Is The Unsplash Business Model For You

Posted on 6/20/2019 by Robert Kneschke | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A while ago, I tried here to understand the business model of Pixabay, who want to make money from free pictures.

A similar company, but with greater international notoriety, is Unsplash. In 2013, as a simple Tumblr blog, this company took the stage where 10 free pictures were shared. There are currently over 1,000,000 free images online, which have received a total of over 1,006,650,155 free downloads. These and many other exciting figures can be found here on the statistics page of Unsplash.

On average, Unsplash has about 22 downloads per second. That would be over 57 million free downloads a month! By way of comparison, in Q1 2019 Shutterstock had "only" about 15.7 million paid downloads per month. By the way, Unsplash does not supply any attribution.



Unsplash's team includes at least 15 people, including the four founders, married couple Mikael Cho and Stephanie Liverani, Luke Chesser and Angus Woodman, and developers, designers, programmers and curators.

In January 2017, Unsplash, which until then had been a "hobby project" by Mikael Cho and the other founders, was traded in "Unsplash Inc."



The exciting question is: What is this large number of employees paid for? How does the Canadian company "Unsplash Inc." earn its money if it distributes its product for free?

As can be read in detail here, the advantage and benefit of Unsplash for the founders initially was that this side project drew a lot of attention and new customers to their main company "Crew." So Unsplash was nothing more than clever "content marketing," where valuable (because free) content drew attention to something else.

That would be okay if the Unsplash photos continued to come exclusively from crew staff. According to her own statements, the – paid – Unsplash employee Annie Spratt is currently the most active photographer on Unsplash, but contributed a total of less than 0.6% of the more than 795,000 photos with about 4600 pictures.



In this declaration of love to the company Unsplash, the amateur photographer Rahul Chowdhury explains why he now supplies Unsplash in addition to image agencies: "While I won't stop selling stock photos, from now on I'll make sure I swap a decent part of my work with the world for smiles and gratitude through this lovable community."

The catch with that? Unsplash is no longer a marketing tool and certainly no disinterested community that only has the well-being of financially weak graphic designers and web designers in mind.

According to this source, Unsplash received an investment of USD 8.5 million as early as 2015, of which about 5 million was left about two years later. This means that in 2015 and 2016, Unplash swallowed up about $1.75 million in expenses per year.

In February 2018, Unsplash announced that they had received $7.25 million from a total of eight investors (Jason Goldberg/Simple Token, Accomplice, Betaworks, Mark Bonchek, Real Ventures, Roger Dickey/Gigster, Clark Valberg/InVision, Rahul Vohra/Superhuman). Other sources even speak of $10.3 million. According to the figures above, Unsplash's funding would be secured for another four years.

However, the more than 116,000 photographers don't get a penny from it, apart from the handful that is actually employed directly at Unsplash. There is constant talk of the "community," which is the core of Unsplash, which is so important and valuable. Yes, because the company doesn’t want anything off the millions.

After all, Unsplash advertises that the photographers can "display links to their own business and thus benefit from Unsplash's Traffic." One of the world's largest stock producers, the British company "Rawpixel Ltd." has about 278,000 stock photos at Adobe Stock and over 1,000,000 on Shutterstock, but also over 2600 professional stock photos free of charge on Unplash.

I asked Rawpixel founder Rob Churchill about his motivations for why he offered free pictures. Here is his translated answer:

"A few years ago, we decided to build our own website. Mainly to make our activities more creative and hopefully build a good company for us, customers and the community. There are two main reasons why we offer some of our content as free images on our own website and some others like Unsplash.

“Firstly, to direct traffic to our website. Instead of trying the impossible task of competing with existing agencies through paid advertising, it makes much more sense for us to invest all our available resources in content creation and then make some of it free to attract people to Rawpixel.

”Does it work? Yes, I think we still have a long way to go, but the signs are promising and we look forward to the opportunities that will open up in the future.

“I know this is a sensitive issue and I am sure it will affect the microstock industry to some extent, but the ' free images ' model is here and will not go and I believe we need to adapt to the situation around us. I am not confident about the future of the most important microstock agencies and believe that in recent years they could have done more to support contributors like us, and as a result they themselves would be in a stronger position."

Here, too, the marketing effect plays a role. I doubt, however, that this is enough in the long term, because those looking for free pictures are usually not inclined to suddenly spend money on photos after all.

In addition to investors, there are other sources of money for Unsplash: On the one hand, there are classic advertisements on the website, for example, search on the link at the bottom right hand corner of the homepage under the search box.

