18 Nov 2015 EyeEm Review

In December 2012, the world’s favorite mobile photo sharing platform, Instagram, implemented a change to their Terms of Service that was intended to enable monetisation of their massive, growing community of photographers and celebrities.  They were opening the door to sell licenses to users’ images.  This was a huge mistake, resulting in community outcry and a lot of photo deleting.  The company retracted the change just days later.

But this was the pivotal moment for another company, hoping to become “the European Instagram”, Berlin based EyeEm, who capitalized on the gaff encouraging disgruntled Instagrammers to defect to its platform.  They grew their user base from 1 million to 10 million over 2013.

So it’s not without irony that EyeEm is today making the difficult transition from community to marketplace.  They now have 13M users, still a little behind Instagram’s 400M, but they’re heading where Instagram didn’t need to go in the end: into the stock photo industry.

Origins in Photosharing

EyeEm was born in 2011 in Berlin, Germany. Founders are friends Florian Meissner (CEO), Ramzi Rizk (CTO), Gen Sadakane (Creative Director) and Lorenz Aschoff.

Meissner is a photographer. He said the idea for the initial photo sharing app came to him after a trip to New York in which he lost his camera. Forced to use his phone to take photos for the rest of the trip, he discovered the world of mobile photography, and started research about related business opportunities.

In 2014 the company ventured into mobile stock through a distribution deal with Getty Images and rolled out a stock library in beta, which they consolidated in March 2015 with the official launch of their marketplace.

Mobile Stock

Mobile stock photography is a crowded space with similarly-funded competitors with equally innovative platforms including Snapwire, PicsaStock, and Twenty20.

Like all of those, EyeEm also touts itself as providing “real photography”, dumping on the boring and fake nature of stocky stock.

One particularly cool innovation released this year is Open Edit, a system that allows app users to open up the retouching settings they used when retouching directly in the EyeEm app.  This is intended to help users improve their post-processing skills and improve the overall quality of the library.

The company has also enabled web-based uploads, removing a substantial bottleneck for those wishing to participate with DSLR-shot photos.  Previously those photos had to be moved to the mobile device and uploaded from there.

The Getty Images partnership is a big boon for the company, providing a much needed source of revenue and putting them firmly on the map for microstockers and serious mobile shooters.

Tech Development

This company invests a lot of time and resources in product development, and since their early days they’ve been bullish on Artificial Intelligence and deep learning algorithms for aesthetic analysis of images. Besides contributor tools and catalog management, the applications this technology has for customer-facing functions, like image discovery and search, is one of their greatest interests.

In August 2014 they bought a small computer vision company, Sight.io, and its founder became EyeEm’s Head of Research and Development. Soon after, EyeEm had an enhanced visual search engine, and a tool for automatic analysis on images’ visual appeal.

In mid-September this year they officially launched EyeVision, a tool built on top of intelligent image analysis providing automatic tag (keyword) suggestions.

They also have their own API, that rolled out to public in 2012, allowing access to EyeEm’s content and features for various partnership opportunities.

Contributor Details

EyeEm members can share their photos, exchange feedback, make use of in-app editing software, and optionally set photos for sale in the marketplace. They can also take part in gamified content requests placed by potential buyers, called “Missions”.

The marketplace sells RF licenses for commercial and editorial use at $20 per image, and extended licenses are available at $250. Photographer royalties are 50%.

The partnership deal with Getty Images brings handpicked photos from EyeEm’s platform into a collection in Getty’s library. The deal, which is an opt-in for any EyeEm contributor, makes photos available via both the Getty and iStock websites. To date, the EyeEm collection at Getty has over 680K photos with prices from $50 to $500. EyeEm’s share of the license fee is not disclosed, but they pay 50% royalties of what they receive to the contributing photographers.

Initially aimed at big brands, the buyer marketing now targets a wider variety of buyers including bloggers, media businesses, marketing and creative professionals.

Most of the contributors who have files with EyeEm that I’ve asked report that sales are robust and an easy way to generate revenue from simple photos with heavy processing that otherwise don’t have much of a market in regular microstock agencies.

Growth and Success

After two years in business, in 2013, they raised $6M in series A funding to expand the platform. The marketplace started to develop soon after that, and went out on an extended beta period in 2014.

In March this year they officially released the marketplace in the US. One month later, they collected $18M from existing and new investors in a series B round, and used it to expand the marketplace, reaching the UK & Ireland in June; and Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands in July. South America and Asia are the next markets in their expansion plans.

After 4 years in business, EyeEm is now present in some of the world’s largest markets. They’ve added offices in San Francisco and recently in New York, have 80+ staff, and over 15 million users in 150 countries.

The Difficult Transition from Community to Marketplace

Stock photography is a two-sided market.  One must get both images and buyers and it’s difficult to get one without the other.

Today, getting the supply is much easier than getting buyers.  That’s why photographer communities like EyeEm, and 500px who are making the same transition, have a difficult time.  They have the content, but not the buyers.

After realising the difficulty in being heard over all the cashed-up stock photo agencies screaming for the attention of photo buyers, and realising that leveraging a large community of photographers doesn’t have much impact in the sphere of buyers, they often turn to those who already have relationships with photo buyers.

500px’s recent announcement of a distribution network is exactly that, and EyeEm shortcut the buyer acquisition process via the deal with Getty Images.

There’s also the difficulty of balancing the need to sell licenses with the maintenance of the community.

Most of the 13M users signed up for a community, not to sell photos.  The founders often say they do not think of the company as a stock agency but as a photo sharing community platform, targeting photo enthusiasts and hobbyists.  And they have to stay focussed on the community to avoid the Instagram-gate of 2012.

They do this by funnelling 100% of their marketing spending into community events in the world’s biggest cities, rather than competing with the stock industry for paid exposure to buyers.

Although this leaves industry people confused about their position and direction, it’s a painful necessity in the difficult transition from community to marketplace.

We’ll no doubt see in the coming years whether they can pull it off.

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