Through the Lens: Understanding Your Industry’s Past to Disrupt Its Future

Chad Newell  |

Photo Attribution: Jordan Rodriguez

I’m Chad Newell, the CEO of Snapwire, an on-demand stock photography marketplace with an innovative take on the traditional stock photo industry. In recent months, there’s been a lot of coverage of an emerging financing strategy for start-ups; the equity crowdfunding space. I’m happy to report we are part of that unfolding story. We are currently raising capital via an equity crowdfunding campaign on the platform StartEngine thanks to new rules as part of the JOBS Act of 2012. The following is the beginning of a four part series (read Part II, Part III, Part IV) with the goal of getting to know me as a founder who chose to go the route of equity crowdfunding for our latest round of funding. Over the next few articles I’ll give you a little background on the industry, the challenges I’ve had with traditional VC funding, testing the market to see if equity crowdfunding was an endeavor worth pursuing, and why we looked to our own community to gain the confidence to move ahead.

As an entrepreneur, I believe It’s important to understand the history of your industry so you can look forward into its future. Looking back, it was no surprise our society is obsessed with the one visual medium that quickly and succinctly has told a story since the dawn of man: pictures. We’ve used pictures to communicate stories since we learned how to paint in caves, and while we’ve come a long way from carving stick figures into rocks, emojis aren’t that far off from hieroglyphics. You might laugh, but the fact that we can communicate to someone in Singapore from Santa Monica and can send them an animated GIF is amazing.

Jumping forward from cave painting to the iPhone, I certainly didn’t know when I first started in the commercial photo world twenty years ago that in 2016 we would all have a camera in our pocket able of capturing, high quality, stunning visuals and sharing them online instantly. The fact that anyone, anywhere, can shoot, edit, and upload photos has turned them into ‘social currency’. Each day people shoot over a billion photos and ‘exchange’ over 200 million of them online.

Given my history in the stock photo space, I saw an adventure in this new advent and looked to capitalize on the abundance inherent in this new supply and the inefficiencies of the demand of stock photography in what has now become a $10B industry. Not so long ago, I co-founded Snapwire to create a better, more collaborative way of exchanging photos. Our vision has been to enable anyone with a creative passion for photography to earn money doing what they love, while making it easier for photo buyers to get unique, custom photos that elevate their own projects. This vision didn’t just come to me overnight, but after spending 17 years witnessing not only tremendous growth in the stock photography space, but the failings that came along with those new stages of development.

Photo Attribution: Joe St.Pierre

A Brief History of Stock Photography - From Filing Cabinets to Digital Libraries

Back when I began my career in commercial photography as a photo research assistant, I was tasked with sorting through thousands of transparencies, looking up their serial numbers in a sea of old school filing cabinets on the physical floor of a massive archive called The Image Bank, prior to Getty Images’ acquisition. I would pull slides, organize them on a huge physical lightbox, and FedEx them to clients who would only keep the ones they wanted to use and send them back after they scanned them.

While stock photography libraries have been around since the 1920s after early agencies realized there were recurring demands for certain photos, there wasn’t really such a thing as a full blown stock photography agency until around the 1980s. Most of the time, the stock photos themselves consisted of outtakes that didn’t make the cut, until the demand became such that around the 80’s, the industry saw a growth of print catalogs that offered slides and slides of attractive stock photo options. These weren’t the outtakes anymore, these were photos taken specifically for use as stock photos. These catalogs then became archives until those archives became digitized. The computer I used to look up the physical location of the photos stopped just being a directory and started housing the photos too, and with the evolution of the internet, I began to see a rising tide turning stock photography into eCommerce and solving a massive accessibility issue for image buyers (and for virtually every other commodity buyer on Earth).

With the advent of digitizing film came the easy delivery of digitizing files which lead to larger, high quality image files and the incredible increase in quality of digital cameras, most notably with the rise of DSLRs. With DSLR cameras, now photographers could upload high quality, high resolution photos directly to their computers and upload those onto the internet.

The increase in access of photos lead to a decrease in cost, which lead to the subscription model John Oringer formed when he founded Shutterstock in 2003 by uploading over 30,000 of his own photos and offering them royalty free at a monthly cost. Shutterstock has since grown into the mega-library it is today by adding additional contributors and even adapting an a la carte option as well.

Adobe came onto the scene next, expanding upon the concept of user-generated photos with their acquisition of Fotolia which they morphed into Adobe Stock. As the industry began to look for specific verticals to feed certain niches, mobile photographers also started shooting that way, accommodating for large databases of specific categories of photos.

Photo Attribution: Alex Drachnik

Photography as Social Currency - How Snapwire Made Photography Human Again

Finally, with Instagram’s launching in 2010, photographers weren’t the only ones taking pictures - a massive tide of regular people, armed with iPhones or Androids, were able to access that high quality camera I mentioned in beginning anywhere they went and capture any moment. They could “Instagram” stuff. In this way, now that everyone was a photographer, Instagram instilled and popularized the new model of generating images for fun. Friends exchanging selfies or beautiful landscapes to seize the moment. Pet-owners taking pictures of their furry friends. Foodies snapping shots of that perfect creme brulee. And just like that, beautiful photographs available your fingertips became a form of social currency.

As Instagram and other social networks gave way to a new generation photographer, I knew it was time to collide these worlds and create a community with the first scalable photo assignment model. Snapwire gives the ultimate validation to a photographer when a brand licenses their photo, and by providing access to authentic, on-demand images, we’ve created a new model for stock photography.

Buying stock photos from libraries is an experience completely disconnected from the photographer who shot the photo. Snapwire actually brings photographers directly into the buying process. In the traditional stock photography model, companies start a lightbox, pick the style they’re looking for, then license the photo directly without thinking about who it was taken by - you just need the right for photo for the right industry. Instead, on Snapwire the brands buying the photos work directly with the photographer to get the shot they want, engaging with the brief and collaborating together in real time to get the right image through a feedback mechanism. Essentially, the photographer becomes a member of the brand’s team. The knowledgeable and talented photographers who already frame their passion pics with stylish compositions now have a direct in because they know how to showcase a subject and highlight its most important aspects, and brands can pick a style they’re looking for from a photographer anywhere around the world. In this way, we’re making photography human again.

Currently, the competitive landscape in the commercial stock photo industry is diverse. Getty Images, Adobe Stock, and Shutterstock are three largest leaders with most market share. Shutterstock is publicly traded, and Getty Images the most mature and offers Rights Managed and Royalty Free licensing models. With the big three, comes a massive flood of access to millions of photos. With that access came the cost of having to dig through those millions of photos, so when I built Snapwire, it was to answer the call of millions of photo buyers forced to dig through waves and waves of cheesy, not to mention overused stock photos, and the search is not only time consuming, but often unsuccessful. And the buyers are only half of the equation.

Since launch in mid 2014, I've changed the game for thousands of image buyers and photographers worldwide. With over 285,000 photographers and an avid community of supporters, we connect visionary photographers with businesses, brands and creatives around the world. We are even image partners with Getty Images, where we supply a subset of our photos to be distributed by their channel. Our differentiator is the assignment model and.our focus on tapping into the talent of the new generation photographer that image buyers want to source authentic photos from.

When it comes down to it, the need for the photo is king. The evolution of this entire industry has all been leading to getting the photo you need as easily as possible, and what better way than to hire a whole community of photographers to get the job done. We’ve turned stock libraries into photographer libraries, and come up with a way forward by looking backwards: human collaboration. It’s funny how simple things are when you go back to basics, huh?

Photo Attribution: Hannah Merritt

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not represent the views of equities.com. Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to: http://www.equities.com/disclaimer.

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