Unsplash: Can Those Selling Stock Images Compete With Free?

Posted on 7/19/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

More and more photographers are willing to give their images away rather than trying to earn some revenue from their use. Unsplash is one of many free sources for image.

According to their website they have over 200,000 free, high-resolution photos that are available for anyone for FREE use by anyone, in anyway, for commercial or non-commercial purposes. The license “grants you (any user) an irrevocable, nonexclusive copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash.” Check out the full license here.

There are a few restrictions buried in the 5,000 word “Terms & Conditions” -- which in all likelihood no contributor reads. For example, the photographer does not need to upload a model release, “But to upload a photo, you agree that you have the proper releases, ownership, and permissions needed to permit Unsplash users to use the photo freely.”

In fact, if there are any claims, whatsoever, for unauthorized use of an image the photographer is the one who is responsible for everything.

Many photographers are blindly willing to take the risk, but the odds of any problems arising are probably very slim.

Are The Images Getting Used?

After three years of operation Unsplash says they have 41,872 photographers. In December 2016 they said they were having more than 1 billion photos views per month and 3 photos downloaded every second. If the downloads are measured in terms of 24-hour days, year round (not business days) it would work out to 7,776,000 downloads per month. If we just figure eight hours per business day it is still about 1.8 million downloads a month.

For comparison purposes in the last quarter of 2016 Shutterstock had 41,100,000 downloads, or about twice as many as Unsplash would have in a three-month period. But Shutterstock had about 5 to 6 times as many contributors and 116 million images in the collection compared to Unsplash’s 200,000.

Unsplash has some very nice images, but an important question is who is downloading them and how are they being used. Certainly, some of them images are being used for commercial purpose like Alex Harvey’s photo on a Pringle’s social media ad . (Note the comments on the ad.)

But, it seems in all likelihood that most of the images are being used on personal blogs by people who would never pay for an image anyway, but just want to show their friends what they like. Or maybe just for prints to post on a wall. It doesn’t seem that this huge number of free uses have affected commercial sales at all. Shutterstock downloads do seem to have plateaued, but there are a lot of other more logical reasons as to why that is happening than the impact of Unsplash.

Why Do People Give Images Away For Free??

Patrick Tomasso’s says the reason he posts on Unsplash is to get his work in front of millions of people and be able to “make new creative friends, clients, and collaborators.” To him that is worth “more than the small monetary value stock sites are offering.”

He continues, “I want my work displayed alongside brilliant and talented creators. I want people to do whatever they want with my photos. That’s the whole point. I’m not taking these photos to make money. I put photos on Unsplash that I love and whether or not you like them or hate them doesn’t really matter. These photos were and are for me, so the fact that other people love them is just icing on the cake.”

Tomasso is creating his art and he wants people to see it. For a lot of the people who have been submitting their images to stock photo agencies the drive is to create images they enjoy, not necessarily ones that will sell. If they happen to sell that’s the “icing on the cake,” but not necessarily all that important.

What About Professionals

Of course the photographers who are trying to earn a significant portion of their living from the images they produce are very concerned, disturbed and upset about all the Free Images that compete with what they are trying to sell. (See this PDN article.)

But, are the images in the Free collections, or even many of the images being sucked up by the microstock stock agencies, really that much of a threat to those who are trying to study the market and produce what the paying, commercial customers need?
There nothing wrong with Fine Art photography, but for the most part it is not what customers want to buy to help them sell products or services.

What Are Customers Buying?

Think about my last sentence. That’s my opinion. Unfortunately, the major stock agencies are not supplying creators with much solid information about what customers are actually buying. We know that somewhere between 10% and less than 1% of the images in the collections get licensed and many of those licensed never really get used in a finished product. (In many cases only elements of the images downloaded are used of they are used for reference.) The rest were a waste of time to shoot, at least from a commercial point of view.

For the most part the big agencies just want more and more of everything, and anything, hoping that some photographer will accidentally produce something of interest to their customers.

Photographers know which of their own images sell, but for most individuals that is very limited information upon which to base a plan for new production.

If photographers interested in producing the type of images customers are buying had the ability to gain a more comprehensive understanding of what is actually being used across all segments of the market then each individual could better determine how to fulfill a need based on the resources and expertise available to him or her.

Technologically that information is easily available. One wonders if it is even being collected and examined by management. It certainly doesn’t seem to be shared.

This not only makes life more difficult for photographers, but makes it more difficult for customers to find what they need and probably results in less revenue for the middle-man distributors. Everyone loses by not having enough information.

Copyright © 2017 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Jul 20, 2017
    Microstock is a big contributor to "Free photo" business. Wrote how it works here : http://blog.melchersystem.com/free-photos-threat-or-opportunity-2/

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff