How Picfair Plans To Shake Up Shutterstock (And Photo Marketplaces)

Before Benji Lanyado founded photography marketplace Picfair, he was a journalist covering the travel beat for a “publication whose name you would know” facing an ongoing problem. The images he had to choose from for supporting his stories weren’t very good. Not in a technical sense — they were well-composed, well-shot images. However, in Lanyado’s view, they lacked any real feeling of authenticity and they weren’t very unique.

Lanyado told Karen Webster for this week’s edition of Matchmakers that he often saw the same pictures he was using everywhere else. There was a very good reason for that: Everyone used the same stock photo source because it was easy and convenient.

That was when Lanyado wondered if there was a way to take the images of the “the pro-am” photographers, who were taking pictures of things all over the world and posting them online (on Instagram, their own photo sites, Snapchat and beyond), and aggregate them on a platform for use in other digital and offline venues. Picfair is that platform  connecting the rapidly growing market of pro-am photographers to buyers who want access to more unique content, but don’t have an easy channel from which to find it today.

“There are people all over the world who are thinking they want to do something more with their photography — and we want to offer them and their customers a digital home,” Lanyado noted.

A Digital Home For Photographers

While there were, and are, many channels on the web for photographers to post their work, Lanyado noted, places where they can easily upload their pictures and be paid reasonably for them have been virtually nonexistent. Social platforms like Instagram offer a lot of exposure, but no real way to buy or sell those images. Running an eCommerce site to sell pictures provides for the commerce piece of the puzzle, but not for the exposure part.

The major marketplaces like Getty Images and Shutterstock provide for both, he said, but aren’t easy to get onto, due to highly specific internal standards on what images they will take. Even if a photographer does get an image posted, they will pay a high price for the exposure — not to mention, Getty and Shutterstock take 75 percent to 85 percent of the royalties generated by the images on their sites.

The Picfair model, Lanyado noted, first and foremost reverses both parts of the equation from the other online digital photo marketplaces. Instead of erecting high walls around entry, Picfair’s platform is predicated around the idea that anyone should be able to share and sell their photography as they want. Users can upload any image and set any price they deem reasonable.

Picfair also flips the pricing model for its service — instead of taking 85 percent of the royalties on an image, it takes 15 percent. The remaining 85 percent goes to the photographer.

Given that the marketplace has both an attractive royalty split and an open approach to accepting content, Lanyado said, there is “large variance” in the quality of images on offer. Those images, though, are presented as an uncrated mass to buyers who visit the site.

While Lanyado declined to go into great detail during his conversation with Webster, he did say that — despite its status as an open hub for photo content  the site works hard to place the highest quality, most-professional images toward the front of what is on display for buyers and move the lower quality images toward the back. The underlying principle this is built on, he said, is “really fairness for the photographers — and letting them get the [respect] we believe they deserve.”

Building The Right Offering For Buyers

For photographers looking to take their first steps in selling their work, Webster noted, the appeal of the platform is clear. She wondered, though, if it’s more difficult attracting buyers to the platform — given its size and diversity of images, in terms of subject and quality, and the fact that each picture needs to be purchased from its individual creator?

Publications, particularly daily news sources, run through dozens of images per day, she noted — using such platforms as Shutterstock and Getty because of their subscription models that allow for firms to buy in bulk. Those services want uniqueness and quality, of course. However, at the end of the day, what they really need is quick access to volume.

Lanyado said this is true for a clear subset of Picfair’s customer base. For those customers, the marketplace does offer a model that is more similar to a subscription. Picfair counts The Guardian, National Geographic and Oxford University Press among its clients — for them, it had to build a more custom model, designed to absorb risk on both ends.

When Picfair presents its offering to publications and other buyers of mass quantities of images, the company presents its service as a “snack, as opposed to their full meal,” when it comes to picture-purchasing. The other subscriptions give customers access to bulk imaging, and Picfair offers images that are more unique and authentic.

Not all buyers want subscriptions, though, he noted. Some, rather explicitly, do not.

“When we were building this, what we learned quickly is a lot of customers weren’t that keen on subscription models because they don’t want to be locked into pay per month [for] images that they really didn’t need,” he said.

For customers looking to shop à la carte, he added, that need for subscription is much less.

Plus, a large number of buyers on the platform today were brought onto it by one of the photographers themselves. Transactions in photo licensing can be extremely complex, Lanyado noted, and Picfair offers a place where the transactions can be handled seamlessly, more or less, while handling all of the legal issues, like licensing agreements, that are part and parcel to it.

“When you think about an independent photographer selling into their local network,” he said, “that really isn’t [in] the subscription zone of commerce.”

Building Out

Since starting as a one-man operation in 2013, and having been “really up and running” for the last three years, a lot has changed for Picfair.

Today, Picfair has 35,000 photographers in over 130 countries, feeding a photo catalog that already has millions of images. What’s next, Lanyado noted, is building new revenue streams by developing more robust services for photographers — particularly focused on and around the digital “shops” that Picfair allows them to create and curate on the platform — to create an easy shopping location for potential customers.

“We see a big opportunity in the shops to bring a lot of potential services [to] one place. So, if you have customers that want to buy prints, we can do that — or if you want to add margin over production costs, or make different kinds of offers for certain kinds of purchases,” Lanyado told Webster.

The gulf that once separated professional photographers from amateurs is shrinking in terms of the quality and diversity of images being produced, Lanyado said. The challenge going forward for Picfair is building a channel where those high-quality amateurs can also close the gap when it comes to accessing buyers for their work.