PhotoShelter: A Look At Innovation

As an amateur photographer with aspirations of becoming semi-pro, several things have held me back from actually selling my photos on the open market, the foremost of which is not having any idea what my photographs are worth. I look at images taken by some pros and I know that nothing Iive taken so far comes close in quality to theirs, but Iive also seen photos that are not nearly as good as some of mine make it into stock photo sites. So, itis tough to know which photo has worth and what to charge for them.

When I heard about Photography 2.0: The Business of Photography in the Web Era, I thought I might at least sit in and listen to what the pros and the sites that sell photos had to say, and I hoped to learn something about the business side of photography. To say the least, I learned a lot.

Photography 2.0: The Business of Photography in the Web Era is a series of town hall meetings sponsored by PhotoShelter, Apple, HP and other photo industry vendors and professionals. Its purpose is to get photographers, vendors, and photo outlets such as PhotoShelter together in one room and get everyone talking about the current state of professional photography and the business behind it. The meetings are also where PhotoShelter is taking the opportunity to introduce a new service: PhotoShelter Collection and a collaborative effort between PhotoShelter and Apple.

From the press release:

With the PhotoShelter Collection, the company is using its technology and expertise to create a much-needed platform for independent photographers at all levels to engage in online sales without sacrificing the value of their work, or the integrity of their profession. The company has also launched a set of community tools that enables both professional and aspiring photographers to foster a culture of online photography that inspires creativity while maintaining industry standards in pricing and licensing.

This is an exciting step for both the individual photographer and the industry as a whole, said 20 year photography veteran, Brad Mangin. Weive watched the price of stock photography decrease as more and more images are practically given away by amateur photographers simply because they donit know their true worth. PhotoShelter gives photographers the tools and information needed to be competitive and successful, without degrading the industry.

Photography 2.0 is scheduled to convene in several major cities in the US. I stopped in when they were in Atlanta on September 17, 2007 and talked to Allen Murabayashi, CEO of PhotoShelter, about PhotoShelter Collection.

Weive been a trusted brand in the photography space for several years, and weive noticed some trends in the market which prompted us to look at how photographers are using PhotoShelter, he commented. What we found is that our clients can be divided into two groups; those who shoot for a pre-existing audience, like assignments or events, and those who are looking to sell their work as stock. The PhotoShelter Personal Archive is a great business-in-the-box solution for the former group, and for the latter, our newly added PhotoShelter Collection provides a really unique way to sell stock images."

I asked Mr. Murabayashi what he thought was wrong with the current photography market.

"We found that there are many passionate and skilled amateur photographers who donit fully understand the business side of photography. Since they have little idea what their work is worth, they tend to undervalue their photos. Worse, most stock photo sites dictate the value of the photos that are submitted for sale, often as little as $1 per image. The larger stock agencies only deal with very established photographers, so it s difficult for up-and-coming talent to find its way into the market.

"The net effect is that the entire market is hurt; photo buyers canit find fresh images, and photographers donit have an incentive to create and submit their best work because of the terrible royalty structures and lack of commercialized venues for non-professionals."

I asked, "How will PhotoShelter Collection address these issues?"

"PhotoShelter Collection is more than just another stock photo site. We see it as a community of photographers where pros help amateurs understand the market, and where we provide the means for photographers to make intelligent decisions about how they market their work. For instance, all of our photo sales are 100 percent transparent to the photographer; this means that no information about the sale is withheld. Further, we will offer metrics on what is selling and what is not, so that photographers can better respond to the current market. We also review every photo to insure that the PhotoShelter Collection is of the highest possible quality. Photographers get feedback from our reviewers so that they can better understand what we are looking for, and ultimately improve the quality or their submissions.

"Most stock agencies and microstock sites take anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of the sale of an image. We want to flip the equation. We believe the photographer should get 70 percent, which should provide the needed incentive for photographers to continue taking quality images and submitting them to us."

"Whatis going on with PhotoShelter and Apple?" I queried.

"When Apple released the Aperture Plug-in architecture, they asked PhotoShelter to be one of the first companies to build a plug-in to showcase their technology. We re really supportive of plug-ins because it simplifies the photographer s workflow. We re making some last minute changes to the PhotoShelter plug-in to support both the Personal Archive and the PhotoShelter Collection, which will be released soon. And of course, itis available only on Macs."

PhotoShelter also offers a free Dashboard widget that lets you search for images in PhotoShelter. You can search for images by keywords or by photographer.

Of course, I had to ask Mr. Murabayashi if he is a Mac fan.

"Yes. I am," he said. "In fact, there are a lot of Mac fans at PhotoShelter, but in general, we are a fairly computer agnostic group. On anyoneis desk youill likely find PCs running right along side MacBook Pros. That said, my first Mac was a Mac Plus, and I currently have a MacBook, a G5 Tower, a Quad-Intel Tower, an iPod, and an iPhone. I even have an old Newton in the closet."

I thanked Mr. Murabayashi for his time then sat through several speakers and a panel discussion lead by Mr. Murabayashi where photographers and industry notables answered questions about the current state of the industry. Serious questions were raised about the viability of PhotoShelter Collective in a market already brimming with image outlets. The consensus, however was that most everyone applauded PhotoShelter for making the attempt to address some of the problems in the current market.

When it was done I was struck by one thought: The PhotoShelter team are a passionate lot who believe they can make a difference, and it was hard not to get caught up in their passion as well. They certainly are wanting to change things as evident by welcoming amateurs into their fold, and that may be the kind of thinking that will help them succeed. I like the idea of community that PhotoShelter Collection is trying to foster, and I am hoping it takes off like a rocket.

I walked away thinking that I might actually be able to sell my photos, or at least get them reviewed and critiqued by knowledgeable people.

Check the schedule, itis likely Photography 2.0 will be appearing in a city near you in the coming weeks. If you have more than a passing interesting in photography you should register to attend. Registration is free, but seating is limited.