Creating a Fair and Efficient Market for Photos
(p. B4) The arresting images on Stocksy.com are far from the standard fare found on many stock photography sites. Colorful portraits, unexpected compositions and playful shots greet visitors.
The most distinguishing feature, however, may be the structure of the site's owner, Stocksy United: It is a cooperative, owned and governed by the photographers who contribute their work. Every Stocksy photographer owns a share of the company, with voting rights. And most of the money from sales of their work goes into their pockets rather than toward the billion-dollar valuations pursued by many venture-backed start-ups.
Stocksy was founded in 2013 by Bruce Livingstone and Brianna Wettlaufer, the core team behind iStockphoto, which in 2000 pioneered the idea of selling stock photos online in exchange for small fees. (Mr. Livingstone was the founder and Ms. Wettlaufer, the vice president of development and employee No. 4). IStock -- which billed itself as "by creatives, for creatives" -- caught the attention of Getty Images, which acquired it in 2006 for $50 million.
Mr. Livingstone and Ms. Wettlaufer grew dismayed as the community spirit they had cultivated and the royalties photographers received began to erode under the new ownership. Like many artists in the digital age, their photographer friends grumbled that they were being underpaid and exploited by online sites.
"Everyone had the same story," Ms. Wettlaufer said. "They were feeling disenfranchised. They weren't creatively inspired anymore. The magic was gone."
So using money from the sale of iStock to Getty, she and Mr. Livingstone set out to create Stocksy, paying photographers 50 to 75 percent of sales. That is well above the going rate of 15 to 45 percent that is typical in the stock photography field. The company also distributes 90 percent of its profit at the end of each year among its photographers.
"We realized we could do it differently this time," said Ms. Wettlaufer, who took over the chief executive role in 2014. "We could enter the market with a model that ensured artists were treated fairly and ethically."
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(Note: the online version of the article has the date JULY 20, 2016.)