PhotoShelter Collection Closes, CEO Blames Getty

Posted on 9/12/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (3)

In a blog post, PhotoShelter CEO Allen Murabayashi announced that the PhotoShelter Collection is no more: “Over the past few months… our [growth] trajectory wasn’t putting us on the right path. And despite repeated attempts to alter our trajectory, we were unable to substantially change it.”

Murabayashi is likely referring to the time and money invested in a corporate rebrand, an advertising campaign, a new Web site, numerous supporting online resources and Shoot! The Day, a much-publicized event and symposium that took place in New York less than two months ago. The PhotoShelter Collection, whose founders vowed to spend $1 million on marketing contributors’ stock images during the first year, has not exactly maintained a low profile.

Murabayashi himself often garnered attention, particularly by taking every chance at a public confrontation with Getty Images. For example, when Getty did a deal with Flickr, he issued a statement and personally told reporters that Getty pursued Flickr only after PhotoShelter turned down the Seattle-based company’s advances.

To many, Murabayashi became the long-awaited knight in shining armor. In about a year since its launch, The PhotoShelter Collection developed a following among those who wanted an alternative to the large agency and traditional commission split. Inverting the paradigm, PhotoShelter took only 30% of sales. Murabayashi’s post reminds the reader of PhotoShelter’s intent to create a more democratic system for photographers, except the sentiment is no longer delivered with the familiar pride or gusto.

In addition to making multiple references to the differences between licensing photography and selling widgets, Murabayashi admits that PhotoShelter underestimated the complexity of stock-image sales. He also offers several thoughts as “key learnings:” Stock photography is a slow-growing market dominated by Getty, which will not be displaced. Research requests and intellectual-property matters cannot be crowd-sourced effectively. Buyers say they desire diversity but actually spend their budgets on—and get locked into—the more convenient subscriptions.

“The pundits will surely say, ‘I told you so,’” begins the closing paragraph. Earlier today, PhotoShelter photographers were surprised with this news via email—and not all reactions were of the “thanks for the memories” variety.

Given how often one hears that businesses do not become profitable for the first three years, it is not surprising that many contributors question the wisdom of bowing out after such a short time. Danish photographer Oliver Nielsen, who points out the naïveté of thinking you can change an entire industry in one year, also says: “If I were one of those unlucky souls who put in the effort to submit hundreds or even thousands of images, I’d be extremely pissed.”

Arizona-based Terry Smith is apparently one of such unlucky photographers. Smith says he has invested hundreds of hours keywording images for PhotoShelter. He has a 1,000 images with the collection and thinks there are hundreds of photographers in the same position. In addition to being disappointed at the loss of his investment, Smith objects to the surprise delivery and the explanation itself: “I was very angered by [Murabayashi] blaming their failure on the industry instead of their own incompetence.”

The demise of the stock business will surely be accompanied by many changes. PhotoShelter is staying mum about the details, but Shoot! The Blog and its author Rachel Hulin are among the first casualties. Expect other layoffs.

PhotoShelter plans to retreat to the safer ground of its original personal-archive business. However, the rise and fall of the collection may have forever turned the valiant knight into the naked king. Some photographers have already canceled their archives, thinking PhotoShelter was overly focused on the stock business. Others have lost faith.

“The fact that the PhotoShelter Collection didn’t have the resolve or the capital to build a business over a longer time makes me question their ability to be sustainable as a company,” says Smith, whose Web site is driven by and integrated with his PhotoShelter Archive. “Now, I and all of their photographers, I believe, will have to reevaluate that, as PhotoShelter no longer deserves our faith and confidence,” he concludes.

Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


  • Don Farrall Posted Sep 12, 2008
    Blaming Getty seems a bit childish. Photoshelter took on an ambitious task at a difficult time in the history of the industry. Microstock, as a concept, not any individual company per say, is putting more strain on the industry than Gettys well deserved position at the top. Just look at the post about Corbis and realize that the number two player is still in the game after all these years and they have yet to turn a profit.

  • Bill Bachmann Posted Sep 12, 2008
    It is a shame that PhotoShelter closed so quickly. If photographers would stop submitting to Microstock & other one dollar ideas, there would be room for more PhotoShelters in the world. I am not with PS or any RF or Microstock companies & we do real well in our stock sales. But I still see photographers running for cheap, cheap sites and then complaining that they can't make enough money. They are their own worst enemy!

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

  • Bill Brooks Posted Sep 12, 2008
    Photoshelter can not blame the industry. Alamy seems to be doing OK in a similar space, but it took Alamy a lot longer than a year.

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