical can achieve by “bring[ing] the buyers attention to the way we do business with the Artists [contributors]”. He continues, “These days, many people don’t like to knowingly buy things like clothing from sweatshop factories, because they don’t support the working conditions…”.

Zymmetrical's Fair Trade logoZymmetrical has branded this contributor-friendly campaign as “Fair Trade” and backs it up by paying a high 70% contributor royalty rate and enabling contributors to price their content between $3 and $100. Content is referred to throughout the site as “Art” and contributors as “Artists”.

The agency has taken some criticism for their Fair Trade marketing and will be breaking new ground if they can achieve meaningful success with such a high commission rate, but founders Paul and Keith remain confident they can achieve their mission: to bring the best legal content without killing the artist.


Web Address www.zymmetrical.com
Google Pagerank 5
Google Backlinks 28
Alexa Rank 74,087
Image Stats Not available
Minimum Image Size 640 pixels shortest side
Vectors Yes
Footage Yes
Licenses Standard Royalty Free only
Compensation 70%
Pricing Contributors set their own prices between $3 – $100
Payment Methods PayPal (by PayPal Payment Request), or bank transfer where PayPal is unavailable
Payment threshold $20 for PayPal or $100 for bank transfer (though they’ll pay request for $5 or more)
Referral Program 10% of referred buyers only
Application Process None, just start contributing
Exclusivity Not offered
Upload Methods HTML Form, Flash batch uploader, FTP, Post
IPTC Data Supported, including camera and shot data
Currencies US dollars
Languages English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Polish
Headquarters Vancouver, Canada

Cool Features

  • In addition to photos, vectors and video footage, Zymmetrical also supports buying and selling of Royalty Free fonts
  • Zymmetrical is well internationalized with local languages, local domain names, and plans for locally located servers
  • All IPTC data is shown enabling buyers to see the camera model, shutter speed and all other available information if contributors leave it in
  • Buyers can search for images with particular colors and copyspace availability, not dissimilar to facilities at iStockphoto
  • The website allows contributors to customize a modular profile page with profile elements similar to those available at other agencies. I was impressed to be able to import and display my own blog feed in my profile page

It’s All About Strategy

Zymmetrical are not going to be among the top earning agencies for contributors any time soon, nor is that their intention. All agencies entering the market at this time have to battle to build their portfolio and customer base simultaneously. This is particularly difficult when both buyers and contributors already get what they need from established agencies.

Some new agencies attempt to build a portfolio and customer base with a big budget. Zymmetrical, however, have “long-term operational and marketing budgets significantly lower than what a casual observer might expect”, so their success is largely dependent upon having a superior strategy.

The race to build sales is actually less important to Keith than enhancing the Zymmetrical customer experience. When explaining why his referral program doesn’t include referred contributors Keith writes, “We’re not playing for a high score yet, in Artist count or file count. At this point I’d rather be able to provide full service for fewer people then half-service for more.”

Low Budgets Have Their Costs

Zymmetrical are building their system slowly and with a limited budget, which comes across on their website. After more than two years online there are still some major shortcomings in their system: contributors must ‘request’ payouts via the PayPal website; FTP uploads are moved into the review queue manually; buyers cannot filter or order search results based on price; and, the site’s functionality and navigation are very clunky. The site’s design is also less polished and less modern than many of their competitors and there are numerous inconsistencies in the site’s information.

The upside of a low budget operation is that changes and fixes can be implemented more quickly, in theory. While the bugs I submitted still haven’t been resolved, I have seen forum conversations where bugs were fixed in real time during the conversation. Additionally, the lower development costs means Zymmetrical are already profitable.

Collaboration and Evolution

Keith and Paul are frequent visitors to the Microstock Group forum responding to questions and complaints respectfully and with a refreshing dose of personality. They’re intent on listening to the community and building their business in collaboration with their suppliers and customers. While they have a clearly defined strategy, they recognize that their business model will always need to evolve in line with changes in the market.


The Zymmetrical strategy is designed to be what’s required of a successful stock agency once the market has matured to the equal opportunity state that Keith describes. His primary concern is positioning Zymmetrical for the market of tomorrow where the current microstock model will not be viable.

I remain unconvinced that the current microstock business model is killing contributors or is otherwise “unsustainable”. I’m also skeptical that buyers will – in any meaningful quantity – choose a stock photo agency on the basis of the contributor commission alone. That being said, I’ve read enough of Paul Melcher’s blog to know his understanding of the market is superior to mine, so I’ll watch closely for the opportunity to learn something else from the Zymmetrical strategy.

As for contributing to Zymmetrical, they’re clearly not in a position to provide a timely return on investment for uploading an entire portfolio. Everything about the agency is designed for a future that hasn’t yet arrived. While many contributors are reporting sales, it appears that contributing to Zymmetrical is an investment in the future and/or a gesture of support for the Zymmetrical political stand.

Posted August 22nd, 2008 by


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