Stocksy: Highly Curated Content vs. UGC

Posted on 11/2/2016 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Will crowd-sourcing images (UGC) or highly curated collections from professional creators be the future of stock photography? All the major suppliers of stock imagery are focused on acquiring more User Generated Content, but long range will that be the best way to grow revenue or create the most usable collections for image consumers?

At the recent DMLA 2016 Conference Brianna Wettlaufer, CEO of Stocky United, talked about an alternative to UGC and how to run a viable, sustainable and profitable photographer’s co-op. The three key elements are: (1) Accountability, (2) Transparency and (3) Make Business Fun.

The following is a detailed discussion of the Stocky approach that Brianna published earlier in Creative Review.  I re-publish it here with permission.

Stocksy United is a co-op co-owned by 900 artists – all hand selected out of 10,000 applications received over the past four years – with a mission to redefine stock photography. The mandate at the outset was to ensure every photographer had a voice and that business decisions were always in the artists’ interest. This results in a business culture that wakes up determined and satisfied, with a clear conscience. You achieve these goals by putting community first.

But adopting these values does not mean dooming yourself to keeping an ark of idealism afloat in a dark sea of capitalism. Co-ops can be wildly successful, redefining business culture and informing progressive products, services, and practices. To date, since opening it’s doors three-and-a-half years ago, Stocksy has brought in over $19 million dollars and counting.
    (Editor’s note: It was previously reported that Stocksy’s gross revenue in 2014 was $3.5 million and $7,928,754 in 2015. It looks like in nine months of 2016 Stocksy has already exceeded 2015 revenue and is probably on track for at least 30% growth in 2016.)

So, what is a co-op?

There are many misconceptions about running a co-op. When starting one, be ready to answer these questions: “Why would you choose to do a co-op when co-ops aren’t designed to make money?” and, “Why would you do a co-op? They’re so much work.” Let’s shed some light on that. A co-operative (co-op) is a jointly-owned, member-driven enterprise created to sell its products as a business that benefits its owners through ethical, best practices. A co-op is like a standard corporation. It is not a non-profit, but a business whose purpose is to make money so that members can earn sustainable incomes.

Sustainability is a huge mission for member-shareholders, the livelihood of their incomes and the business itself. A co-op is about the long game and producing the best product possible for shareholders.

When you choose to invest in building a strong product foundation through your community, you create a business and product everyone believes in, your clients included.

You’re accountable to someone

In a traditional business, instead of reporting to members, you’re obligated to provide similar reports and levels of transparency to venture capitalists or shareholders who are removed from day-to-day business.

And this is where business is shifting in general. Businesses focused solely on numbers or an exit strategy don’t have a holistic enough approach to maintain good business or strong product. When you depersonalize and only look at numbers to drive business and product decisions, you get the most watered down result – so, of course, you’re going to end up with product that lacks the interest of the people.

More and more businesses are putting their product and creative professionals at the helm because it’s becoming common knowledge that creating a phenomenal product requires vision. You need to have that person who will say: “No, that’s a horrible idea. Even if it will show profits upfront, it will lose money in the long run and ultimately destroy everything we’ve just worked for.”

Building a solid community

To be successful you need to avoid being cagey about ideas. Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Trust your people because chasing ego and money, without integrity of the business, leaves us all relentlessly unsatisfied and empty. Start with a single vision product. Product always has to come first. If you don’t have a solid vision, it’s going to be difficult to wrangle a varied community to agree on a cohesive brand. As with a traditional business, founders or VCs wouldn’t hire staff first to discuss what the business is going to be.

Trust won’t happen overnight.

When Stocksy started, our forums were not a benevolent, altruistic Kumbaya singing circle. We came together as a group which had been disenfranchised and exploited. We came together believing in a new model, but carrying disgruntled feelings. These emotions can be the catalyst for change but they take time and trust building between the company and community.

The vision was initially challenged because part of Stocksy’s mandate was to bring the world of stock photography into the modern age and leave behind dated, stereotypical clichés associated with stock. Not everyone was ready for this change. Without a strong vision for what the product was going to be, things could have come to a full stop.

Emotional intelligence in online settings takes time and nurture. You have to lead by example. Most of all, we learned to first trust our members to guide the conversation without us getting in the way. And that’s where we started to see beautiful things happen. But you can’t get meaningful input from your community if you don’t provide them with meaningful business intelligence.

So, how can you educate your communities? By speaking to them like you would a colleague – because that’s exactly what they are. If someone asks a question that you can’t answer with facts or business intelligence, you go dig it up so you can make the most informed conclusions.

Business should be fun

A huge part of loving what you do and participating in modern business practice is to generate working environments that are intuitive, engaging and fun to create. Our members, contributors, and staff love what they do and are proud to represent the collection because it represents them.

The fact is modern generations aren’t willing to work at companies that they cannot believe in. If we continue to share, collaborate and explore ideas as a collective, we can create a standard for all companies to operate with fairness and integrity. And that will leave you with a superior product, a positive work environment, and a sustainable future.

An effective co-op can encourage content that pushes boundaries, evolve companies and communities and positively challenge office culture. A product influenced by a diverse and balanced community with a wide variety of experience and vision can create a profitable, sustainable and overall successful business. Screw Kumbaya – just change the world, one co-op at a time.

Copyright © 2016 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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