Beyond that, however, there are significantly more ethically questionable methods. If, for example, a user searches for "shoes," or "juice," in addition to normal photos, others that are advertisements are displayed. In the shoe example, the first three hits are free photos with shoes "sponsored by Timberland," while the juice says "sponsored by DOSE Juice." The advertising label is still recognizable here, but as soon as a user downloads and reuses such a photo, there is nothing left of the label. Other people no longer realize that the picture was sometimes paid advertising.

It is equally exciting that there is a separate collection on Unsplash called "Native Advertising on Unsplash," curated by Unsplash Co founder Luke Chesser. In addition to the Timberland and DOSE Juice examples, "Google Chromebooks" and "Maldives Tourism" are explicitly mentioned as customers and accompanying photos are shown, but these are not already marked as "sponsored by" at Unsplash. By coincidence, there are always some of these photos on the home page of Unplash.

"Native Advertising is a brazen form of surreptitious advertising,"

Peter Figge, board member of advertising agency Jung von Matt, tells Der Spiegel.

A photographer of such images, who wishes to remain anonymous, describes the collaboration as follows:

"As far as I know, Unsplash often cooperates with slightly larger companies. For a long time, was not really active on Unsplash when it comes to uploading images myself. I use it a lot more often as a source of images for high-quality and free images, as I am a designer and often come into contact with something like that.

“One day I received a personal e-mail from an admin of Unsplash with the offer for a Timberland cooperation to shoot pictures. Originally there was a kind of ' competition ' where everyone could participate. This was considered to be an application for the project. It was surprisingly easy to get me on board, because some people responsible for it from Timberland liked my pictures. The clothes of the new winter collection were then sent to us by post. There was one men's and women's collection. Things were picked up by a courier from Timberland after two weeks.

“The whole thing was paid as normal as a real photo order. An experienced and recognized fashion photographer would never have been satisfied with the final money. But if you take into account the circumstances, including that I'm absolutely not a professional photographer and I've never had a real assignment before (as was the case with the bulk of the contestants), the pay is more than fair. All in all, the whole thing was a great experience because you can see the whole processes."

There are also some accounts that are obviously operated by the brands showing themselves, such as this one by Loewe Technologies, Modern Essentials or Frame Kings. Given the debate over advertising labels at Instagram, it certainly can't be long before there will be problems here.

"It is often argued that Unsplash is not a threat to photographers, because the photographers can receive assignments through Unsplash. I believe though that Unsplash is a direct threat for companies who solely rely on licensing images, for example Shutterstock or Adobe Stock."

Even if there are many niches at the commercial image agencies where there are significantly more images to choose from, Unsplash offers a wide selection of images of some of the most commonly recurring subjects. As a reminder, we're talking about over 46 million free downloads per month.

In this respect, I find it worrying that Adobe also offers users free Unsplash images in its "Adobe Spark" app, instead of building its own collection of such images from where traffic can be directed to the paid Adobe Stock collection. Similar support can be found at Pixabay, where the site is avowedly survived by Shutterstock's affiliate revenue.

For Unsplash, the photos are just a means to an end. It's not about great curated photography, it's about traffic and community building. These are the values that investors are interested in and are willing to pay to get. It seems a bit like a Ponzi scheme when paid photographers like Annie Spratt hype Unsplash through their social media accounts, which in turn attract a large mass of other photographers who are then no longer paid, but simply provide traffic and community – for which the big companies are willing to pay. Of course the payment goes only to Upsplash, not the individual photographers.

However, the photographers and also customers bear the legal risk of Unsplash use, because information about trademark rights, personal rights, design protection and other "third party rights" can only be found sparsely on Unsplash. What is "only" legally risky for customers and photographers is also a saved cost factor for Unsplash: In contrast to the microstock agencies, who pay many employees to check submitted photos for third-party rights. Unsplash saves these costs.

It is quite paradoxical: In the case of microstock agencies, for example, the product name "iPhone" or the company name "Apple" may not be mentioned in the title or the keywords, even the characteristic round "home" button must not be visible. At Unplash, there are more than 3300 free "iPhone" images that allow the user to do even more than Shutterstock or Adobe, according to the license. Either Apple is significantly more casual than the microstock agencies claim or the big attorney's cudgel will strike later. Henrik Heigl provides more drastic examples of legal problems at Unsplash here.

To read this story in German check out this link.?


Copyright © 2019 Robert Kneschke. 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

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